Change-Congress, an open source strategy for political reform

Lawrence Lessig, known for his leadership on IP reform and the illfated Eldred v. Ashcroft decision, launched his latest project, Change-Congress at the National Press Club on Thursday.

Lawrence Lessig, known for his leadership on IP reform and the illfated Eldred v. Ashcroft decision, launched his latest project, Change-Congress at the National Press Club on Thursday. Partnering with Joe Trippi (formerly of the Dean and Edwards campaigns), Lessig's strategy will be a "bi-partisan, web-based effort to leverage and amplify the important reform work being done by others," he wrote in Huffington Post.

The strategy is to move in three distinct stages: get candidates to embrace the reform platform; build a wiki-based map of reform candidates; financially support the reformers.

The first stage sounds rather similar to Creative Commons, the alternative copyright scheme Lessig spearheaded. In Creative Commons, content creators can mix and match a more flexible statement of property rights. In Change Congress, politicians can sign up for some combination of reform planks:

  1. a promise not to accept PAC or lobbyist contributions,
  2. a commitment to abolish "earmarks" permanently,
  3. a commitment to support public financing of public elections,
  4. a commitment to compel transparency in the functioning of Congress.
    Beginning in April, we will launch a second stage to the site: in a Wikipedia-inspired manner, wiki-workers will track the reform-related positions of candidates who have not yet taken a pledge. . . . And once this wiki-army has tracked the positions of all Members of Congress, we will display a map of reform, circa 2008.

    What this map will reveal, we believe, is something that not many now actually realize: that the support for fundamental reform is broad and deep. That recognition in turn will encourage more to see both the need for reform, and the opportunity that this election gives us to achieve it. Apathy is driven by the feeling that nothing can be done. This Change Congress map will demonstrate that in fact, something substantial can be done. Now.

    In the third stage, modeled on Emily's List, "we will recruit contributors to support Change Congress candidates, both Republican and Democratic, who make reform a central platform of their campaign. Individuals will be asked, for example, to contribute $10/month to five Change Congress candidates. That support will make it easier for those candidates to spread the message of reform, and to define at least one central part of their candidacy to be about reform."