Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

MAYDAY, founded by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, has its heart in the right place, but the American ‘Campaign Industrial Complex’ has an unfair advantage: it has no heart. (Image: via TheGoodFight.fm)

The MayDay SuperPAC: A Lesson in Failure

The failure of Mayday.us offers a lesson that must be heeded: movement-building is the only answer

Egberto Willies

Lawrence Lessig’s MAYDAY.US (Mayday SuperPAC) was an ambitious project. It exploded onto the scene with a mission to change the direction of the electoral process. Their website lists a four step process by which this would occur:

  1. Create a SuperPAC to support candidates who favor reform.

  2. Win a majority in Congress in 2016 based on lessons learned in the 2014 election.

  3. Get Congress to pass and the President to sign election reform in 2017.

  4. Push for a constitutional amendment to secure the reforms.

Many organizations have been working on the corrosive nature of money in politics pre and post Citizens United. (Concern about money in politics predates Citizen United, is well documented, and already has defined solutions.) The newcomer MAYDAY received traditional mainstream media coverage these other organizations could only dream of. That media coverage assured that MAYDAY’s SuperPAC coffers would be filled. After all, a message to clean up politics sells, and a well-advertised message sells even better.

The media understand super PACs. Having an organization that threatens to clean up money in politics using the same method as the offenders is great theater. After-all, however noble, all SuperPACs are biased by those leading the super PAC directly and indirectly through their large donors. Sadly, Americans yearning for a political system that works are the ones that bear the brunt of experiments in futility.

All MAYDAY candidates in competitive races lost.

There is very little MAYDAY could have done to alter that course. It is likely all of the people MAYDAY touched went out to vote. It is just as likely those people are the ones that always vote.

For there to be a change one must get to those people in the barrios, the hoods, the trailer parks, and Appalachia to engage those who don’t vote to start voting according to their own interests. One must also speak to the heart of those who continue to vote against their own interests, election after election. That cannot be accomplished with a top down approach. It is done from the bottom up.

A bottom up approach takes more time than an election cycle because trust must be built with these communities first. One must engage them in small groups where mutual educational processes can occur. One must understand the wants, needs, and fears of these disparate communities to weave them into the fabric of our failing democracy in order to improve the quality of their lives and repair the damage years of structural racism, corporate personhood trumping community rights, and an election system awash with corruption and money has created. In other words, we must build a movement.

A lasting movement is not created in two years. Many organizations like Move To Amend are working within various communities to build trust with and engagement in the body politic. Other organizations like Coffee Party USA are building outreach and alternate media infrastructure to ensure Americans get more than corporate filtered news.

These organizations understand fundamentally that institutions partially inspired by the Powell Manifesto have been working through various think tanks, educational institutions, and the media to fool the American voter and that indoctrination at this level can only be mitigated through direct engagement and grassroots organizing.  While these organizations are finding great success, they struggle to grow their capacity to reach the general public. MAYDAY’s $10 million dollars would have been better served contributing to already existing organizations on the ground within communities that could have made a difference.

Many lessons must be learned from the failure of MAYDAY:

  • Simply throwing money at a candidate who pledges support for campaign reform is not enough. A robust and active grassroots organization in touch with the candidate’s voters outside of Washington or academia is a must.
  • Academic exercises in voter sentiment are not enough. After all, voters supported many ballot initiatives calling for an amendment to the Constitution to end corporate personhood, even as they voted for candidates that do not support those same initiatives.
  • Media coverage and accolades are not enough. Would corporate driven media really give much airtime to an organization that threatens its influence?
  • Most importantly, humility towards the voter and those that have built a rapport in communities that do make a difference is essential.

MAYDAY’s heart was in the right place, but the American ‘Campaign Industrial Complex’ is heartless. It will always encourage and provide fanfare for those who create conflict—because it sells—but only for those whom they are sure will ultimately be no threat to its existence.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Egberto Willies

Egberto Willies

Egberto Willies is a blogger, author & political activist. He is a member of the Move To Amend National Leadership Team. He blogs at http://EgbertoWillies.com

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·


FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Booster Shots for People 65+ and Especially Vulnerable

The scientific advisory committee voted down a recommendation for other adults.

Common Dreams staff ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo