The USA is Lesterland

About the Book

Building upon his TED talk (now with more than 1.2 million views), The USA is Lesterland captures the argument of the talk, and fills it out with detail and a clear way forward.

As Lessig describes, the key to the system of corruption that has now wrecked our government is the way candidates for Congress raise money to fund their campaigns. Members of Congress and candidates for Congress spend anywhere between 30% and 70% of their time raising money to get themselves elected or their party back in power. But they raise that money not from all of us. Instead, they raise that money from the tiniest fraction of the 1%. Less than 1/20th of 1% of America are the “relevant funders” of congressional campaigns. That means about 150,000 Americans, or about the same number who are named “Lester,” wield enormous power over this government. These “Lesters” determine this critical first election in every election cycle—the money election. Without them, few believe they have any chance to win. And certainly, neither party believes it can achieve a majority without answering the special demands these “funders” make. Our Congress has thus become dependent upon these funders. In this sense, we are now “Lesterland.”

This dependency, Lessig argues, is a “corruption” of the system our framers designed. Our Congress was to be “dependent on the People alone.” “Alone” and by “the People,” the framers meant, as Madison described, “the rich, nor more than the poor.” But instead of this exclusive dependence upon all of us, we have allowed our Congress to develop a different and conflicting dependence upon “the funders” of their campaigns. That conflicting dependence corrupts the framers’ design.

This corruption is not partisan. Both parties are responsible for allowing it to evolve. Yet neither principled Democrats nor principled Republicans gain from this corruption. The only interests who gain are the special interests which exploit this new funding dependency to bend our government away from the public interest and towards their own.

Only we, the People, can end this system of corruption. And we can only do this through extraordinary intervention in the way our politics works. This book maps a plan, updating the argument Lessig made in Republic, Lost (2011). The argument is essential, yet hopeful, as we still have the power to reclaim this Republic.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Lesterland

  1. Citizens United v. FEC - cache
  2. Billion-Dollar Democracy: The Unprecedented Role of Money in 2012 Elections - cache
  3. Donor Demographics (2010), OpenSecrets.org - cache
  4. Zachary Seth Brugman, The Bipartisan Promise of 1776: The Republican Form and Its Manner of Election 25 (2012) - cache
  5. Federalist 41 (Madison) - cache
  6. Erna Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army - cache

Chapter 2: worse

  1. Mike Allen, Sheldon Adelson: Inside the mind of the mega-donor, Politico - cache
  2. Igor Volsky, GOP’s Largest Campaign Contributor Admits To Bribing Foreign Officials, ThinkProgress - cache
  3. Arthur C. Brooks, A Nation of Givers, The American - cache
  4. World Giving Index 2011 - cache
  5. OpenSecrets - cache
  6. OpenSecrets - cache
  7. OpenSecrets - cache
  8. OpenSecrets - cache
  9. Warren Buffet on Derivatives, from Hathaway Annual Report (2002) - cache
  10. Jacob Leibenluft, $596 Trillion, Slate - cache
  11. WikiQuote - cache
  12. Cameron Russell TED Talk - cache

Chapter 3: corrupt

  1. Herman Cain's 9-9-9 Proposal, Tax Policy Center - cache
  2. Rick Perry, My Tax and Spending Reform Plan, The Wall St. Journal, October 25, 2011 - cache
  3. Glenn Kessler, John Boehner’s misfire on the cost of tax compliance, The Washington Post, November 16, 2011 - cache
  4. McKinnon, Fields, Saunders, ‘Temporary Tax‘ Code Puts Nation in Lasting Bind, The Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2010 - cache
  5. Institute for Policy Innovation, An R&D Tax Credit That Works - cache
  6. Sallie James, Ending the Export-Import Bank, The Cato Institute - cache
  7. Ryan Grim, Koch Brothers, Grover Norquist Split On Ethanol Subsidies, The Huffington Post - cache
  8. Tad DeHaven, Big Sugar Wins in the Senate, The Cato Institute - cache
  9. Matthew Yglesias, Gerrymandering and Polarization, Think Progress - cache
  10. Lee Fang, Lobbyists Who Profit From Senate Dysfunction Fight Filibuster Reform, The Nation - cache
  11. Deleted page available on Internet Archive - cache

Chapter 4: known & ignored

  1. Catherine Ho, Former Sen. Jon Kyl joins lobby shop at Covington, Capital Business Blog (Mar. 6, 2013) - cache
  2. Taylor Wilson: Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor, TED Talk - cache

Chapter 5: fixes

  1. Which Companies Spend the Most on Advertising? - cache
  2. Lessig, Against Transparency, The New Republic, October 9, 2009 - cache
  3. Bruce Cain, Shade From The Glare: The Case for Semi-Disclosure, Cato Unbound, November 8, 2010 - cache
  4. Kent Greenfield, How to Make Citizens United Worse, The Washington Post , Jan 19, 2012 - cache
  5. Fair Elections Now Act - cache
  6. The American Anti-Corruption Act - cache
  7. The Grassroots Democracy Act - cache
  8. Gallup, Confidence At New Low - cache
  9. Lawrence Lessig, A Reply to Professor Hasen, 126 Harv. L. Rev. F. 61 (2012) - cache

Chapter 6: farm-leagues

  1. The Republic Report - cache

Chapter 7: how

  1. Gallup, America’s Next Presidential Priorities, July, 2012 - cache
  2. Sonal Mittal, Important Voter Issues, October, 2012 - cache
  3. Dan Eggen, Large Majority Opposes Supreme Court Decision, Washington Post, February 16, 2010 - cache
  4. List of organizations supporting constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United - cache

Chapter 8: [email protected]

  1. Constitution Cafe description - cache
  2. Lawrence Lessig, A Proposal for Convening a Series of Citizen Conventions, Testimony before Senate Judiciary Committee, July, 2012 - cache
  3. Kickstarter, at Talking Points Memo - cache
  4. Economic Mobility of Families Across Generations - cache
  5. Congressional Revolving Doors: The Journey from Congress to K Street - cache
  6. U.S. Voters: Congress Is Selfish About Campaign Finance - cache
  7. Kickstarter 2012 Stats - cache

The Podcast

Organized by chapter, in this free podcast, Lessig reads The USA is Lesterland himself. As only an author can, his narration gives emphasis and emotion to this important argument, as he brings a otherwise esoteric question down to the ground. Regardless of your politics, the corruption that Lessig describes is the first issue that we, as a People, must solve. This short book describes the first essential steps.

Listen to the podcast »

updated: 1 year ago