Video: Nick Gillespie Debates Citizens United & Campaign Finance with Larry Lessig on Bill Moyers Journal


Reason's Nick Gillespie appeared last night on Bill Moyers Journal, debating the Citizens United Ruling, campaign finance, free speech, and congressional corruption with Harvard's Lawrence Lessig.

Video of the segment, a full transcript, and related links (including one to Lessig's recent Nation cover story on the need for a Constitutional amendment to address perceptions of legislative corruption) are available by clicking on the image below.

Check out Reason.tv's "3 Reasons Not to Sweat The Citizens United Decision" at YouTube or by clicking below.

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  1. "what this means is increasingly people are going to believe their government is controlled by the funders and not by the people."

    You mean like the people who wrote the Obamacare bill that (thankfully) did not pass?

  2. "Look, when the Supreme Court decided this case, no credible person could believe the Supreme Court was bought. You could disagree with them in a thousand ways, and I do, about the particulars of this case. But they have their own institutional integrity. We trust that they're doing their work without the influence of money. But they have now denied to Congress the same institutional integrity."

    Does this Lawrence Lessig person even remotely understand the concept of separation of powers? Does he not understand that it is the roll of the USSC to do what it did? How does this threaten the "institutional integrity" of one branch to practice the powers in another?

  3. "So, Congress has lost the respect of the people."

    It did that on its own. It did not need help from the USSC for that.

  4. "But you're not going to get the Libertarian-- let me finish. You're not going get the Libertarian government you want under this system. Twenty years of conservative presidents in the last 29 has not produced one iota of smaller government, one iota of simpler taxes. Because the engine of the lobbyists that you point to at the end, let's get exercised about them, is to make government bigger and taxes more complicated."

    Is he equating libertarianism with conservativism?

    1. Apparently he is. The point is not to make lobbyists less powerful and to cut off their freedom of speech. The point is to make government less powerful. Where have I heard of Lessig before?

  5. PIRS, I'm beginnning to think that you're controlled by your fundraisers and not by the people.

    1. How did you find out? I tried to keep that secret!

  6. Lessig is all for free speech, except...
    Sorry, speech limited by your choices is *not* free speech.

  7. Like I said in the other thread. His argument was incredibly weak for someone with his credentials. The Jacket puts another notch in the sleeve.

    1. I just watched this video and I agree with hmm. Maybe I missed something, but was the crux of this guy's argument that the decision won't make things worse but that it will harm people's perceptions? Of congress!

      1. Yeah. Much of his argument was based on perceptions. But then, lots of people deal with reality by repeating the cliche: "Perception is reality." One of these days someone will retort, "No, it isn't. Retard."

        1. Rahm Emmanuel: "No, it isn't. Retard."

      2. But he thinks it's so bad that we need an amendment to keep perceptions from swinging too far.

        Lessig proposes a system of government vouchers to publicly fund campaigns.

        The worst thing you can do is give a government the power to decide who gets to run for office.

        Lessig also seems to believe that it's OK for government to restrict free speech so corporations don't.

        Um. yeah. Sure.

        1. I love how they were calling publicly funded campaign "citizen-funded".

          Um, dumbfucks, our system is ALREADY FUNDED BY CITIZENS.

          What they are advocating is tax-funded elections... not the same thing.

  8. As I've said before, I am continuously amazed at how much the left is freaking out over this ruling, and how--with staggering self-un-awareness--they are revealing themselves as not actually giving a shit about freedom of speech; they just hate corpurashuns.

    I'm glad they're doing it, because it reveals them for the shits they are, but it astonishes me. They're even dumber than I thought they were.

    1. "Oh, Darsh. You're even dumber than I thought!"

      1. The K-13? You don't want to go down that run. That run has got a history. 35 people have died goin' down it, and some say you can still see their ghosts up there. It was on that very ski run that a group of students were killed by a wolfboy who escaped from a mental institution. You see, that ski run was once a burial ground to a tribe of vampire Wichicaw Indians who ate the flesh of children with no eyes. Yah, a lot of history on that ski run.

        1. French fries, pizza, french fries, pizza...

          We're gonna need a montage.

