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Harvard legal scholar: Transparency alone won't curb super PAC influence

Last week, Senate Republicans filibustered the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required super PACs to disclose their donors. Many liberals and Democrats were upset about the result, but Harvard Law professor and campaign finance activist Lawrence Lessig doubts it would have been that effective anyway.

"Perfect disclosure could never even begin to capture" the effects of the overwhelming amounts of money in politics, said Lawrence Lessig, who is also the recent author of Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Politics—and a Plan to Stop It.

On Tuesday's The Rachel Maddow Show, Lessig reiterated laid out the "iceberg theory:" That legislators react not only to their campaign contributions, but also to the threat that their opponents will receive future campaign contributions.

"What everyone in Washington is worried about, all the incumbents, is that 30 days before the election, some super PAC will come in and drop one million dollars on the other side," Lessig said. As a result, legislators tailor their positions so that their opponents would not receive the next round of funds. The DISCLOSE Act, Lessig argued, would do nothing to address this serious problem.

Ilya Shapiro, a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, appeared on the show to challenge Lessig's call for getting money out of politics. Shapiro said the influence of Super PACs is overblown.

"Campaign spending has been rising pretty steadily for decades," he said. Super PACs are really only a means for people to pool their money. "As government grows and there's more things people want to affect," he said, "they're going to spend money on it."