Buddy Roemer, the Anti-Spoiler

If and when it becomes clear he can't win, the likely Americans Elect candidate says he'll ask any backers to vote for one of the major party candidates instead.

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the some of us who believe that the corrupting influence of money in American politics is the most important issue facing this nation, and that those who believe like us face a difficult dilemma: neither major party candidate is going to make this his issue for this campaign (indeed, the Obama campaign has just airbrushed his criticism of Citizens United from their webpage). So those of us who think this way must either accept that the issue will go dark for four years at least, or push a third-party candidate who will make this his central issue.

I grabbed the second horn of that dilemma, arguing here that supporters of corruption reform should join Americans Elect and endorse a reform candidate. Two obvious choices lead the Americans Elect pack: Buddy Roemer, the four-time congressman and former governor of Louisiana, and David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States. Both, I said, would be important reform candidates. Either could push corruption onto center stage.

My inbox exploded with angry emails from friends (and others) who accused me of betraying a very critical cause: Roemer, they said, won't win. He would only spoil Obama's chances to win. So why push a lost cause, they asked, if the consequence could be a loss for Obama?

It is a fair question. As I said in my first essay, this is not an unimportant election. Even if you assumed that a second Obama term would be even more gridlocked than the first, concern for the Court is reason enough (for those on my side at least) to fight like hell to keep him there. Third-party candidates are unpredictable animals -- sometimes stealing elections for the Democrats (Perot tilted the result away from Bush towards Clinton), sometimes stealing elections for the Republicans (Nader tilted the result away from Gore to Bush, aka, cosmic justice). Why would anyone risk the uncertainty they produce?

But on Friday, Buddy Roemer removed this risk from the reformer's equation. In a press release and email to his supporters, Roemer embraced an "Anti-Spoiler Principle." Though he says he's in this race to win, if he became the Americans Elect candidate, he has now committed to a crucial promise: if at the end of the race, Roemer writes, "I discover I have no realistic chance of winning, I will ask my supporters to vote their conscience or for their second choice so the issue of spoiler can be dropped once and for all."

This is an innovation that third party supporters should embrace generally. It is often remarked by political scientists and voter strategists that the fact that America has no instant-runoff voting system, in which voters get to rank their preferences, weakens the chances for alternatives to be heard. Roemer has now in effect created an instant-run-off voting system. His runoff will happen via poll, not at the polls, but the effect is the same: If on, let's say, the Saturday before the election, his pollsters tell him there's no way he can win, then he's out. The voters who would have supported him can go back to the candidate they would have supported had Roemer not run in the first place.

For those who believe that reform is critical to every other issue of importance, Roemer has now upped the ante. In 10 minutes, any registered voter can become an Americans Elect delegate. With five seconds more, they can add their support to Roemer's campaign -- knowing that if he is the candidate, he has promised not to spoil the election for either Romney or Obama.

What he could spoil  is the conspiracy of silence that now reigns about the corruption of this system. That's the kind of spoiling this nation needs.

So, take the 10 minutes and 5 seconds to make this issue salient again. If more than 5,000 do this by Tuesday, Roemer is likely to be the Americans Elect candidate. Here's how.


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Lawrence Lessig is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, director of Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and founder of Rootstrikers, an activist network opposed to corruption in government. More

Lessig's books include Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Our Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It, One Way Forward: The Outsider's Guide to Fixing the Republicand the recent Le$terland: The Corruption of Congress and How to End It. He serves on the Board of Creative Commons, MapLight, Brave New Film Foundation, The American Academy, Berlin, AXA Research Fund and iCommons.org, and on the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation. Lessig holds a B.A. in economics and a B.S. in management from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. in philosophy from Cambridge, and a J.D. from Yale. Prior to rejoining the Harvard faculty, Lessig was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school's Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

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