    2. The wonderful thing about the Information Age is that we can spout and rage and pontificate and do all the other verbs and the Great Invisible Recorder takes it all down and eventually hangs us with our own words.

    3. They're even dumber than I thought they were.

      You obviously have not been reading Chony posts, I take it.

  9. The more regulations that are piled on in an attempt to control corporations, the more vectors there are through which corporations can infiltrate and tilt the playing field in their favor.

    1. Exactly. The *big*, *powerful* corporations that the left is worried about will always find ways around whatever regulation you implement. It's the little guy (like Citizens United) who gets screwed by regulation.

    2. Leia?

  10. First, bringing two douchebags to a Jacket fight wasn't fair right from jump street. Second, normally I cannot stomach Bill Moyers, and thus was glad to see him largely stay in the background and let the two guests speak. Third, I kept picturing Lessig with a swastika carved into his forehead by Lt. Aldo Raines. He scares the hell out of me. What a controlling, smarter-than-thou prick. Last - Gillespie: extremely well done.

    1. In fairness, Lessig's work on Creative Commons was a HUGE step for free speech and de-regulation. It created a legally sound method for private citizens to release their work from an over-regulated copyright system.

      But since then, he's been whacko. There's a lecture he gave at Harvard where he defines "institutional corruption" in a new, and dangerous, way.

    2. Fair enough - I guess even a controlling, smarter-than-thou prick has a good day once in awhile. From what I've seen/read of/by him, that was in a prior life. Scary dude

    3. Yes, The Jacket performed quite well. Much of Lessig's argument seemed (to me) to boil down to: "Congress is corrupt because of the lobbyists." He said many versions of this many times. But I think he has it backward. The lobbyists exist because of the corruption of Congress. I'm disappointed that The Jacket did not mention term limits as a possible solution.

      1. Supply creates its own demand.

  11. Mr. Lessig seems to think it is more important that Congress be trusted than there be free speech.

    I detect a common thread in lefty spokespersons that the people are not to be trusted, but the government is.

    Could his organization simply work on having an amendment stating that Congress must be considered as trustworthy as the Supreme Court?

    i.e. A well respected Congress, being necessary to the continuance and security of the Statists, the right of the Two Parties, to be trusted shall not be infringed.

    *note to Mr Lessig and his group, I am available as a lobbyist to work toward your goals.. which I will do with diligence and loyalty. You can trust me... really.

    1. In fairness, Lessig never said that Congress is trustworthy -- just that it was important that people trust it. No contradiction there -- no con man considers himself trustworthy, but he works hard to build trust nonetheless.

      1. Agree; he never said that Congress is trustworthy, but he did say that since it is important for people to trust Congress the Citizens United decision will make that more difficult.

        I say again, seems to me that he thinks it is more important to make people will trust Congress, than it is to have more free speech.

        So: Citizens don't trust Congress/government, and, because it is important that citizens be more trusting of them, Congress/government should do something (legislation and/or amendment) to redress the (imaginary?) results of the Supremes' decision in order to garner more trust.

        In other words, trust Congress to do something that will bring them more trustworthiness!

        Yeah, that should work.

  12. To distill:

    Lessing believes in free speech, but only if congress is trusted, i.e., not lobbied.

    Gillespie believes in free speech, regardless.

    This is the basic libertarian/liberal divide: liberty vs equality

    Liberty is no guarantee of equality, trust, or anything else. It is it's own justification, which is pretty good considering those other things will not be guaranteed anyway.

    That was the only argument I saw.

    1. bagoh20|2.6.10 @ 4:50PM|#
      "To distill:
      Lessing believes in free speech, but only if congress is trusted, i.e., not lobbied.
      Gillespie believes in free speech, regardless.
      This is the basic libertarian/liberal divide: liberty vs equality"

      I see another divide:
      As a libertarian, I have no doubt of the actions from self-interest of those in business, and I'm sure Lessig would agree.
      Further, I have no doubt of the actions from self-interest of those in government, and I'm sure Lessig would disagree.
      This is easily shown from his presumption that government-distributed campaign funds would be handled "fairly".
      Of course they wouldn't for obvious reasons; incumbency would be rewarded. Government funding of campaigns would pretty much guarantee that getting elected once would make it the iron rice bowl.

