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Lessig and Turley: Constitutional Conventions

This article is more than 10 years old.

In our first hour Thursday, looking at Congress, campaign money and the call for a constitutional convention, Tom asked legal scholars Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Turley: "If you could snap your fingers and have it happen, what outcome would you like to see? What’s the amendment you’d put in the Constitution?"  Here's what they had to say...

Lawrence Lessig:

Well, the first I would put in is an amendment that created an obligation on Congress to protect its own independence from these special interests, by funding elections in a way that makes it possible for members to be focused on the people. That’s the dependency that’s supposed to be built into a Democracy. So they’d have an obligation to fund, whether it’s through vouchers, or through tax credits, or through the bottom-up proposal that’s being considered right now – that’s a detail. The critical point is, their funding of elections needs to be no longer so firmly connected to private interests [so] that they can focus on their jobs.
Basically they spend between 30-70% of their time raising money. We pay them to be legislating in a sensible way. They take their money that we pay them and then they spend all of their time trying to raise money to just get back into office.
TOM ASHBROOK: So you would exclude corporate money, labor money, any kind of big agglomerations of money?
LESSIG: No, I think Jonathan’s right. This decision has split the liberal community. My view is, we need free speech from the widest range of entities, whether they’re persons or not. So it’s not that I think the corporation’s a person and therefore they have a free speech right, it’s because I think we need a diversity of speech. But we need to also have the power -- and so the amendment I would propose would have this power too – for Congress to make sure that no interest, whether it’s a corporation or a private individual, can spend in a way that’s so disproportionally affects the election, that people no longer believe that the representative is independent. That once again, we’ve created the same dependency that we have right now. So my focus is just how to make Congress function the way the framers imagined it would function.
Jonathan Turley:

I think it’s a very important thing not to let anger and apathy stop reform. Those are the allies to the incumbents and to the power-holders in our country. They want you to be angry, but also apathetic. They want you to feel hopeless. And you’re not. The [framers] gave considerable power to change the system, and I think that we can. And one of the tests, by the way, short of the Constitutional Convention, is to demand from legislators that they do things like pass laws ending gerrymandering, changing the primary system to the top vote-getters. Things like that are wonderful litmus tests.
But in terms of a Constitutional Convention, I think that Lawrence is absolutely correct. People need to remember that our Constitutional Convention that originally came forth with this magnificent document was composed by people that could barely stand each other in many respects, and our framers did not get along very well. I mean, Jefferson referred to the Federalists in control as the “reign of the witches.” So it’s not that we invented this type of poisonous politics. I think that Lawrence has a very good idea when he says, you know, we need to limit the convention. I would actually keep out anyone who is serving in office since it’s going to have a big impact on state and federal office, but I think that he’s right. You can have these types of very basic requirements.

Listen to the full interview here, and join the conversation.

This program aired on February 11, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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