The $100 Revolution

We are entering a period in our top-down society in which the bottom will start to push back. Blogging is the most obvious example of this. In my book, I suggested one way this phenomenon might have an important affect on our politics – how the American people themselves can clean up the money mess that governs and distorts our electoral process.

I called it “The One Hundred Dollar Revolution” or “Jefferson’s Revenge”.

A few days ago, I reintroduced the idea at a Politics Online Conference held at George Washington University in our nation’s capitol. The buzz it generated, both for and against, was tremendous.

The idea itself is quite simple: creating a website that allows people to pledge to contribute $100 to the Democrat who runs for president in 2008, and that candidate refuses to accept any pledge above $100. (The GOP is welcome to join the crusade, but I’m a Democrat, folks, so I’ll stick to my party for the example).

Big fish, small fish

Whether it’s a good idea or not, just theorizing about it demonstrates the new “power of the bottom” – i.e., the influence of the masses of average people in the American electorate, whom the Internet and other developments have empowered to connect and work toward a common purpose and change things faster than hide-bound, top-down institutions ever could.

I intend to create such a website soon – and my guess is that in the first weeks a few hundred thousand dollars in pledges will be made. But if the idea takes hold and spreads, it is quite possible that by December 2006, $100 million could have been pledged? More importantly, that would still only be the tip of the iceberg – a figure that would represent $100 from only one million of the 57 million people who supported John Kerry in 2004!

Would any candidate step forward and agree to walk away from the wealthy and special interests, from the 33 lobbyists for every member of congress and from all the money they throw around to get their way, and instead pin their hopes on a campaign truly owned by average Americans and their small donations?  Would a candidate like Russ Feingold finally have a chance, from the start, to bring new ideas and principles to a process suffocated by the current chase for big donors?

I think so.

Well meaning office holders like (R-Ariz.) and , (D-Wisc.) have tried to clean up the way our campaigns have been financed for years, only to watch the institutions and politicians who opposed the idea work their way around the reforms.  I am convinced that only the American people themselves, joined together with one or both major parties, can change the money mess that stymies progress on so many important issues facing all Americans.

Today we have the tools to do just that, and we should use them.

To the barricades!

What happens in 2012 when the people take it to the next step?   What happens if 50 million people from both parties pledge to not vote for any candidate of either party who accepts a single contribution over $100?

After spending 30 years in politics, I don’t kid myself: it is all about the money.  There is a reason our health care system has not been reformed – and it is not because there are not enough good people in either party dedicated to real reform It’s because the flood of special interest money stops any real reform in its tracks.

I have to admit that I haven’t figured it all out yet.  Some say the idea is a good one but point to problems. For instance, what if , the convicted tax evader who runs for president each and every cycle, announced he was going to run as a Democrat and not take any contributions above $100?  Well, I say, good luck to him. I doubt his Jew-bashing, oddly fascist sounding rhetoric will convince many to fulfill their pledges.

Because these are only pledges the candidate who stepped forward would be taking a great risk – but it would be a risk worth taking that just might be the most important step any politician could take to wrestle our democracy away from the special interest and return it to the people.

More than any column I have ever written I really want to hear from you on this one.   What do you think?  Do you have ideas about how to do this?  Do you absolutely hate the idea?  Why?  

Write me at

Joe Trippi is a Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and is the author of the recent book “.”