Lawrence Lessig 2016 presidential campaign

The 2016 presidential campaign of Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Harvard University and cofounder of Creative Commons, was formally announced on September 6, 2015, as Lessig confirmed his intentions to run for the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States in 2016.[3][4] Lessig had promised to run if his exploratory committee raised $1 million by Labor Day, which it accomplished one day early.[5][6] He described his candidacy as a referendum on campaign finance reform and electoral reform legislation.

Lawrence Lessig for President
Lessig 2016.png
CampaignU.S. presidential election, 2016
CandidateLawrence Lessig
Harvard Professor of Law
Founder and CEO, Creative Commons (2001–2007)
Founder and Co-director, Stanford Center for Internet and Society (2000–2009)
Co-director, Center for the Study of Constitutionalism in Eastern Europe (1991–1997)
AffiliationDemocratic Party
EC formedAugust 11, 2015
AnnouncedSeptember 6, 2015
SuspendedNovember 2, 2015
HeadquartersCambridge, Massachusetts
Key peopleSteve Jarding (general consultant)
Bill Hillsman (media consultant)
Richard Dickerson (manager)
Drew Westen (message consultant)
Adam Bonin (legal counsel)
Szelena Gray (media contact) [1]
SloganFixing Democracy Can't Wait
ChantFix Democracy First

Lessig dropped out of the Democratic primary on November 2, 2015, shortly after the rules for participation in the next debate were changed such that he would no longer qualify.[7] He then considered other strategies to advance his reform agenda, including the possibility of an independent run.[citation needed]

His campaign platform was unique for its clear priority on passing one thing first: the Citizen Equality Act, a proposal that coupled campaign finance reform with other laws aimed at curbing gerrymandering and ensuring voting access.[8][9]



Anti-corruption activism

Until his leave of absence to launch his campaign, Lessig was the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.[10] His full-time work on corruption began in 2007, when Lessig announced that he would stop focusing his attention on copyright and related matters and work on political corruption instead.[11] In February 2008, a Facebook group formed by law professor John Palfrey encouraged him to run for Congress from California's 12th congressional district, the seat vacated by the death of U.S. Representative Tom Lantos.[12] Later that month, after forming an "exploratory project", he decided not to run for the vacant seat.[13]

Lessig speaking before Change Congress and the Sunlight Foundation

Despite having decided to forgo running for Congress himself, Lessig remained interested in attempting to change Congress to reduce corruption.[13] To this end, he worked with political consultant Joe Trippi to launch a web based project called "Change Congress".[14] In 2010, Lessig began to organize for a national constitutional convention,[15] co-founding Fix Congress First!, again with Joe Trippi.[16] He called for a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution[17] both in a September 24–25, 2011, conference co-chaired by the Tea Party Patriots' national coordinator,[18] and at an October 2011 Occupy protest in Washington, DC.[19] Reporter Dan Froomkin said his 2011 book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It,[20] offers a manifesto for the Occupy Wall Street protestors, focusing on the core problem of corruption in both political parties and their elections.[21] Lessig also co-founded Rootstrikers, another project to help volunteers to address the problem of money in politics.[22][23]

The New Hampshire Rebellion, likewise co-founded by Lessig, is a walk to raise awareness about corruption in politics.[24] The event began in 2014 with a 185-mile march in New Hampshire.[25] From Jan 11 until January 24, 2014, Larry Lessig and many others, like New York activist Jeff Kurzon, marched from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire to Nashua NH (a 185-mile march) to promote the idea of tackling "The Systemic Corruption in Washington."[citation needed] Lessig chose this language over the related term "campaign finance reform," commenting that "Saying we need campaign finance reform is like referring to an alcoholic as someone who has a liquid intake problem."[citation needed] The walk was to continue the work of NH Native Doris "Granny D" Haddock, and in honor of deceased activist Aaron Swartz.[24] In its second year the walk expanded to include other locations in New Hampshire.[26]

