Note from Editors:
Harvard Professor Lessig is #crowdfunding for $1 million till Labor Day. If he meets the target, he said he will run for Presidency for only one purpose. Find out why? Will he succeed in his crowdfunding efforts?
by Abigail Tracy
Lawrence Lessig wants to make it to the Oval Office, pass just one bill and then resign.
On Tuesday, the Harvard Law professor and reform activist, released a video announcing his exploratory bid for president. In the video, Lessig explained his plan to run as a “referendum president” on a platform of sweeping political reform—the core of which would be campaign #finance reform—in an effort to fix America’s “rigged” political system. In keeping with his platform, Lessig launched a crowdfunding campaign to #fund his potential run. If he manages to raise one million dollars by Labor Day, Lessig will officially declare his candidacy and make a run for office for 2016.
Lessig believes that money in politics has stripped America of a truly democratic political system and wants to change that. This is not the first time the professor has delved into politics. In 2014, Lessig co-founded Mayday PAC, a super PAC billed as “a #crowdfunded Super PAC to end all Super PACs and the corruption of private money.”
With 27 days to go, Lessig’s crowdfunding campaign raised more than $128,800 at the time of publication. Forbes spoke with Lessig about his plan to “unrig the system,” his motivations and the challenges he has yet to face.
Some of the questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Can you explain your plan and this concept of a “referendum president”? How would your plan circumvent all these issues facing the other democratic candidates currently in the running?
It’s my view that if we had a referendum on this issue with the American public, it would overwhelmingly produce support for the reform. But we don’t have a referendum power, so this is a way to hack on into the system. So a candidate for president says, “I am going to do this one thing and when that thing is over, I will step aside.”
In that process you have a candidate whose election would be a mandate for that one thing and could stand up to Congress and say, here is that one thing and if you don’t do it, you are going to have the wrath of the people who say that you have not respected their mandate. When they do it then we will have created a Congress that is actually free to lead rather than compelled to follow the money.
What motivated you to explore this option?
I had been watching the Democratic Party candidates talk about really incredibly bold and inspiring ideas about what they want to do in the next administration, but I come from Massachusetts—our senator is Elizabeth Warren—and as Warren likes to say, “the system is rigged.” What increasingly frustrated me was the failure to connect that fact to strategy for actually making it possible to achieve these bold ideas. The system is rigged, what that means is that you have to unrig the rigged system first. So what is the plan for unrigging that rigged system and where is the priority for that plan?
What led me to do this was recognizing that I didn’t think that any of the candidates actually could do this. If you enter office with a mandate that is divided among seven or eight issues, it’s hard to stand up to the most powerful #interest in the United States and say to them that you are going to have to yield to this because so much else is hanging on what the administration does.
What would you have to accomplish to fulfill your mandate?
We have identified three areas that get tied into a proposal. The core of the package, which we call the Citizen Equality Act, is changing the way that elections are funded so that we don’t have this grotesquely corrupted system, where candidates focus on the people at the front of the line—the funders of campaigns—and ignore people in the rest of the line who are ordinary citizens because they know that they have to raise money from the people in the front of the line if they want to have a chance to run. Change the way that campaigns are funded so that we all are funders rather than a tiny few.
That’s number one, number two is equal representation–end political gerrymandering, these games where the politicians pick the voters rather than the voters picking the politicians. Make it so people within these districts feel like they are citizens and have an equal say in who their representative would be.
Third, end the voter suppression that goes on through tricks such as ID requirements or holding elections on days where ordinary people have to work and can’t get to an election booth. Make it simple and easy for everyone to be voting so that we can have more participation in the political system. Those three changes are all about the equality of citizens, but the core one is to address this corruption in the way that we fund campaigns.
Is that why you have turned to crowdfunding in your effort because it is more reflective of the broader public?
Crowdfunding was the obvious way to go because this campaign succeeds or fails based on how it is embraced by the #internet, so we have to succeed there. My hope is that in the process of building support through the [Internet] we can get the level of financial support necessary to make this a serious run. That was the thinking.
What is your crowdfunding goal?
Our goal is a million dollars by Labor Day. If by Labor Day, we have raised a million dollars and the major candidates have not committed to making fundamental reform as their number one priority then I will step into the race.
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Curated from Q&A With Lawrence Lessig, The Man Who Wants To Crowdfund His Way To The Presidency
Note: Featured Image credit: niacouncil.org