Harvard law professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig unveiled plans to run for president today, launching a campaign centered on a single issue—what he calls "citizen equality."
Essentially, Lessig argues, America is fucked. Corporations and other interest groups can donate as much money as they want to national political campaigns, which gives big money a disproportionate influence over what happens in Congress. Meanwhile, not everyone has equal access to the voting booths, and gerrymandering—a system of drawing voting districts to favor a particular party—determines how some elections will turn out before a single ballot is cast.
The cure for this "rigged" system, Lessig said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, is the Citizen Equality Act of 2017, a blend of campaign finance reform and measures that would expand voting rights. Lessig wants to run as a "referendum candidate"—which means he'd campaign on behalf of that act, and, if elected, stay in office only as long it takes to get the bill passed. Hypothetically, once Congress gave it the OK, Lessig would resign, handing over the reins to a vice president who would fill out the rest of his term.
"My ideal is to be president for a day," Lessig said Tuesday.
Lessig hinted that current contenders for the Democratic nomination, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or even Hillary Clinton, could serve as his second-in-command, although he added that he's open to anyone who's "credible, nationally known, and passionate."
"I'd love to get Jon Stewart to think about it," he said.
The campaign, which is still in the exploratory stage, is an extension of Lessig's ongoing crusade to overhaul campaign finance laws. In 2014, Lessig made headlines by launching the MayDay PAC—the "Super PAC to end all Super PACS"— with the goal of electing congressional candidates committed to curbing the influence of money in politics during the midterm elections. MayDay's candidates performed terribly, though, and critics derided it as a quixotic vanity project.
But Lessig saw it as a movement—a movement he hopes to continue with his campaign. He said Tuesday that if he can raise $1 million in small, individual donations through his Kickstarter by Labor Day, he'll enter the race as a Democrat. From there, he said, he would try to gather enough support in the polls to make it onto national TV for the party's primary debates. Acknowledging his low chances of ever winning anything, Lessig said that just getting on to the debate stage would allow him to tie every issue back to the idea of "citizen equality," and force the other candidates to address his platform.
"I'm not claiming it's a sure shot," he said. "I'm claiming it's the best shot."
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