In May 2014, Lessig launched a crowd-funded political action committee which he termed Mayday PAC with the purpose of electing candidates to Congress who would pass campaign finance reform.[27] He is on the boards of MapLight and[28] He serves on the advisory boards of the Democracy Café[29] and the Sunlight Foundation.[30] Lessig's TED talks explaining the corruption of Congress and how to stop it have been viewed by millions.[31]

Referendum president concept

Lessig laid out the concept of a "reform president," one of four strategies for passing fundamental reform through a corrupted Congress, in his 2011 book, Republic, Lost:[32][33]

How could a candidate for president credibly signal to the American public that his or her exclusive focus would be to remove this fundamental corruption from our government? ... Here's one path: Imagine a candidate—a credible nonpolitician ... The candidate makes a single two-part pledge: if elected, she will (1) hold the government hostage until Congress enacts a program to remove the fundamental corruption that is our government, and (2) once that program is enacted, she will resign.

In a June 5, 2015 article titled, "Frodo Baggins for President," Lessig elaborated on this idea, suggesting Colin Powell, Bill Bradley, David Walker, Bill Gates, Christine Todd Whitman, Jerry Brown, Joe Scarborough, and Robert Reich as candidates who could run this way, implementing his idea of "the presidency as referendum."[34] Just days later, however, activist journalist Cenk Uygur argued in the Huffington Post that Lessig should implement his own strategy as a "Citizen President."[35]

Exploratory committee

On August 11, 2015, Lessig announced the formation of an exploratory committee in preparation for a possible bid for the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States in 2016.[6] Lessig vowed that if his committee could raise one million dollars by Labor Day 2015, and if the leading Democratic candidates for president had not yet committed to fundamental elections reform as their first priority, he would run for president.[6] The announcement was widely reported in national media outlets, and was timed to coincide with a media blitz by the Lessig 2016 Campaign. Lessig was interviewed in The New York Times and Bloomberg. Campaign messages and Lessig's electoral finance reform positions were circulated widely on social media.[8][36]

Lessig has stated that if elected President he would resign in favor of his vice president when he accomplishes his three stated objectives, which involve addressing campaign finance reform, voting rights issues and political gerrymandering. Prior to his dropping out of the race, he had yet to announce his vice presidential running mate, which he said would have been decided at the Democratic National Convention.



Lawrence Lessig launching his presidential campaign Sept. 9, 2015 in Claremont, NH.

Lessig reached his intended crowdfunding goal of $1 million on September 6, 2015. On his website later that day, Lessig announced his intention to enter the presidential race.[3] The headquarters of the campaign is in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[37] He officially launched his campaign on September 9, 2015, in Claremont, New Hampshire.[38] Just over a week later, he spoke at the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention.[39]

As of September 2015, intended New Hampshire Democratic primary voters gave Lessig one percent of the vote.[40]


Lessig was excluded from the first Democratic debate on CNN, after having criticized the requirement that Democratic candidates must earn at least 1% in three major national polls in the six weeks before the debate. Lessig's criticism was centered on the fact that he was excluded from most polls because the Democratic National Committee (DNC) did not officially welcome him to the campaign as it had done for all five other candidates. In the two weeks following his announcement, Lessig was only included in one national poll, in which he met the 1% requirement; other national polls had included Vice President Biden, who, at the time, had yet to announce whether he was running.[41][42] The day before the CNN debate, the Bloomberg Editorial Board published an editorial entitled, "Let All the Candidates Debate, Democrats," calling for the DNC to include Lessig in the debate.[43]

"All in"

On October 16, 2015, due to poor polling on the resignation part of his plan as well as the DNC's non-recognition of his candidacy, Lessig announced on Real Time with Bill Maher that he was dropping the promise to resign after passing the Citizen Equality Act. He elaborated on his decision in an online article for The Atlantic released the following day. Lessig explained that he would now outline his positions on every issue, just like any other campaign, planning to serve a full term as President after fixing democracy first.[9]


