The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in a campaign finance case. At issue is whether total caps on direct individual giving to candidates and PACs violate First Amendment rights.
As CNN puts it, “The competing arguments are stark: supporters of campaign finance reform say current federal regulations are designed to prevent corruption in politics. Opponents said it would criminalize free speech and association.”
While oral arguments run today with a decision on the case expected next spring, Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig submitted a brief in September in the form of a Tumblr.
First: Via Fred Wilson:
Professor Larry Lessig has submitted a brief to the Supreme Court in a case arguing that limiting large political contributions is Constitutional and exactly what the Framers had in mind when they used the word corruption.
As part of the evidence he has submitted in his brief, Larry created a Tumblr with 325 citations from the Framers themselves showing that they had a very broad understanding of the word corruption. This will be the first time that a Tumblr has been submitted as evidence in a Supreme Court case.
Second: So what’s Lessig doing? Via “Corruption,” originally.
According to the Supreme Court, the First Amendment does not limit Congress’s power to pass laws narrowly tailored to attack “corruption” or the “appearance of corruption.” (Buckley v. Valeo). But by “corruption,” the Court increasingly speaks as if it means “quid pro quo” corruption only.
This modern understanding of the term “corruption” struck me as odd, at least for the originalists on the Court. Because it seemed to me clear that the Framers of the Constitution had a different conception of “corruption” than one limited to “quid pro quo” alone. For the Framers, “corruption” could predicate of an individual (“Aaron Burr is corrupt.”) as well as of an institution (“Parliament is corrupt.”). And when it predicates of an institution, that institution is not only corrupt because its members have engaged in “quid pro quo” corruption. Instead, according to the Framers, an institution could also be corrupt when it develops an “improper dependence.”
In other words, the Framers’ “main focus (or most common usage) was institutional corruption. And one prominent example of the institutional corruption they were concerned about was an institution developing an improper dependence. Like — to pick just one totally random example — a Congress developing a dependence upon its funders, rather than the dependence the framers intended — ‘on the People alone.’”
Third: Need help sifting through the "Corruption," originally site? Tumby, the social discoverability engine, has added its search magic to Lessig’s Tumblr to help you go through tags and keywords. To use and experience it, grab the tumbyHover Chrome Extension here.