Lessig Running for "Referendum" President
August 11, 2015 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Lawrence Lessig is (probably) running for President of the United States. But he only wants to be President long enough to pass the Citizen Equality Act, which includes publicly funded elections, an end to gerrymandering, online voter registration, and making election day a national holiday. After that, he'll resign.

He's running in the Democratic primary and if he wins, he promises to accept whatever candidate the Democratic Party Convention selects as the Vice President who would become President when he resigns.

Lessig previously co-founded Creative Commons, served on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and very recently resigned as CEO of MayDay.US, a Super PAC focused on ending Super PACs.

His candidacy is dependent on the same sort of Kickstarter-style crowdfunding that launched MayDay.US. If he gets one million dollars by Labor Day, he's in. If not, he'll return the pledges.

Lessig was good friends with Aaron Swartz, "The Internet's Own Boy." He is in many ways running as "The Internet's Own President."
posted by scottreynen (102 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
A version of this plan can be found in his book on US elections, Republic, Lost.
posted by saladin at 6:12 PM on August 11, 2015


publicly funded elections, an end to gerrymandering, online voter registration, and making election day a national holiday

This is all under Congressional purview as far as I can tell...
posted by saturday_morning at 6:17 PM on August 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


But he only wants to be President long enough to pass the Citizen Equality Act, which includes publicly funded elections, an end to gerrymandering, online voter registration, and making election day a national holiday. After that, he'll resign.

Given the political makeup of Congress, this woul mean Larry would be our first 10-term President.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:18 PM on August 11, 2015 [88 favorites]


I would support this... although I would have concerns about congress being in charge of funding its own elections. Also, I would also want him to include doing something about gerrymandering.
posted by Jernau at 6:28 PM on August 11, 2015


More a stunt than a plan, but I'll donate. Having the Democratic primaries be a venue where ideas like this get discussion works for me.
posted by weston at 6:28 PM on August 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Is he John Darnielle's real dad?

(also, yes, this seems like a very well thought out way of raising this issue)
posted by howfar at 6:33 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can see this as an attempt at attention-getting but I don't understand how this could ever possibly actually succeed? "I'll resign, I swear," both isn't going to fly with many, many, many people but also that makes who his VP is insanely important, no? Even just explaining what he's attempting to do here seems likely to make a lot of people's eyes glaze over.
posted by sparkletone at 6:47 PM on August 11, 2015


Sadly, I fear he doesn't know the differences among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. I can't vote for anyone who wants to change law without knowing what the current state of the law is.
posted by janey47 at 6:48 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was a student of Lessig's years ago and I have followed his work and career. He is a very smart, very sweet person. Most of us have an average intellect and average-sized blind spots. He has a gigantic intellect and gigantic blind spots.
posted by Mr. Justice at 6:49 PM on August 11, 2015 [54 favorites]


I would support this... although I would have concerns about congress being in charge of funding its own elections. Also, I would also want him to include doing something about gerrymandering.

From the FPP text, emphasis added:
...he only wants to be President long enough to pass the Citizen Equality Act, which includes publicly funded elections, an end to gerrymandering, online voter registration, and making election day a national holiday.
posted by aydeejones at 6:50 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sadly, I fear he doesn't know the differences among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government.

Uh. You know who Lawrence Lessig is, right? You don't end up a professor of law at places like Stanford and Harvard without knowing at least a teeny bit more than that...
posted by sparkletone at 6:50 PM on August 11, 2015 [22 favorites]


I'll donate as long as he promises to use the funds for something useful after he can't actually run for president AND he changes his campaign slogan to "Lessig, More."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:50 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


After that, he'll resign.

He pretends to run for President; I'll pretend to support him. Sounds like a plan.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:51 PM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Lesson seems like a nice guy but his plan seems crazy and wildly out of touch with realities of how political systems change as well as with the responsibilities of the Presidential office. his campaign marketing is full of scarily handwavy gross presumptions
posted by Bwithh at 6:56 PM on August 11, 2015


It's interesting to know that most of the revolutionary recommendations (insofar as they sound highly implausible due to the amount of empowerment given, not that they haven't come up many times before) have been introduced in congress already by people like Patrick Leahy, in some cases as proposed revisions to the Voting Rights act, i.e.