  13. This would be a better county if I were head of the Ministry of Truth.

    A lot of people would be well advised to STFU.

    1. countRy

      stupid keyboard

    2. I think the county AND the country would be better. P Brooks - four more years, four more years! lifetime unelected Minister of Truth!

  14. Would it be safe to say that it's similar to the difference between the French notion of "?galit?" suggesting "equality of outcome" vs. the more individualistic Revolutionary American notion of equality as "equality of opportunity"?

    1. Libertarianism doesn't value equality of opportunity either. We don't seek to prevent children of wealthy families from having greater opportunities than children from poor families.

      We espouse equality before the law -- and leave the rest up to chance.

      1. Good point.

      2. On the other hand, I don't think that having a notion of "equality of opportunity" necessarily dictates that opportunity be explicitly limited in one class of persons over another.

        The idea of "opportunity" is nebulous enough to encompass the idea of "chance", I think.

      3. I do happen to think that equality of opportunity is a reasonable thing to pursue - I just don't support coercive means.

        If someone wants to run a nonprofit that provides private school scholarships for disadvantaged youth and is funded entirely by voluntary donations, I'm totally OK with it. I think many people would contribute - especially if their taxes were drastically reduced.

        In other words, first you drastically reduce the number of poor people by slashing taxes, leaving more people who are in a position to help the few remaining people who are genuinely in poverty.

        IMHO, there is a huge opportunity for libertarians to make inroads with liberals by pushing voluntary solutions like the above. I wish to hell that we would do that more, instead of sucking up to the right so much.

        1. Coercive means are right out. I don't like them either.

          I guess my use of the phrase "equality of opportunity" really came simply as a shorthand contrast with the particularly French Republican idea which maps more toward "equality of outcome". My wife and I had just watched Blue in the Three Colors trilogy and started to discuss Libert? as a concept, then moved to ?galit?. I was trying to explain to her (a hopefully recovering lefty) a potential difference in how a libertarian society might perceive the notion of "equality" vs. a more socialist one.

          It's imperfect.

      4. Yeah, I tend to see it more as "equal protection under the law" than as "equality of opportunity". It's a limit on government power. If a law favors or disfavors any individual or group of individuals, it's not equal.

        A limit on corporate speech disfavors one type of speech over another... therefore it is unequal. It doesn't mean that there's an equal outcome in my speech versus Exxon Mobil's. It doesn't mean I have an equal opportunity to voice my speech. It simply means my speech isn't promoted and theirs isn't denigrated.

        This is the libertarian idea of equality, and I'm totally cool with that.

  15. Lessig appears to be all for free speech for corporations, but not lobbyists.

    I think he's failing to see that it's the enormous power that has gotten inappropriately concentrated in Washington that causes there to be so many lobbyists with so much funding behind them, not the other way around.

  16. Count me as one disappointed in Nick's performance here. He only obliquely mentioned the fact that Lessig's panacea to this supposed problem - public funding of campaigns - has precisely zero to do with the Citizens United decision. Or rather the implications of Lessig's "solution" are infinitely more horrifying than the problem. If Lessig thinks that public financing of campaigns is the answer, does that mean that no one can run an independent ad for or against a candidate...corporation, union or individual?? Are candidates, fattened on our tax money, the only ones who will be allowed to spend money?

    1. Who defines what a "candidate" is? The very bureaucracy charged with distributing the money, no doubt.

      1. Actually, I think that part is easy: Candidates show up at their respective states' Secretary of States' offices and register for a particular office and pay the requisite fee. Done.

        What's hard is the rest, and I certainly don't trust any incumbent to write a law to restrain a political foe or oversee a regulatory agency that may be ruling on speech hostile to his or her incumbency.

        Lessig's prescription is pure poison.

        1. And I give you, on your dime and mine, Lyndon LaRouche!

          [Wondering if this will have a summoning effect similar to "c h e m t r a i l".]

