Law prof Lessig vows to take cash out of politics by raising tons of money

Bemoans lack of faith in plan with zero chance of success

Harvard law professor and author of internet bible Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace Lawrence Lessig is considering a run for US President on a single issue: getting big money out of America's politics.

And the deciding factor in running? Whether he can raise $1m in the next month.

A new website – LessigForPresident.com – is asking for contributions from $5 up to a maximum of $2,700 per person. Meaning that he needs between 371 and 200,000 people to put their money in the pot.

And what would they be buying? The opportunity to watch Lessig stand as a "referendum president."

The idea is, improbably, that people will elect a president on a single issue, and the president will then stand aside and let the "real" president (on the ticket as the vice-president) take over once Lessig's Citizen Equality Act is enacted.

That act will have three main reform planks: automatic voter registration; a redrawing of political districts; and one-per-citizen campaign funding voucher for future congressional and presidential election campaigns.

"We need to challenge this rigged system," Lessig said in his campaign video. "Until it is fixed, no sensible reform is even possible."

Youtube Video

He also had some catchy phrases about "the Death Star they call DC" and how the people need to "hack the system."

In his campaign video, Lessig offered to let a real politician that would be willing to "credibly commit" to his utopian vision to grasp the chalice of electoral reform and act as the frontman for the campaign. But if none come forward, he will stand, he said. Clearly no one has taken him up on the offer.

It seems improbable that Lessig believes the campaign will get anywhere; he hopes it could introduce the topic as an election issue.

He referenced and drew parallels to Eugene McCarthy's presidential run, which tried to put the Vietnam War into the election spotlight. Of course, comparing Vietnam with election reform requires the kind of logical separation from reality that only academics are truly capable of.

The whole idea is ridiculous, and something you would expect from one of Lessig's students rather than a respected academic in his 50s, even one that has given TED talks.

McCarthy had been in US Congress for 19 years before his 1968 presidential bid: 10 in the House; nine in the Senate. He also wanted the presidency: he ran five times for the position. When he stood on an anti-Vietnam War platform, it was because he saw it as a political weak spot in the current leader, Lyndon Johnson. He was also far from a single-issue figure.

The overall idea: a 'referendum president'. The kind of thing you would expect an 18-year-old to come up with rather than a respected academic in his 50s.

In 2016, there will be no incumbent and election reform is nobody's weak spot. Anyone standing on Lessig's single-issue platform is doomed to fail at the first hurdle and take their issue down with them. The Democratic Convention is tied up in inter-party politics, and an election reform candidate would get very few votes. And then they would have to enter the broader presidential election.

It's not the first time Lessig has been hit with political realities. Last year, he set up a SuperPAC aimed solely at getting eight pro-reform candidates elected, both Republican and Democrat.

After spending $10m, only two got in – and they were the candidates the campaign spent the least on as they already had the highest chance of winning. In short, it's not the money but what you do with it.

While you have to admire Lessig's passion for what is an admirable cause and real problem, he would do best to spend the money on signing up for next year's political science course. ®

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