Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has highlighted the role money plays in influencing politics by forming a super PAC, giving speeches around the country, and even walking across New Hampshire.
Now, for the same reason, Lessig is exploring a run for president as a Democrat.
Lessig, who lives in Brookline, concedes he would be a single-issue candidate, but he argued most other issues are wrapped up into this one.
“I am incredibly impressed by the bold ideas that the Democratic candidates in the race have addressed: income inequality, climate change, student debt,” Lessig, 54, said in an interview. “But until we fix the rigged system first, then nothing is going to happen.”
Lessig filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to form a presidential exploratory committee. He said that if he raises $1 million by Labor Day, he will take leave from Harvard University and become an official candidate.
“I will give it every ounce of energy needed to win Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina,” said Lessig, referring to the first four states that kick off the presidential nominating season. “What is really critical is to get into the debate and at least leverage these ideas into the Democratic primary.”
He said he will run as “a referendum” president. If elected, he said, he will work to pass a three-part “Citizen Reform Act” to address his concerns. Lessig described the package of reforms as being “the most important political reform since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Once Lessig signs the act into law, he said, he would resign as president and hand over the reigns to his vice president.
Earlier in the year, Lessig backed the effort to draft US Senator Elizabeth Warren into the Democratic primary for president.
In a video released on his exploratory campaign website Monday night, Lessig compared his campaign to that of former US senator Gene McCarthy, a Democrat who ran for president in 1968.
Lessig noted that McCarthy didn’t become president (he didn’t even win the nomination), but he put the issue of the Vietnam War front and center in the campaign. Lessig hopes to do the same thing with money’s influence on politics.
Lessig compared himself to New York businessman Donald Trump, the GOP candidate who has received most of the media attention this month.
“We have two things in common,” Lessig said. “We’re both not politicians, and we both believe the system is completely corrupt.”