Campaign finance, lobbying major roadblocks to effective government

Author and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig.

Adriene Hill: What's wrong with government policy in this country? It can be easy to point fingers and pick scapegoats. The Occupy Wall Street protestors blame the influence of Wall Street big wigs. Politicians go after and snipe at each other. But according to a new book by Harvard Prof. Lawrence Lessig, the problem is much more universal -- it's all about the far-reaching role of money in Washington.

Lessig is the author of the new book "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It." Prof. Lessig, good morning.

Lawrence Lessig: Good morning.

Hill: So you write in the introduction to your book that our government is an embarrassment. Why?

Lessig: I think that people on the Left, and people on the Right, have a feeling that government doesn't function the way it was indented to function. It was designed by our framers to be responsive or dependent on the people alone. But I think whether you're a Republican watching a Republican government or a Democrat watching a Democratic government, you have the feeling that the government's actually tracking or worried more about someone else -- the funders rather than the people.

Hill: And what is the role that money plays in government today?

Lessig: I think its primary role is not the historical form of corruption -- the kind of quid pro quo, Rod Blagojevich kind of corruption. I think that corruption's gone. I think the role it plays now is kind of an in-plain-sight corruption. I work very hard in the book to insist I don't think these members of Congress are evil. They come to Washington for the right reasons -- wanting to do something that's good from their perspective.

But then they find themselves inside a system which is constantly bending them in a direction that, at certain moments in their life, they wake up and say this is not who I wanted to be, this is not the job I wanted to undertake. We need to build a system where people have a reason to trust the system. And right now, as 75 percent of Americans believe, money buys results in Congress. And that's the corrupting attitude that I think this Congress faces.

Hill: Have we as a country learned our lesson from the 2008 financial crisis?

Lessig: No. The financial crisis should have produced a pretty radical change, but an extraordinary number of lobbyists invaded Washington and succeeded in blocking any of the fundamental forms that were needed, so that we are just as unsafe in our financial system today as we were before 2008.

And that is a direct product of a government that can't be independent enough to change regulations of Wall Street because they are so deeply dependent on funding from Wall Street banks and Wall Street hedge funds that make it so they can't do the right thing.

Hill: Lawrence Lessig is the author of the new book "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It." Prof. Lessig, thanks so much.

Lessig: Thank you.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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