He has links to existing proposals in congress in the same page where the Citizen Equality Act is described.
posted by aydeejones at 6:57 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


He is in many ways running as "The Internet's Own President."

With a technocratic blind faith in the power of procedural liberal wonk-rationalism over bitterly contested struggles for power? Yeah, I guess that checks out.
posted by RogerB at 6:59 PM on August 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Probably the only chance we have to get Judge Posner on the Supreme Court. (Not that I'd want that, but hell, it would be interesting.)
posted by sallybrown at 7:03 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


realities of how political systems change

I am interested to know how you think they change. Because the ways they seem to me to have usually changed in the last century or so could really do with a bit of work. Or at least a reduction in the number of people obscenely slaughtered to something a bit more manageable.
posted by howfar at 7:04 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is a nice idea, but ... he has to know this won't work, right?
posted by kafziel at 7:20 PM on August 11, 2015


He is in many ways running as "The Internet's Own President."

As long as we're pretending, why doesn't he pretend that he's already President? Bonus: he could issue a bunch of laws and appeal to people who have no patience with procedure.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:21 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sure, why not? I see no reason to let Republicans be the only ones with contested primaries. Between this guy and Sanders they'll probably be airing more actual discussion of policy than the two dozen or so R talking heads combined.
posted by indubitable at 7:21 PM on August 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


So, before he ends gerrymandering, he's going to fix what it has wrought, yes?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:22 PM on August 11, 2015


I like the idea of electing a quitter. Someone just like me! He's so relatable.
posted by srboisvert at 7:31 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


As long as we're pretending, why doesn't he pretend that he's already President? Bonus: he could issue a bunch of laws and appeal to people who have no patience with procedure.

It was a pretty good racket for Emperor Norton.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:34 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Lord, y'all are some real haters. I am a huge fan of Larry Lessig, problems that he may have. I live in a SUPER COMPETITIVE!!! swing state, but one that is far enough down the line to rarely make a difference in the sadly never competitive Democratic primaries. If Clinton has it on lock, I might as well repeat my 2004 experience of voting for Kucinich once Dean dropped out, and cast a similar "why the hell not" vote for Lessig.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:43 PM on August 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I mean, if someone like Donald Trump/Ted Cruz/Marco Rubio/Mike Huckabee can get away with handwavey "whatever, we'll figure it out once we really need too!!!," we might as well even the playing field and put up some similar candidates on the other side. Maybe it brings Democrats down to the GOP's level but at least we can match infuriating for earnestness.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:45 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


If it can get him into one of the debates, OK. If it can't, seems like a relatively meh stunt. But good luck!
posted by Going To Maine at 7:48 PM on August 11, 2015


Pledge $200 or more:
Reward: History's most epic mic drop
Estimated Delivery: March 2017
posted by alikins at 7:49 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't hate Mr. Lessig, but I feel like this is super unlikely to lead to any kind of good outcome. It seems to be an error of kind, it seems to disagree with the fundamental division of powers that everyone is taught in school. It seems like a big sidestep of recognizing the tremendous amount of effort it would be to accomplish legislatively the things listed in his list.
posted by newdaddy at 7:51 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a great cause, but all the money and effort he's asking for would be much more effective if it were directed towards a state-by-state constitutional amendment campaign. No "I promise to resign" awkwardness and questions about the VP slot, plus not having to worry about Congress getting in the way.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:53 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think that, with this kind of outsider campaign, if Lessig were somehow elected he could make a plausible argument that he has a mandate to do exactly what he promised.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:55 PM on August 11, 2015


that he has a mandate to do exactly what he promised

Except Presidential mandates aren't actually a thing except at the margins -- certainly not the kind of thing that would get Congress to reduce their own job security or fundraising abilities.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:59 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Presidential mandates aren't a thing, true, but we're talking about the bizarro universe in which Lessig wins and we lose the first few months watching pigs fly.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:04 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like this is super unlikely to lead to any kind of good outcome. It seems to be an error of kind, it seems to disagree with the fundamental division of powers that everyone is taught in school.

OK, so the POTUS isn't a king and the green lantern theory of the presidency is invalid. And the kind of reform we're talking about is not something the larger system is probably going to be really friendly too.

