The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Larry Lessig’s super PAC to end super PACs raised $2.5 million in just 2 days. Here’s what comes next.

( <a href="">kalexanderson / Flickr</a> )
Placeholder while article actions load

Last week, with just a couple of days until a hard July 4 deadline, Mayday PAC still had to raise a whopping $2.5 million. It was an ambitious target. When I spoke to Harvard law scholar Lawrence Lessig about his chances then, he seemed grimly optimistic in the way a battlefield commander might be about taking a particularly well-defended hill: They'd get there.

Turns out, the super PAC that's trying to end the influence of money in politics had reinforcements in waiting. It broke past its $5 million goal over the holiday weekend with about $300,000 to spare. With more than 50,000 contributors, the average donation works out to about $140. No matter what side you're on when it comes to campaign finance, this was a triumph of grassroots organizing, with small donations leading the way.

There were some high-value donations. Four donations came in at $20,000, $24,000, $25,000 and $50,000, respectively. But an overwhelming share of people's donations were valued at $100 or less. Giving was mostly an urban affair, with New Yorkers, Bostonites and San Franciscans accounting for the most donations.

With the $5 million comes a $5 million match from high-profile investors. Together with another $2 million raised earlier this year, Mayday PAC will have more than $12 million in its pocket to get campaign finance reformers elected to Congress.

"The pundits say 'America doesn’t care about this issue,'" wrote Lessig in a note to supporters. "This is America caring."

As I wrote last week, this is where Mayday PAC's real work begins. It needs to figure out how to spend that money effectively. It needs to pick the right races to make that money competitive.

Mayday PAC might need to be smarter and faster than the average super PAC, because depending on the contest, it may be drawing people's attention to campaign money for the first time. Unlike other issues that have already been politicized — taxes, or health care, say — Mayday's task is two-fold. First it has to convince people that campaign finance is an issue worth voting on at all. Then it has to persuade people to vote its way. If Mayday's selected a race in which neither candidate has taken a firm position on campaign finance reform, getting it onto people's radar will be that much harder. This is where the heat map above may prove useful as a way to identify likely races — and an active base of existing supporters and potential volunteers.

But for now, Lessig and company are taking a breather before diving in again. The group is still taking donations, but there won't be any more pleas from Mayday PAC.

"After we get some sleep, you’ll hear more from us," Lessig vowed.