Stanford's Lessig using Wikipedia-style project to overhaul Congress
Aim is to get lawmakers to reject lobbyist money and boost transparency
Lessig on Thursday announced a new Web project called Change Congress, which aims to convince members of Congress to commit to one or all of four broad pledges: to not accept PAC or lobbyist contributions, to abolish earmarks, to support public financing of public elections, and to drive transparency in the work of Congress.
Once committed, Lessig will provide politicians with code to embed word of their pledges on their own Web sites. In addition, the politician's actions related to his or her pledges will be tracked with a Google mashup map and through a wiki, Lessig noted in a blog post.
"Our aim is not to displace primary reform organizations, but rather to complement and feed support back to these organizations," he noted. "With an approval rating hovering in the low 20s, no other federal institution needs the renewed confidence of the people more [than Congress]."
In April, the project will launch a "Wikipedia-inspired" wiki where organizers will track reform-related positions of candidates who have not yet taken pledges. If a candidate has endorsed a bill for public financing, for example, that will be recorded on the site.
Eventually, Lessig said, the project will result in a map with each member's positions around the targeted areas of reform.
"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," Lessig said. "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."
The project also aims to provide financial support for candidates who support the reforms outlined in the pledges. Change Congress plans to recruit contributors — both Republican and Democratic — who support candidates that have endorsed the pledges. For example, individuals will be asked to contribute $10 per month to five Change Congress candidates.
"The key to this movement will build upon the best of Internet social and community activism, to the end of substantial reform," Lessig noted. "The Web is not simply a replacement for broadcast. It is not simply a cheaper, more interactive political brochure. It is instead a technology, which if architected right, can enable an extraordinary range of citizens to engage — to speak, to write, to investigate and to pledge. It is this engagement that turns supporters into soldiers for a cause."
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