Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig Considers A Presidential Run

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Lawrence Lessig at the Innotech Summit in London. (Innotech Summit/Flickr)
Lawrence Lessig at the Innotech Summit in London. (Innotech Summit/Flickr)

Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig is taking a cue from a former colleague at the law school and thinking of getting into politics.

"I've been inspired by the thought that we might actually address climate change or take on Wall Street, or actually deal with immigration or have sane limits on guns, but then I'm reminded, because I live in Massachusetts and my senator is Elizabeth Warren, that the system is rigged," Lessig said in telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

So Lessig says he is considering running for the Democratic nomination for president to unrig the system.

To show just how rigged it is, Lessig points to something Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in the debate last week.

"With Hillary Clinton, I said: 'Be at my wedding,'" Trump said. "And she came to my wedding. You know why? She had no choice, because I gave. I gave to her foundation."

"This is a system that is deeply corrupted by the way money influences politics, and until we fix that, until we fix that first, until we unrig this rigged system, nothing else is going to be possible," Lessig said.

Lessig wants to do three things: make sure all Americans can vote easily, get rid of gerrymandering in the House of Representatives and give every voter a voucher for $50 or $100 to give to candidates who agree to accept only vouchers or other small contributions.

"And that would change overnight the dynamic of how candidates raised money," Lessig said. "They wouldn't be focused all the time on what the tiniest fraction of the one percent care about. They would be focusing on what the vast majority of people in their district care about as they try to get the money they need to run their campaigns from those people."

If he's elected, Lessig promises to step down once his reforms are enacted.

His potential candidacy is being met with some skepticism.

Stonehill College political science professor Peter Ubertaccio says people don't care that much about campaign finance reform.

"It's very difficult to put this kind of campaign together, and it's all the more difficult if you're basically running on one issue that does not motivate a lot of people to vote," Ubertaccio said.

Lessig says he wants to affect this presidential race in the way Eugene McCarthy did in 1968. McCarthy made Vietnam the dominant issue in the Democratic primary race. His strong showing in the New Hampshire primary forced former President Lyndon Johnson to announce he would not be running for re-election.

But University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala says there is an obstacle to Lessig's ability to change the discourse.

"Bernie Sanders is in the race, and he's been discussing campaign finance reform with regularity," Scala said. "So there's an element of 'So what?' in all of this inasmuch as Bernie Sanders is already addressing with frequency a key issue that Lessig says has prompted his entrance into the race, or at least his consideration of it."

As of Thursday afternoon, Lessig's website was reporting he had already raised more than $70,000 from more than 800 people. He promises not to keep the money unless he raises the million dollars by Labor Day and goes forward with his campaign.

This segment aired on August 11, 2015.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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