Lessig suspended his presidential campaign on Nov. 2, 2015, in a video statement.[44] He cited his inability to get one percent support in the polls and being unrepresented in the debates, saying, "I am not well-known to the American public generally." In an essay in the New York Times he further discussed the DNC's change of the one percent rule from "within six weeks" to "earlier than six weeks" to a "five-week period (that) just happened to be crafted to exclude the third poll finding me at one percent".[45]

Political positions

Equal citizenship – the first reform

Lessig's campaign stated that progress was effectively impossible with the state of political inequality, because members of Congress are reliant on a small number of major donors they need to win elections. Lessig called his Citizen Equality Act "The First Reform," which he said makes the other urgently needed reforms possible. It would:

The details of the Act sought public input to improve it.[46][47]


The urgent need to address climate change was one of the primary factors motivating Lessig to run for president. He supported a carbon tax on companies that are not able to clean the pollution that they have created. He also supported the other policies Democratic presidential candidates proposed, but he argued that a carbon tax would render most of them unnecessary. He also argued that enacting the Citizen Equality Act is essential to make addressing climate change possible because fossil fuel interests used their political influence to block it.[48]

The Internet

Lessig and Aaron Swartz in 2002 at the launch party for Creative Commons

Lessig is a strong supporter of Network neutrality, and an equally and broadly deployed Internet in general. He has a long history of supporting digital rights—for example, he helped found Creative Commons which advocates for the expansion of free and creative materials available to all. Lessig has also served on the boards of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Software Foundation.[49] His active interest in defending the Internet stems from his 1997 participation in a major lawsuit against Microsoft for trying to use its Windows monopoly to take over web standards.[50]

Government surveillance

Lessig believes that the Fourth Amendment should prevent government agencies from suspicion-less searches and unwarranted invasion of privacy. He pledged to stop NSA surveillance of American citizens and respect the privacy of non-US persons. Lessig believed that Edward Snowden was a hero and exposed government crimes after finding every available legal channel closed.[51]


Lessig supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Although he voiced strong support, he also believed that legislation should be passed that adds a public option to the insurance mandate and repeals the ban on the government negotiating for lower drug prices. Lessig proposed prize funding drug research and banning drug companies from negotiating with generic drug providers to delay entry into the market.[52]

Criminal justice reform

Lessig has stated that the criminal justice system is an "embarrassment to our tradition and our values." He criticized the Supreme Court for giving broad deference to police departments and argued in favor of criminal justice reform. Some of his proposals include: comprehensive reform of the mandatory minimum system, prosecution of white collar crimes that focus on people instead of corporations, banning practices that make guilty verdicts positive, ending felon disenfranchisement, and rooting out corruption in the government.[53]

Foreign policy

Lessig stated that "I am not a utopian. I am not a pacifist. I believe in military intervention to defend our people and for the cause of justice and humanity." He criticized the Iraq War for creating more critics than allies and helping recruit more terrorists. He also was a cautious but optimistic supporter of the nuclear deal with Iran. Lessig did not support the commitment of ground troops to Syria but instead suggested working with allies to create safe zones for refugees. He supported a similar policy in the fight against ISIS. Another important issue for Lessig was long-term relations with China. He stated that it was time for us to treat China as equals, working on problems such as climate change together.[54]


Believing that "we all gain from an educated people" Lessig supports subsidized education. Citing the current student debt at 1.2 trillion dollars he supports legislation that would reduce existing student debt and refinance loans to lower rates. Along with his support for free educational material on the Internet, Lessig would also push Congress to support open materials for scientific and educational pursuits. His Citizen's Equality Act proposes to weaken the influence of lobbyists on the education system.[55]

Immigration reform

Lessig supported passage of the DREAM Act and the ending of inhumane detention centers, as well as comprehensive immigration reform including a "speedy" path to citizenship.[56]

