Super PAC "to end all super PACs" aims to send a midterm message

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Americans are clearly cynical when it comes to the influence of money in politics: This week's CBS News poll shows that three in four Americans think wealthier citizens have a better chance of influencing the election process.

Congress, however, has yet to find any appetite for campaign finance reform. That may not be too surprising, given that the vast majority of lawmakers in office now were able to make the current system work to their advantage.

This year, Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig is attempting to harness the public's dissatisfaction with campaign financing to change the equation for politicians. He's starting a super PAC, called MayOne, that aims to build enough grassroots support to ultimately "end all super PACs."

MayOne launched with the goal of raising $1 million from ordinary citizens by the end of the month. If that goal was reached, Lessig promised to find more deep-pocketed donors to match that $1 million. Ultimately, Lessig wants to raise a total of $12 million -- half from small donors and half large donors -- to get involved in five congressional races this year.

The response has been significant: Lessig told CBS News that MayOne reached its $1 million goal in just 13 days with the help of about 12,000 donors. As of Thursday evening, the super PAC's website said it had raised more than $1.13 million. Lessig pointed out that the super PAC launched by comedian Stephen Colbert, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, only managed to raise about $1.2 million in over a year.

"He has this little thing called a television show, but we just have the Internet," Lessig remarked.

Once the $1 million in matching funds is secured, MayOne moves into the harder stage of attempting to raise another $5 million from small donors. Lessig aims to finish that by July 4. Then, if the group can secure the full $12 million, it will choose which five congressional races to jump into.

This year, however, is just the jumping off point for a much larger effort MayOne would like to roll out in 2016. "Imagine a super PAC big enough to win enough seats in 2016 to bring about fundamental reform," Lessig explained.

The 2014 efforts will effectively serve as a "pilot" run, he said. MayOne plans to choose races this year "that would teach us what we have to do to win."

The second aim of this year's efforts is to deliver a message to politicians and the public "that this issue matters, and if you are effective in campaigning on this issue, we can win seats."

MayOne is, of course, going to back politicians who back campaign finance reforms. But in addition to that, Lessig said, MayOne is going to consider factors like the nature of the district, the likelihood of their preferred candidate winning, and whether the other candidates in the race are truly objectionable.

It's possible MayOne could consider entering a race whether other heavyweight super PACS are involved, Lessig said, for the sake of impact.

"We're considering every context where we're going to be able to powerfully deliver the message that the current system has disenfranchised the regular voter," he said. "That could be a super PAC district, [or] a district where a candidate has been particularly awful on reform... There's a bunch of things that would go into the mix."

Once MayOne decides to back a candidate, Lessig said he doesn't expect them to disavow other fundraising efforts. "I don't believe in unilateral disarmament," he said. "We're not saying to people we want you to live life the way the angels would live it."

He does, however, expect them to stay committed to reform.

Lessig acknowledged that there may be little incentive for politicians, once in office, to change a system that helped them get elected in the first place. He said, however, that if MayOne is successful in its efforts to influence certain races and bring more attention to the issue of campaign finance reform, lawmakers will respond.

Lessig said he believes that "those people who are successful under the existing system can be successful under another system." And he said, "Whether they believe it or not, we can make it costly for them not to support reform."

In other midterm news:

Billionaire chooses seven races to influence: California billionaire Tom Steyer is helping the super PAC NextGen Climate Action finance a $100 million campaign to promote climate change issues in the midterm elections. On Wednesday, his aides announced he's using his money to target Republicans in four key Senate races and three governors' races.

NextGen plans to get involved in the Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire -- all places where Democrats are trying to hold onto seats. The group will also spend money on the gubernatorial races in Maine, Pennsylvania and Florida. NextGen plans to influence the races with TV ads and get-out-the vote efforts, as well as by branding the Republicans on the ballot as "anti-science."

Grimes calls for Shinseki to go: Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who's trying to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined the growing ranks of public officials calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki amid widespread allegations of misconduct at VA medical facilities across the country.

"We owe a solemn obligation to our veterans, and our government defaulted on that contract," Grimes explained Thursday in a statement. "I don't see how that breach of trust with our veterans can be repaired if the current leadership stays in place."

The president has thus far resisted calls for Shinseki's resignation, and Grimes' statement on Tuesday could mark another attempt to distance herself from an administration that is none too popular in her state. Grimes also released a new ad on Thursday pledging to provide an independent voice for Kentuckians in the Senate.

"I believe we need a senator who puts partisanship aside...and works with both Democrats and Republicans to do what's right for Kentucky and for our country," she says in the minute-long spot. "And no matter who the president is, I won't answer to them. I'll only answer to you."

CBSNews.com's Jake Miller contributed to this report.

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