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Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig

Posted: June 11, 2009 06:55 AM

Some Victory Against Ben Nelson -- Who is Next?


I'm with my family for some time away, but I wanted to write and share some exciting news.

This week, Change Congress scored a major victory against U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) after he fell victim to what I call "Good Souls Corruption" -- good people trapped in a broken campaign-finance system they refuse to fix.

Ben Nelson probably hates us right now -- or at least me. But that's OK, it was worth it. Here's what happened.

Nelson has received over $2 million from health and insurance interests who oppose President Obama's public health insurance option. Those companies fear competition. 71% of rural voters support it. 

Who did Nelson side with? You guessed it -- in May, he sided with the insurance interests against the citizens of Nebraska, calling the public option a "deal breaker."

So Change Congress launched $10,000 of online ads, letting Nebraska voters know about Nelson's special-interest money. We also sent 3,000 direct-mail pieces to Democratic donors throughout the state. This generated state and national news stories for over a week (and apparently freaked Nelson out). 

After an intense 11-day battle with Nelson, he's now publicly "open" to the public option -- and this week, he made more news by saying he won't join a filibuster of Obama's plan. One of our local supporters even got a personal phone call from the Senator this week, during which Nelson tried to explain away his special-interest contributions!

This campaign is a model for our ongoing anti-corruption work. But to replicate this success, we'll need lots of grassroots support. Can you please consider chipping in to help us take our show on the road, and hold more politicians accountable? 

Ben Nelson was actually the second in our "Good Souls Corruption" campaign. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) was the first -- we successfully called him out for siding with special-interest contributors and made him react as well.

As Mother Jones nicely put it:

"Maybe the reason members of Congress are responding so defensively is that CC is striking a little too close to home. Apparently members of Congress are shocked by the nerve-the nerve!-of people who tell them that taking huge amounts of money from the industries they're in charge of regulating reeks of corruption."

Exactly right. And we can't stop in Nebraska. On our donate page, we ask you to include any suggestions you have for politicians we should consider targeting next. Please include any links to stories that may be relevant.

A democracy is a terrible thing to waste. Yet that is precisely what money in Washington is doing -- wasting this democracy.

Together, we can take democracy back. But shaming politicians for participating in a corrupt system isn't cheap, which is why we're inviting Americans who want to take democracy back to help us continue our work.

Below is a timeline of our recent campaign. I hope you enjoy.


Change Congress vs. Ben Nelson:

May 2: Sen. Nelson vowed to oppose President Obama's health care "public option" -- calling it a "deal breaker." (This public option would compete with private insurers in the marketplace.)

May 7: Public Campaign released a report showing Nelson received over $2 million from health and insurance interests who oppose the public option. Meanwhile, 71% of rural voters support it. A clear conflict.

May 28: Change Congress announced $10,000 in online ads and 3,000 direct-mail pieces to Democratic donors in Nebraska, calling out Nelson's special-interest funding. Our campaign was instantly covered in the APOmaha World-HeraldLincoln Journal StarRoll CallThe HillForbes, and many other places.

Also May 28: Ben Nelson's spokesperson freaked out, issuing a 9-paragraph rant. In it, he denied the existence of an Obama public option and said Nelson never opposed the public option! (See May 2.)

May 29: More media coverage -- including Mother Jones (Lessig's Change Congress Accuses Democratic Senator of Corruption) and NebraskaStatePaper.com (Nelson Is Catching Hell On the Internet...)

May 31Ben Nelson announces in the Lincoln Journal Star, "I have not closed my mind to any option." Except, "he's opposed to opening the door to choice between a government and a private plan." In other words, he's open to everything except the public option.

June 3: Huffington Post reported Ben Nelson is "open" to the public option "after a week of apparently contradictory remarks at home in Nebraska." 

Also June 3: After reading the Huffington Post's story, Ben Nelson personally called the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim to say, "I've always been open to any idea that floated out there, all except one." Which one? Single-payer...which nobody in this debate has been proposing.

June 7: Nelson personally called Nebraska Change Congress supporter Bud Pettigrew. According to the Huffington Post, Nelson told Bud "not to assume that he will oppose such a proposal in a final reform package" and that "he could support cloture [oppose a filibuster] on a public plan for insurance coverage even if he opposed the bill itself." Nelson's spokesperson confirmed, "It is true that Sen. Nelson may vote for a public option."

Also June 7
: Huffington Post quoted Bud saying Change Congress is "kicking him in the ass right now and he is feeling it" and quoted Change Congress CEO Adam Green saying, "If Senator Nelson supports cloture on the public option, that is welcome news -- and concrete proof that when we call out politicians for siding with their special-interest donors it forces them to be more responsive to their constituents."

Click here to help us continue this accountability work.