Innovation policy

Lessig supports copyright laws but believes that there must be fundamental changes. If elected, he pledged to convene an impartial Creative Rights Commission to create new copyright laws that allow more open access of information. He also has a similar proposal for an Invention Commission for changes to the current patent laws. His final proposal was to create an Innovation Council that reviews copyright and patent policies to make sure that they achieve their goals.[57] Lessig has written several books on intellectual property, and in 2002 argued in front of the Supreme Court for copyright limitations.[50][58]

War on Drugs

Lessig supports the legalization of marijuana and would explore decriminalizing other controlled substances. Lessig would also institute other policies to treat addiction as a disease, offering the compassion and support that people often need to free themselves from it. His website refers to the War on Drugs as "The So-Called 'War on Drugs'" and the most destructive war since the Civil War. He compared it to alcohol prohibition and cites the costs in American lives, damage to civil rights in the U.S., and loss of democracy and security in some South and Central American countries.[59]


Note: Lessig suspended his campaign on November 2, 2015[7][60]

Internet, radio and television personalities
Leaders in Business

See also


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  4. ^ "CHAPTER 10 What So Damn Much Money Does" . Archived from the original on April 8, 2016. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  5. ^ "Harvard professor hits $1M benchmark for White House bid" .
  6. ^ a b c Foran, Clare (August 11, 2015). "Why Exactly Is Lawrence Lessig Considering Running for President?" . National Journal. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Lawrence Lessig Calls Out Dems for Changing the Rules in Announcing Withdrawal from Race" . Mediaite. November 2, 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Merica, Dan (August 11, 2015). "Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig is exploring a long shot presidential bid" . Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Lawrence Lessig (October 17, 2015). "Larry Lessig Isn't Giving Up On His Presidential Campaign - The Atlantic" . The Atlantic.
  10. ^ "Harvard Law School Faculty Lawrence Lessig" .
  11. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (June 19, 2007). "Required Reading: the next 10 years (Lessig Blog)" . Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
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  13. ^ a b Lessig, Lawrence (February 25, 2008). "On why I am not running (Lessig Blog)" . Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  14. ^ Previous post Next post (March 20, 2008). "Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig Bets 'Wikipedia' Approach Will Transform Congress | Threat Level from" . Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  15. ^ "Call a Convention" . Call a Convention. Archived from the original on February 6, 2010. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  16. ^ "About/Contact" . Fix Congress First. June 20, 2014. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  17. ^ "The Movement to Organize the Call for a Convention"
  18. ^ Conference on the Constitutional Convention , Harvard University, September 24–5, 2011
  19. ^ Tackett, C. (October 19, 2011) "Could #OccupyWallStreet Become a Constitutional Convention?" Discovery /
  20. ^ Lessig, L. (2011) Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It Archived 2014-04-10 at the Wayback Machine (New York City: Hachette/Twelve) excerpt
  21. ^ Froomkin, Dan (October 5, 2011) "Lawrence Lessig's New Book On Political Corruption Offers Protesters A Possible Manifesto" Huffington Post
  22. ^ "Home" . Rootstrikers. Archived from the original on December 23, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  23. ^ "Home" . Rootstrikers. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  24. ^ a b Lawrence Lessig, "Why We're Marching Across New Hampshire to Honor Aaron Swartz" , The Atlantic, January 10, 2014.
  25. ^ Jennifer Harper, "Restless grassroots: New Hampshire ‘Rebellion’ declares their state is not for sale" (Inside the Beltway column), Washington Times, December 25, 2014.
  26. ^ John Koziol, "NH Rebellion Marching Its Way to Concord for Reform" , New Hampshire Union Leader, January 17, 2015.
  27. ^ Naureen Khan, May 2, 2014, Al Jazeera, May Day PAC wants to end all Super PACs , Accessed May 7, 2014, "kick-start May Day PAC, which, if successful, will help elect enough like-minded lawmakers to Congress in 2014 and 2016 to pass campaign finance reform. ... 'Yes, we want to spend big money to end the influence of big money,' Lessig said"