        2. Ah, but do you think that your suggestion will actually happen instead of what reality suggests is more likely?

      2. In countries which have exclusive public financing of elections, it's usually contingent on previous election performance and/or poll results.

        1. Which, natually, cements in the status quo. A terrible idea.

    2. Just once I wanted Nick to come back with, "People shouldn't trust the Congress! Probably ever!"

      1. We shouldn't trust Congress as a whole. We should be able to trust our particular representatives, but, as it stands, in many cases even that isn't feasible.

  17. Put Jeffersonian on the "enemies" list...

  18. A couple of points I wanted to see Nick make (not a criticism, there were a lot of angles of attack):

    1) The right to vote is not at all the same type of thing as the the right to free expression, privacy, a fair trial, etc. It's not a negative right; it isn't even a normal positive right. Therefore the reductio "why not give a corporation the right to vote" has no traction.

    2) The claim that Citizens United threatens democracy by putting more power in the hands of Corporations presumes that democracy is flawed. Voters still have the ultimate power - votes still completely determine elections. The argument doesn't make sense unless you assume that when a voter changes his mind in response to speech, some of the time it is manipulation rather than persuasion, AND that this distinction is actionable. In other words, that voters are flawed AND that their flawed can be managed by government policy, an inherently anti-democratic and authoritarian notion.

    1. Agree w/#1 - I was kind of jumping up and down during that exchange as well. But the flow of the discussion went elsewhere.

      #2 - I believe the "more advertising/spending will make people vote a certain way" thinking is flawed, and that's essentially what Lessig was arguing. Ads/spending /outright graft will sway some people, not others - I believe not most people (in terms of ads), so I think it's a silly argument on its face re: the practical outcomes of the court decision. Regardless, the constitution says "no law", so whether or not ads have an impact...loser issue, either change the const (I prefer not to) if you don't like it or...lump it, Lessig.

      The Jacket wins. Again.

    2. There were a couple of times I really wanted Gillespie to question Lessig's premises. Like when in one of his very first statements he said, "Congress needs the power to protect its own independence."

      The whole point of the Supreme Court is to limit, when it contravenes the Constitution, Congress's legislative prerogatives. That's what it did in the Citizens United case. It is not the responsibility of the Court to protect Congressional independence. Our whole system is founded on the idea of checks and balances.

      And then of course the next time the Lessig guy spoke was when he said corporations theoretically should have the right to vote, "an unalienable right". Voting is a privilege. Foreigners can't vote. Children can't. Felons can't. No one can vote twice. Speech applies to everyone and they can exercise it as much as they want.

      Nick needed to call this guy out a little more on some of his wacky assertions. But I commend him for keeping the debate more or less on topic rather than going into broader territory.

  19. Several comments have brought attention to Lessig's concern about public trust of Congress.

    Unless I missed something implicit in someone's post, I think my concern here is a bit different. See I just can't see why public trust of Congress is a constitutional issue, at all.

    I think it's important to point out though, that Lessig's real point isn't that people trust Congress to do the right thing in general, only that they trust that their Democracy isn't bought and paid for. I would actually agree with that; it isn't that people should trust Congress, per se, but that people ought to be able to have trust that the machinations of the political process aren't up for sale. And let's stipulate that right now people's trust is low on that front.

    So what? Of course if Lessig gets his amendment through, it will by definition be constitutional. So setting that issue aside, (because it's not Lessig's only issue), it's puzzling that people's perceptions are an issue at all in deciding whether some action or another is or isn't constitutional.

    If a law is unconstitutional, it should be struck down; if a law is constitutional, it should be upheld, everything else seems secondary. In other words, talking about how a court decision will impact public confidence skips over the content of the issue, then come in through the backdoor and claims to have a relevant point.

    If public perception is a determining factor in tailoring appellate court decisions, then we are in a position to write silly laws/decisions so long as they strengthen public perception. In other words, we would have to correlate our laws and court decisions with public opinion regardless of whether the public is right about whether a decision or law will undermine the democratic process. Now, if the public has to actually be correct about their perception, then their perception falls out as a determining factor.