But between the bully pulpit and the veto power, it's massively overstating the case to accuse any Presidential candidate with a legislative agenda (let alone a record of distinguished legal work) of misunderstanding the separation of powers.

There's almost no way his plan would play out exactly as he's laying it out, but that has something in common with every other campaign being run right now. He almost certainly won't be elected, but that has something in common with most of the field in play at the moment.

If there's anything to find fault with here, it's the quality of the policy he's proposing. And, well, if we have a discussion about that, even its possible faults, we all win.
posted by weston at 8:08 PM on August 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


My bad, you still need a congressional vote to add new amendments (in order to call a convention on the proposal voted for by a supermajority of states). You don't need a congressional supermajority in that scenario, but it does open up the possibility of a runaway constitutional convention that considers measures beyond the original proposal.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:13 PM on August 11, 2015


More a stunt than a plan, but I'll donate. Having the Democratic primaries be a venue where ideas like this get discussion works for me.

My thoughts exactly. He has less chance of winning than Sanders, but he's aware as well as we are that the premise isn't that he might actually win, it's that he'll receive enough support to make this an Issue in the overall presidential campaign, rather than just an issue.

I was disappointed with the results of the Mayday PAC, but... this is the corruption that is one of the roots of all our problems in America. Not the only root, but one of the main ones.
posted by Caduceus at 8:18 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I hope he wins the primary, makes Hillary his VP, and keeps his promise to resign once the deed is done. Somebody needs to pass that bill, and the way I feel is a career politician isn't very likely to.
posted by saysthis at 8:22 PM on August 11, 2015


The point is not that he gets elected and creates the CEA by fiat; the point (he is nuts but not dumb, especially about the nuts and bolts of politics) is that IF he got elected on such a crazy premise, he would have a GIANT LEVER of a mandate with which to move Congress. Like, an insane, unprecedented popular mandate.

If, as is more likely, he raises the money and makes the speeches and loses with no delegates, he still will have a) shown there's fundraising money in supporting these causes, and ideally a lot of it because lobbyists will fight back; B) forced Democratic and hopefully Republican candidates to publicly endorse or reject these ideas and EXPLAIN WHY to the electorate, which C) gives attack ad material for the next election cycle when people go on the record supporting gerrymandering and lobbyists' money; d) created considerable political cover for other politicians to make less-drastic moves in the same direction while seeming measured and temperate about it; and e) created a way for reform advocates to give a very public endorsement to the candidate who vows to support these ideas, which is the sort of "stunt campaign" that can create a moral legitimacy to a movement that lets that endorsement of ideas carry forward for several election cycles (like Norquist and his tax pledge).

This is crazy, but it's crazy like a fox. It's well-thought-out insanity.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:25 PM on August 11, 2015 [41 favorites]


That is, the bet he's actually making is that he can raise a million dollars by Labor Day. If he can manage that, showing public enthusiasm for his agenda that extends to the public's pocketbooks, ALL OUTCOMES OF THE ACTUAL CAMPAIGN ARE WIN STATES for him. Even if he loses, he wins. The only way he can ACTUALLY lose is if he can't raise the money.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I do not like the idea of online voting. The better solution would be vote-by-mail, as that has a better chance of enfranchisement, due to the very real problem of digital literacy and the Digital Divide (which includes people who do have access to computers, but have zero understanding of anything beyond limited usage). Not to mention the very real problem of vote rigging of electronic voting records. To me, that is a massive non-starter.
posted by daq at 8:34 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is all under Congressional purview as far as I can tell...
So? The centerpiece of the Obama campaign (universal health care) was under Congressional purview. One of the four main planks in Hillary Clinton's platform, “revitalizing our democracy,” attacks some of the same issues as Lessig, and her main proposals include things like Congress should move quickly to pass legislation that would fix the damage done to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, and restore the full protections American voters need and deserve.”
Sadly, I fear he doesn't know the differences among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government.
Larry Lessig was a clerk in the US Supreme Court, and has argued at least two cases before the Supreme Court (and many more in federal circuit courts). He created a super PAC that donated $11 million to eight US congressional campaigns, and numerous other organizations with state- and national-level legislative agendas. And he’s launched an exploratory presidential campaign. When you’ve done half as much, then you can lecture Professor Lessig about the branches of the federal government.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:09 PM on August 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I do not like the idea of online voting.