  28. ^ Maplight. "Board Members" at
  29. ^ Penn Alum Lawrence Lessig to Speak at National Constitution Center for Democracy Café Penn News, March 14, 2013
  30. ^ Board and Advisory Board Archived 2010-10-16 at the Wayback Machine Sunlight Foundation, February 14, 2011
  31. ^ "Has Money Taken Over American Politics?" . March 14, 2014.
  32. ^ Tessa Berenson. "Lawrence Lessig Thinks A Single Issue Might Make Him President" .
  33. ^ "CHAPTER 19 Strategy 3 An Unconventional Presidential Game" . Archived from the original on October 7, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  34. ^ Lessig (July 13, 2015). "Frodo Baggins for President — Equal Citizens" . Medium.
  35. ^ Uygur, Cenk (June 9, 2015). "A New Hope for 2016: @Lessig for President" . Huffington Post. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  36. ^ Toussaint, Kristin (August 11, 2015) "Harvard law professor wants to be president—for one day" , Retrieved August 11, 2015
  37. ^ "Support Lessig 2016" . Archived from the original on October 2, 2015. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  38. ^ "Campaign Press Release: Larry Lessig Hits $1 Million Fundraising Benchmark, Plans to Announce His Campaign for President at Historic New Hampshire Site" . Archived from the original on October 2, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  39. ^ David Catanese. "Larry Lessig Seeks A Single Issue, Single Year Presidency" . US News & World Report.
  40. ^ "NEW HAMPSHIRE: SANDERS LEADS CLINTON BY 7" (PDF). September 15, 2015. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  41. ^ "Democratic candidate Lawrence Lessig decries 'catch-22' TV debate eligibility" . The Guardian.
  42. ^ "Democrat Debate Controversy: Will Lawrence Lessig Be Included?" . Forbes.
  43. ^ The Editors (October 12, 2015). "Let All the Candidates Debate, Democrats" .
  44. ^ "Larry Lessig Drops Out Of Democratic Primary Race" , Huffington Post, Nov. 2, 2015.
  45. ^ "Why I Dropped Out" , The New Yorker, Jan. 28, 2016.
  46. ^ "The Citizen Equality Act of 2017" . February 14, 2015. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
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  48. ^ Lessig (October 20, 2015). "Protecting Our Environment — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  49. ^ Lessig (November 2, 2015). "The Internet — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  50. ^ a b "Wired 10.10: Lawrence Lessig's Supreme Showdown" . October 2002.
  51. ^ Lessig (October 20, 2015). "The Emerging Surveillance Society - Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  52. ^ Lessig (October 20, 2015). "Health Care Reform — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  53. ^ Lessig (October 20, 2015). "Criminal Justice Reform — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  54. ^ Lessig (November 2, 2015). "National Security & Foreign Policy — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  55. ^ Lessig (October 20, 2015). "Education — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  56. ^ Lessig (October 20, 2015). "Immigration Reform — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  57. ^ Lessig (November 2, 2015). "Innovation Policy — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
  58. ^ "" .
  59. ^ Lessig (October 20, 2015). "The So-Called "War on Drugs" — Lessig on the Issues" . Medium.
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  68. ^ "My Plan, and Why You Don't Want it" . September 3, 2015. Archived from the original on December 23, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  69. ^ Simon Sharwood (August 17, 2015). "Jimbo 'Wikipedia' Wales leads Lawrence Lessig's presidential push" . The Register.
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  71. ^ Cat Zakrzewski (August 21, 2015). "Silicon Valley Icon Wants to Hack His Way to the Presidency" . Wall Street Journal.
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  73. ^ "Ep190 - SUPER TUESDAY: Lawrence Lessig by Bryan Callen Show | Free Listening on SoundCloud" . Retrieved October 26, 2015.
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  75. ^ "mattsydal on Twitter: "This is why we need @lessig as President! End bribery and restore democracy Infographic: Money Wins Congress (Again) ..."" . October 20, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2015. External link in |title= (help)
  76. ^ Novoselic, Krist (August 12, 2015). "This Is Krist Novoselić: Real Election Reform Enters The 2016 Race" . Retrieved October 26, 2015.

External links


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