Across the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass., a sixth Democratic presidential candidate has emerged. His name is Lawrence Lessig, and he serves as both the Roy L. Furman professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.
Over the summer, Lessig announced that he would run for President of the United States if he could crowdfund $1 million by Labor Day. He recently met his goal, and on Wednesday, Sept. 9 in Claremont, N.H., he announced his candidacy for office.
As a candidate, Lessig has but one focus. He advocates for a so-called “Citizens Equality Act of 2017.” The Act would allow for “equal freedom to vote, equal representation, and citizen-funded elections,” according to his campaign’s website.
In short, Lessig wants to reform the way political elections are held in this country, placing a particular emphasis on the way that elections are financed. He disapproves of the power that corporations wield in politics by way of financial backing.
Lessig told ABC News that his proposed legislation would “make it possible for government to actually do something without fear of what the funders want them to do.”
The issue is not new to Lessig. In 2014, he crowdfunded $10 million to create the Mayday PAC with the hope of electing Congressional candidates who supported campaign finance reform. His efforts in this regard were to little avail. Now, Lessig himself has taken up the gauntlet, running for the nation’s highest elected office.
If elected, Lessig has promised to step aside after the passage of the Citizens Equality Act, leaving his Vice President to govern.
While an official Vice President has not been named, lessig2016.us allows supporters to vote for their choice. Current options range from fellow Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to former host of The Daily Show Jon Stewart and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Some of the vice presidential options may seem comical, but Lessing believes there is logic behind his plan. In response to questions about resigning after an improbable victory during an appearance on MSNBC, Lessig responded, “You have to focus the mandate on this single issue.”
He contends that those candidates who run on a traditional platform of several, distinct ideas are less likely to accomplish any one of them. Instead, Lessig asserts he would act as a “referendum president,” achieving a single goal after which point it would be possible for other leaders to govern more effectively.
Now, with more than $1 million raised, the next obstacle for Lessig is qualifying to participate in the first Democratic debate on Oct. 13. To do so, he would need at least one percent of the national poll within a matter of weeks.
Though unusual, this type of campaign is not entirely without precedent. “Senator [Elizabeth] Warren was a professor as well prior to becoming a senator,” said Boston College Business Law professor Richard Powers.
Not unlike Lessig, Senator Warren was the Leo Gottlieb professor of Law at Harvard Law School for nearly 20 years. Nor are Lessig’s ideas without support. Powers explained that many condemn the sway large corporations hold over the political process and oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that protected corporate political spending under the First Amendment. Powers affirmed that “common sense would suggest, if not require you to conclude, that the more you give, the more you expect,” adding that the system is “not healthy” over the long term.
Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic frontrunner, has also condemned the way in which campaigns are financed.
“I will do everything I can to appoint Supreme Court justices who protect the right to vote and do not protect the right of billionaires to buy elections,” she said, speaking of the 2010 Citizens United decision.
On the other end of the political spectrum, Republican leader Donald Trump has raised the issue himself, touting, albeit through personal wealth, his lack of reliance on outside donors. Trump, accounting for his growing popularity, told CNN, “I think one of the things they like about me is nobody’s going to buy me.”
Even with general support for his platform, Lessig has his work cut out for him as an inexperienced politician entering an already competitive race.
“He is extremely bright and personable, but I’m not sure he would necessarily appeal to the masses,” Powers said.
Even without success at the polls, Lessig’s efforts may not be in vain.
“I assume he’s using the process to raise an issue of great public concern, and so in that regard, I think it’s a valid campaign,” Powers said.
Featured Image from Lessig2016.us