Online voter registration is what's being proposed, not online voting.
posted by ripley_ at 9:11 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Code & Other Laws of Cyberspace (v.2) by Lawrence Lessig
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:20 PM on August 11, 2015


I think this is great; haters gonna hate.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:45 PM on August 11, 2015


This all seems splendid! Okay, I'll vote for him.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:46 PM on August 11, 2015


Finally, the Democrats have a Ross Perot of their own.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:50 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Much cheaper for Lessig to bumrush Bernie's stage every chance he gets.

Probably more effective, too.
posted by notyou at 9:56 PM on August 11, 2015


Lessig previously co-founded Creative Commons, served on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and very recently resigned as CEO of MayDay.US, a Super PAC focused on ending Super PACs.

Yes, but can he kill dragons?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:00 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Online voter registration is what's being proposed, not online voting.

That still presents major problems. Again, access to online resources can be limited, especially for minority and marginalized populations. The required knowledge to navigate the web successfully and to be sure that you have complete the process correctly also presents massive challenges.

Another spoiler for this proposal is the common use of similar domain registration. Say the official voter registration website is something like www.voterregistration.gov. Well, someone who doesn't want people to successfully register get the domain www.voterregistration.com (or any of the other tld's out there), and then send out spam e-mails that look official directing people to register there. Someone, not savvy enough of this type of scam goes to the fake website, fills it out (compromising their identity in the process), and then thinks they are registered to vote. Come day of the election, arrive at the polls and guess what? Not registered, can't vote, vote not counted. Hooray, you've just disenfranchised everybody's relatives who keep asking about whether they should respond to that nice man from Nigeria or who think they won the Spanish lottery.

Automatic voter registration and vote-by-mail are the sure fire way to not only increase the likelyhood of more voter participation, you also don't have the problem of people not being able to get to the polls, because there are no polls to go to. Just drop your ballot in the mail, or hand deliver it to a post office or library.

I love the idea of everyone being online and connected and constantly learning by being a part of the technology available, but this is not the way to do it, and those are just 2 of the caveats I can think of right now. There are a ton of other issues, but in particular with using the internet as a means of anything related to the official voting process. Just because it would be easier and more efficient does not mean that it will be more effective or better for people at risk of losing their enfranchisement.

(sorry, this is a sore spot for me as I work with marginalized and minority communities, and one of the major things we struggle with is digital inclusion and the actual frontline implementation of that. It is more than just putting people in front of a computer. So much more that people quickly forget how much they assume everyone knows how to use a computer.)
posted by daq at 10:14 PM on August 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Another spoiler for this proposal is the common use of similar domain registration. Say the official voter registration website is something like www.voterregistration.gov. Well, someone who doesn't want people to successfully register get the domain www.voterregistration.com (or any of the other tld's out there), and then send out spam e-mails that look official directing people to register there. Someone, not savvy enough of this type of scam goes to the fake website, fills it out (compromising their identity in the process), and then thinks they are registered to vote. Come day of the election, arrive at the polls and guess what? Not registered, can't vote, vote not counted. Hooray, you've just disenfranchised everybody's relatives who keep asking about whether they should respond to that nice man from Nigeria or who think they won the Spanish lottery.

This is most definitely a real threat, but I'm pretty sure this is also flagrantly, flagrantly illegal, and a successful online voter registration system would necessitate forceful prosecution and shutdown of such domains.

I love the idea of everyone being online and connected and constantly learning by being a part of the technology available, but this is not the way to do it, and those are just 2 of the caveats I can think of right now. There are a ton of other issues, but in particular with using the internet as a means of anything related to the official voting process. Just because it would be easier and more efficient does not mean that it will be more effective or better for people at risk of losing their enfranchisement.

There are many issues here, but this seems like a challenge of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Registering folks online is by no means a universal panacea for entitlement, but surely it will increase the ease of getting people enfranchised. I mean, heck, at a minimum it'll mean that folks running registration drives will be able to literally register folks instantaneously rather than having to collect and file paperwork that can get lost. That's not much, but it's not nothing.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:31 PM on August 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think it's rude to ask: have any of Lessig's public efforts succeeded? He lost the copyright case he argued at the Supreme Court by 7-2. The Mayday PAC didn't have any success. I think Mr. Justice has it right, Lessig is "very smart, very sweet," but deeply naive.

