Lawrence Lessig: Democracy vouchers

Jorge Cancio drew my attention to Lawrence Lessig’s proposal for fixing government.

We should have seen this coming: if McChesney and Nichols offered us a fix for elitist media by using media vouchers, Prof. Lessig will have us fix elitist government using democracy vouchers (book, article, interview):

So long as elections cost money, we won’t end Congress’s dependence on its funders. But we can change it. We can make “the funders” “the people.” Following Arizona, Maine and Connecticut, we could adopt a system of small-dollar public funding for Congress.

Here’s just one way: almost every voter pays at least $50 in some form of federal taxes. So imagine a system that gave a rebate of that first $50 in the form of a “democracy voucher.” That voucher could then be given to any candidate for Congress who agreed to one simple condition: the only money that candidate would accept to finance his or her campaign would be either “democracy vouchers” or contributions from citizens capped at $100. No PAC money. No $2,500 checks. Small contributions only. And if the voter didn’t use the voucher? The money would pass to his or her party, or, if an independent, back to this public funding system.

Lessig apparently doesn’t perceive that his proposed fix is reproducing in dollars what the system already implements in votes. After all, if a candidate cannot win without money, the candidate surely cannot win without votes. If the rich are influential in the current system because it takes money to gather votes, why won’t they remain influential because it would take money to gather voucher money?