    As for undermining the democratic process, I'm sure society has all kinds of undemocratic features. The question seems to be whether the *legal structure* of our law possesses features that undermine the democratic process, regardless of the public understanding or lack thereof of these laws, regardless of whether we act responsibly as stewards of the democracy, whether we're good citizens, or whether we disintegrate into an Idiocracy.

    So whether something actually *does* undermine the political process, or more importantly, if some formal legal rule or another undermines the integrity of our political process, fine. But it doesn't seem to matter what the public *believes* to be true about the matter, though with the amount of time Lessig mentions this, he must think it's a constitutional concern.

  20. To be fair, it may be that Lessig was wearing his public intellectual hat when he expressed concern over public confidence, rather than speaking as a jurist. If so, then fine. But if he was speaking as a jurist, then his point about public perception doesn't seem relevant.

    And I would expect spirited debate over the content of his proposed amendment, but of course one could agree with the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, and think that Lessig has a good idea with his proposed constitutional amendment. I don't think very many people will hold these two views at once, but there doesn't seem to be anything contradictory about it.

    1. Agreeing with the second paragraph, though his proposed amendment has no chance whatsoever. I think that Brown v. Board was a terrible decision with zero constitutional basis, which paved the way for several other similarly extraconstitutional decisions, but I would support an amendment forbidding de jure racial segregation.

  21. I admire Nick's stand and clear way of stating that people can be trusted with free speech. Thanks

  22. The perception of integrity might be the compelling interest that would satsify the most rigorous test used to judge speech restrictions, the other being that the restriction goes no further than necessary. One could argue that as all the persons that make up a corporation are still free to speak that is met as well.

    All the "OMG that law was bad because it restricts speech" stuff is hard for me to buy. Not all restrictions on speech are bad. A law that prevents soundtrucks from driving down your street at midnight "restricts speech" but is justified.

    1. Noise ordinances are content-neutral, so they make poor counterexamples for freedom of speech. (Indeed, they don't even target speech specifically -- running a jackhammer on your street at midnight is covered by the same ordinance). Better examples of legit restrictions on speech *based on content* would be threats, libel, broadcasting troop movements, and perjury, but the government interest in preventing these is clearly much stronger than that proposed for electioneering communication restrictions.

      1. How is the interest in the cases you mention "clearly much stronger?" That's for a policy decision best made by legislatures.

        I'm also not sure what we have here is a restriction on certain content but a restriction on certain speakers. Restrictions on certain speakers-public employees, military, prisoners, etc., have been accepted by SCOTUS.

        1. The film was restricted not on what was in it, but on who was putting out there.

          1. Bullshit. If the film had been about Britney Spears it wouldn't have been banned.

          2. To recap, Citizens United was free to finance the showing of any movie on television that they wanted, as long as it didn't mention any politicians up for election. That's a content restriction.

        2. Ah, so the legislature should determine whether the laws it passes are constitutional. Neat trick.

          I suppose if the GOP Congress back in 2005 decided they had a compelling interest in silencing critics of the Iraq War, since it was hurting the war effort, they could have banned such speech, correct? And the courts would be powerless to strike such bans down because the decision as to which interests are compelling enough to outweigh the First Amendment is up to the legislature.

    2. And I ask you the same question the government's attorney was asked during the Citizens United case: wouldn't your interpretation of such a "compelling interest" make banning books, newspaper articles, and even vocal speech on the street constitutional if such speech could plausibly harm the perception of the government's integrity?

  23. Dammit, Nick G., when someone is pushing for government-funded elections to end the influence of special interests, point out the fucking irony of giving the biggest special interest of all, a pure monopoly, that kind of power.

    1. The short rebuttal to Lessig's advocacy of government-funded elections:

      To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

      Thomas Jefferson

  24. IMHO, there is a huge opportunity for libertarians to make inroads with liberals by pushing voluntary solutions like the above. I wish to hell that we would do that more, instead of sucking up to the right so much.

    Liberals don't believe in voluntary solutions. They believe they are better than us, and thus have the right to coerce us for our own good.

    They look on voluntary solutions like that as something to be tolerated until the government can take it over.