I fervently believe that campaign finance reform is the ONLY issue that matters in American politics, since it underlies every other political issue. I even helped start a political action group almost 30 years ago devoted to campaign finance reform, persuaded some big names to join our Board of Advisors including (failed) presidential candidate John Anderson, even got to testify before Congress, and I predict (sadly) that Lessig will have just as much success as we did.

There are more effective ways, some of them cited above, that a smart, passionate person like Lessig could help advance this cause other than staging the equivalent of a pole-sitting stunt.
posted by twsf at 10:38 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


The amount of sheer snide and holier-than-thou in this thread is disgusting. If you disagree, say why or for that matter how it is that you think this Ivy League legal scholar who has clerked for and argued at the Supreme Court just doesn't get how politics works as well as anonymous Internet commenters. You guys wouldn't have voted for FDR because he wasn't "practical" and wouldn't have supported the labor movement because it was too "radical" about all of that 40-hour work week stuff. Snarky one-off comments on blogs and slactivism on social media is exactly what will accomplish nothing and it's that pie-in-the-sky thinking that gets us another corporate candidate in the Bush/Clinton dynastic feud. It's time to amend the Emma Goldman misquotation "if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal" and add a few hashtags.
posted by koavf at 10:53 PM on August 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


From what I can tell, the proposal is not mandatory online registration, but rather the option of registering online instead of in person. Which certainly makes registration drives, going through a community with tablets with internet connections, a hell of a lot more viable, as well as registration for working voters who can't easily spare the time to drive down and do it.
posted by kafziel at 10:55 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is most definitely a real threat, but I'm pretty sure this is also flagrantly, flagrantly illegal, and a successful online voter registration system would necessitate forceful prosecution and shutdown of such domains.

At what cost? Here's a scenario: someone funded by a Koch SuperPAC builds such a diversionary website. Sure, prosecution can come down quickly--you could flag the obvious names, I guess, with registrars. And you can't catch every possible variation; think about how many people get taken in by phishing every day. So some people across the USA get their registrations screwed up, prosecutors start prosecuting, and then every wingnut out there gets to scream how the system is no good, you can't trust it, look at this government trying to make sure you can't vote! (Yes, the hypocrisy would be vomit-inducing).

I'm not even a tenth as evil as your average Koch puppet, and I can come up with that in ten seconds. Online voting registration, which I think is an absolutely good thing (we have it here in Canada! I'm already registered for the election in October) needs to be bulletproof in your current political climate.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:08 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's true that you can make up this scenario in ten seconds, but there's no reason that this same kind of scam couldn't occur in Canada today. If y'all can make it work, we can make it work.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:44 PM on August 11, 2015


Finally, the Democrats have a Ross Perot of their own.
How so? Lessig is talking about running in the Democratic primary, not as a third-party candidate. He’s no more like Perot than any other primary candidate is.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:54 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's rude to ask: have any of Lessig's public efforts succeeded? ... Lessig is "very smart, very sweet," but deeply naive.

It's not rude, but it is kind of misleading. One could just easily say he doesn't pad his record with easy victories. Fighting for important causes has always looked naive.
posted by JHarris at 1:14 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I dunno this is so crazy but I can see how it could work. If he became president, couldn't it be tempting for congress to pass these things to just get him the hell out of there?
Although, give their option would be a democratic VP I guess it would also be tempting for them to sit back and call is bluff as well.
posted by like_neon at 4:53 AM on August 12, 2015


It's not rude, but it is kind of misleading. One could just easily say he doesn't pad his record with easy victories. Fighting for important causes has always looked naive.

I'm not convinced that this constitutes "fighting." It's an awareness campaign, mainly. Fighting for this sort of change really isn't Lessig's job, nor is it within his ability as an individual; it would have to become the ongoing job of millions of U.S. residents, and that means overcoming serious structural barriers *before* you win.

My problem with Lessig is that he goes for grand gestures as a way to build support, instead of patiently building support so that the big move can be something more than a gesture. Maybe "easy victories" are just padding, but "no victories" isn't a particularly inspiring record either. And offering your cv when people ask you for the details of how your proposals will work is a move that does not inspire much confidence even when that cv *is* packed with victories.

