A Win For Lessig on Health Reform?
I admit to having been skeptical of Larry Lessig’s move from cyberlaw to anti-corruption work. It’s a veritable Augean stables of influence on Capitol Hill, and key Supreme Court decisions seem to foreclose real reform. However, Lessig has recently shown the potential of distributed Web 2.0 technology to get key leaders to rethink their position on donors’ pet issues:
[S]ome . . . think they’ve figured out a way to use the Web to pressure [Senator Ben] Nelson, whose big contributions from the health-insurance industry and banks has made him a target. . . [Larry Lessig’s] organization, Change-Congress.org, is claiming its first “major victory.” In early June, Nelson backed off from his comment that a public option for health insurance was “a deal breaker” and let it be known that he would not join any filibuster against the president’s health-care bill. Lessig says this came after ChangeCongress announced it would spend $10,000 in online ads and send 3,000 direct-mail pieces to Democratic donors in Nebraska pointing out that Nelson received more than $2 million from special interests in health care who oppose the public option.
Several innovative groups are following similar strategies on the state level. At the national level, Little Sis, Sourcewatch, and Political Friendster have all tried to tell the corruption story in interesting ways. But people in Nelson’s office still say these issues bring in nothing like the attention raised by guns and abortion, and Jonathan Alter concludes that Lessig “needs at least 5,000 to 10,000 more [letter-writers] per congressional district before he can begin to make good on his boast of making a powerful senator quiver and quake.” The ultimate effect of Web 2.0 on real politics remains to be seen.