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Tech moguls raise cash to fight Washington's 'big money problem'

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A group of influential Internet moguls aim to fix what they refer to as the "big money problem" in Washington politics by, well, raising cash.

Forming a Super Political Action Committee (PAC) called Mayday, the executives hope to raise $12 million by the midterm elections in November in hopes of supporting candidates who are committed to changing how elections are financed.

Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak joined the campaign late last week, alongside Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson; Paypal cofounder and libertarian activist Peter Thiel; and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffmann.

Their approach - using big money to fight big money - may seem odd, but the organizers note on the campaign website that they "embrace the irony."

"You have to work with the system you've got," said Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, who along with Republican strategist Mark McKinnon came up with the idea to form a Super PAC. "I don't think it makes sense to back out to play the game."

The organizers plan to use the funds to support five political candidates who will push for campaign finance reform. Lessig said he is considering both Democrats and Republicans to ensure the effort crosses party lines.

As a Super PAC, Mayday can raise unlimited amounts of money to bankroll political campaigns or causes so long as it operates independently of the candidates they support.

The organizers have called Mayday "the Super PAC to end all Super PACs"

Lessig, a founding board member of Creative Commons and former board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Reuters the objective is to find a way to change the way that elections are funded. In its first two weeks, the imitative garnered $1 million from grassroots donations.

In addition, Thiel and Hoffmann, venture capitalists Brad Burnham and Fred and Joanne Wilson, and Chris Anderson, organizer of the TED conference, agreed to donate $1 million apiece. Lessig hopes to raise an additional $5 million by July 4.

If successful, Mayday will launch a much larger campaign in 2016 to reverse laws that have granted undue political influence to corporations.

According to Lessig, the goals for the campaign are "narrow." Mayday is not a veiled effort to advance the tech agenda, he repeatedly stressed.

"If we're successful, some of our donors will have less influence than they do now, personally and through their corporations," he added. "They are spending money to reduce their political influence."

This wouldn't be the first attempt to curb the explosion of outside spending. A similar effort, dubbed Soros’ Friends of Democracy, is being run by Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire financier George Soros.

“Until we fix the root problem – the big money problem – we’re going to keep dealing with attack after attack on a free, open and innovative Internet," Wozniak said in a video to promote the Mayday campaign.

(Reporting By Christina Farr; Editing by Ken Wills)

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