I dunno this is so crazy but I can see how it could work. If he became president, couldn't it be tempting for congress to pass these things to just get him the hell out of there?

Why would they care? The two houses can very easily marginalize a President as long as 2/3 of them are opposed to him, and that seems very likely given what he's proposing. Obama can't even get federal judicial vacancies filled because he has a hostile legislature, and he's far closer to his colleagues in politics than Lessig would be.
posted by kewb at 5:08 AM on August 12, 2015


Metafilter: "'No victories' isn't a particularly inspiring record either."
posted by twsf at 5:21 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


What exactly are the failure scenarios with this plan?

If he doesn't raise the initial million, the money is returned and people are a little more aware of the issue. That seems like a net win. If he does raise the money but doesn't raise enough support to make it into the primary debates, his supporters spent a million plus dollars on raising awareness. That's not great, but that kind of money is wasted on failed campaigns all the time, so it doesn't seem too bad an outcome. I'd say net neutral. If he makes it into the debates and then fails to win the primary, I'd call that a net win again. Where else could that money buy better exposure for the issue? If he wins the primary but fails to win the general, I could see that one being really bad. We'd have traded increased awareness for 4-8 years of what might be a significantly worse President than we would have had without Lessig involved. If he won the Presidency but failed to pass the bill, it sounds like he'd be acting mostly as a surrogate for the VP, so that wouldn't change too much. Meanwhile, he would have demonstrated the same strategy could work for Congressional elections. Again, net win.

Seems like the only net negative scenario is winning the primary then losing the general. I'm personally going to wait on worrying about that until it starts to look remotely realistic.
posted by scottreynen at 5:36 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's not great, but that kind of money is wasted on failed campaigns all the time [....] I'm personally going to wait on worrying about that until it starts to look remotely realistic.

That is itself the failure scenario: if it's so clearly going to be a failed campaign for Lessig to become President and do these things, then it makes it that much easier for people to feel it can't be done at all. Certainly it can't be done in the way Lessig's fundraising pitch says that it can. That is the problem: it is not only a stunt, but a fundamentally misleading one.

Stunts like this do not advance principles and issues; they trivialize them. Changing the world requires patient groundwork and tolerates few illusions. I don't think Lessig suffers from any real illusions, but I think he's indulging in showmanship, and I think showmanship that's not only inefficacious but outright harmful.

If you want to raise awareness, just flat out say you're raising awareness and explain what practical use you will put the money to in advancing the agenda. And make sure to talk up front about what you're going to do with all that awareness (and money) you're raising in the *very likely* event that you don't get to run in lots of primaries, don't get to debate the existing candidates, and don't get much coverage from the mass media establishment.

Existing campaigns already solicit small donors more as a method of engagement than as a serious fundraising method; the "fundraising as awareness tactic" thing is part of the legerdemain of the current, corrupt system of campaign financing. (IIf Lessig really is going to run a campaign in earnest, or even as an effort to shift the debate or demonstrate a different method of campaign finance, then I *do* think his plan is rather naive. But I think Lessig is not so naive as all that.)
posted by kewb at 5:52 AM on August 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


More a stunt than a plan, but I'll donate.

The internet, explained in nine words.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:08 AM on August 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Stretch goal : Lessig will say all the donors' names as he makes the potato salad.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:15 AM on August 12, 2015 [4 favorites]



It's true that you can make up this scenario in ten seconds, but there's no reason that this same kind of scam couldn't occur in Canada today. If y'all can make it work, we can make it work.


It seems far less likely to happen here. Partly because we don't have a cloak of invisibility shrouding who donates to what. Also because fucking with Elections Canada--our nonpartisan, arms-length agency that's responsible for managing all federal elections--will get you fucked with in really severe ways.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:02 AM on August 12, 2015


Regarding online voter registration, it's already offered in 22 states, and more states have plans to implement it this year. Some states have had it for several years already.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


He’s no more like Perot than any other primary candidate is.

