Lawrence Lessig Wants to Be President, for a Day or Two

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig is pondering a run for president, with the intention of resigning soon after he takes office. Lessig is thinking of running for one reason: electoral reform. Should he win, he'll work to pass a single set of electoral reforms and then immediately resign. He promises.

Why doesn't he just announce his candidacy? This anti-big money, anti-gerrymandering, anti-Citizens United pseudo-candidate wants to makes sure there's enough support. So get ready to hand over a million dollars by Labor Day if you want him to throw his hat into the Democratic primaries.

Watch Out, O'Malley, Lessig Is Coming

No one has done the polling, but odds are that if Lessig joined the Democratic race, he could really shake things up for candidates such as former Governor Lincoln Chaffee, former Governor Martin O'Malley or former Senator Jim Webb. (Oh, you weren't aware of their campaigns?) The relative success of socialist Senator Bernie Sanders shows that there's enough progressive enthusiasm out there that Lessig could muster a worthwhile, if not formidable, campaign. Lessig has a bit of experience in failed politicking, too. His Mayday PAC supported election reform candidates in 2014. Almost all of them lost. Politico described it as a lesson in "how to waste $10 million."

Despite Lessig's well known support for election reform, he actually made a name for himself working on much nerdier issues (Yes Virginia, there are nerdier issues). He established Stanford Law's Center for Internet and Society and devoted much of his career and activism to Internet issues, including reducing regulations around copyright, trademark and, sexiest of all, the radio-frequency spectrum.

Proposed Reforms

Lessig wants to be a "referendum president." Get in, change the system, and resign. What reforms is he pushing, exactly? He's focusing on a hypothetical Citizen Equality Act of 2017 which would seek to fix elections laws, campaign finance and gerrymandering. It's essentially an omnibus collection of "at a minimum," existing, proposed reforms such as the Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Government by the People Act.

To counteract the role of money and lobbyists in elections, Lessig is proposing a voucher system whereby each citizen will be given a fixed amount to donate to candidates, along with automatic voter registration and Election Day holidays. He wants to undo gerrymandering through multi-member election districts (which is a great idea). Oh, and while he's at it, he'll amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. So, maybe President Lessig would have to wait around for more than a day or two before he resigned.

If Lessig can raise a million dollars by Labor Day, he says he'll run. He's already off to a quick start, having taken in almost $150,000 from 1,600 donors in just one day.

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