  25. I really respected lawrence lessig's politics until he wrote that article. and his whole argument is based on these kinds of illusory, subjective things (which nick correctly describes as being based on poll numbers) like getting people to "believe in" or "trust" congress. he also refused to defend the actual law that was repealed, because of how obviously absurd it was (e.g. the 500-page book about cats, the last sentence of which is "vote for X", which could be banned by the feds), and instead defended his own - apparently less fantastic or unlikely than nick's alternative of people voting - constitutional convention to make some tidy free speech exemptions. good job nicky g.

  26. Despite Lessig's continual protests to the contrary, he does not believe in free speech as a first principle. Rather he sees shaping the people's perception that Congress is "influence free" is his higher value. The only way to suppress influence is to suppress the right of the people to speak and petition the government. Because, when you come right down to it, all the interests who are trying to influence the government are part of the "people". When Lessig goes off on his tangent about "citizen funded" campaigns he means a single payer system, where government runs the system and only government approved candidates get funded and only government approved organizations can speak on campaigns. I find it hard to believe that Lessig cannot see the terrible consequences to free speech that such a system would have.

  27. There's also the bizarre way Lessig ignores what the Citizen's United case was actually about. He speaks of the people who "fund" Congress, but Citzen's United simply wished to distribute a documentary that attacked a politician, they were not contributing to any other particular candidate. Liberals used to support McCain-Feingold on the basis that the government could regulate on the notion that "money is not speech". While a corporation using its resources to produce independent advocacy media can be a loophole in the law, to regulate that the left has to turn it's aphorism on it's head and argure that "speech is money".

    1. Exactly. The implication of Lessig's proposal is that only recognized candidates will be able to receive public money to campaign, and only those candidates will be permitted to engage in political advocacy involving the exchange of money. While he brays on about free speech, the inevitable consequence of his idea is the crushing of same.

      1. Yes. One reason is that the "funders" he rails about are sometimes rent-seeking sons-of-bitches, sometimes have honestly but wrongly rationalized that their interests are everbody's interests, and on some rare occasions they actually have a point. The government cannot make the fine distinctions and predecide when interests are in the wrong, so the only option is kill the ability to present their case to the public.

  28. Nick,

    I was impressed by the jacket.

  29. Wow, what a bunch of egg heads!


  30. I was reading the comments on the video on the PBS website. The one guy calls Nick a fascist over and over again. I never thought I would see that in print. Freedom = Fascist. Also the argument government is just a group of people so why do libertarian rail against it. I think it is lost on them that McDonald s is not going to shoot me if I do not buy their hamburger. Nor are any corporations going to shoot me if I do anything they want me to do.

    1. Holy fetid swamp, Batman.

      "Corporations are not people!"

      "Gillespie and Rand, sitting in a tree!"

      Fuck me.

      1. I know this thread is long dead, but the number of times Ayn Rand is mentioned as "the founder" of libertarianism is astounding. I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ...

    2. "Fascist" == "non-Leftist" in the port-side lexicon. The funny thing is, a true fascist would have absolutely no qualms about restricting speech to the extent Moyers and Lessig are panting to.

      I guess it's like Huey Long predicted, that when fascism comes to America, it'll be called anti-fascism.

  31. Thanks, Nick for ever so briefly mentioning your doubts about full disclosure. Too bad you weren't going to get enough time to discuss the poor guy in California that was ruined by it.

  32. Nick did an awesome job. But was there a head-on refutation of the "people-funded campaign" idea, other than that we should be able to take back the government without it?

  33. All these things Mr. Lessig hammered on incessantly in this piece (he only really had one point and seemed obsessed with saying he and Mr. Gillespie agreed on everything), all came to flower under the current rules, so what's his point after all? Great job, Mr. Gillespie!

  34. Straight from the comments section:

    "If we have to depend on the judgment of the American people to protect our democracy, we're in trouble."

    Someone actually wrote this, sans irony. Who are these people?

  35. @bestpriceforsales equus 3100 I went to the dealer to get your car through the computer, it had a light coming on. It cost me over $135.00 for that. If I should of known about this product back when, I would not even hesitate.

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