He's a very single-minded one-issue candidate who's very, very focused on that sole cause, a dry topic that's of singular importance to this country, but unfortunately most voters will not register on the radar of most voters.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:40 AM on August 12, 2015


Re: online vs. automatic registration, I know Lessig has supported automatic registration in the past, so my suspicion is that he would support automatic registration but with the ability to update the registration or opt out of it online and by mail.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:42 AM on August 12, 2015


Yeah, to be clear, I am not actually in favor of Lessig's run (and things like "the Internet's Own President" induce a full-body cringe) ... there's good work being done at the state level that could use my support more and that are less stunty. But he's not actually trying to win, nor does he not understand how the three branches of government work. I don't think this is the BEST strategy for these issues, but I do think it is a reasonably well-thought-out strategy, even if it's not the one I would choose.

I don't oppose the effort because I think he's likely to help rather than hurt the overall issues. I just don't support it because I think it's not the MOST effective way to help, and I think it's likely to be a bit more about Lessig in the spotlight (and he's not super-charismatic) and less about the issues. But, who knows, maybe he'll connect with the electorate, and it'll be wildly successful and everyone who was like "let's do quiet statehouse work!" will look over-cautious in retrospect. Could happen.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:59 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Note that Lessig has also devoted the past few years to state-level work on these issues, founding groups like New Hampshire Rebellion and CallAConvention.org. He’s written about both in The Atlantic.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:23 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not convinced that this constitutes "fighting." It's an awareness campaign, mainly.

Ah, my statement concerns his past fighting, which he has certainly done. In this case, I think his nomination is an adjunct to the fight, to get his name out there and possibly into Democratic debates, and thus both project the issues he sees as important into the public consciousness and make the other candidates recognize him and his goals.

As for the "no victories" claim, my earlier statement stands. All the important fights are hard ones; if they weren't, they'd already be won. But I think he has had victories? I mean he was involved in defeating SOPA, I seem to remember?

He's just mostly known for identifying vast and systemic problems in the US, root causes that harm our country in countless other ways, the really important issues that cause all the others, and attacking them, putting effort where it will, eventually, do the most good mathematically. I think Lessig is playing the long game.
posted by JHarris at 10:43 AM on August 12, 2015



The amount of sheer snide and holier-than-thou in this thread is disgusting. If you disagree, say why or for that matter how it is that you think this Ivy League legal scholar who has clerked for and argued at the Supreme Court just doesn't get how politics works as well as anonymous Internet commenters.

Okay, sure: I think Lessig knows exactly how politics works, and has decided to try and hack the election system (no literally, he says he's going to "use a hack" on his campaign website to pass laws) as opposed to mounting a legitimate campaign in an amusing-for-redditors kind of stunt. This right off the bat suggests it's a move meant to exploit the coverage of a presidential run to try and get press for a pet project, but I- oh, wait, what's that? He is literally saying outright that's what he's doing? Oh, well, that makes this easier then! I find that to be both infuriating and ironic for a man who claims his entire campaign is about how stupid and broken the election system is. I don't find this any more amusing than if Doritos tried to put their latest flavor on the ballot to make a few headlines just because I find voter registration more important than the kickin' flavor of Ranch-a-Cheddar Twenty-Six-Treeeme!

I can treat this no more seriously and show it no more respect than any of the "Oh I also act, please visit my YouTube channel at..." candidates who ran in the California recall election on the platform of 1. I can and 2. here's the filing fee. Protest/stunt candidacies are why we have Donald Trump running, with the difference being Donald Trump at least has the decency to claim he actually wants to be president. Lessig is running as the Rent-is-too-damn-high guy, but with even less cohesive policy plans.

"I want to pass a handful of pet issues (all of which, by the way, are legislation you would have to pass through Congress) and then I'll resign because you know, what's foreign policy anyway? My work here is DONE!" Yeah, I'll be as snide as I want to that. As a Democrat, I think Bernie Sanders is naive but I know he wants to hold the office he's running for. I have massive problems with Hillary Clinton, but I don't think anyone will question that she actively seeks to be president. Lessig appears to be bored and thinks this will work better than hashtag activism or giving a TED talk and to suggest that means he has the right to join in on a debate about a far larger swath of issues offends me, and to ruin one's previous prestige trying to raise awareness of legitimate issues, singular as they may be, by turning your cause into a news-of-the-wacky PR stunt is just fucking sad. Show some actual respect for the office of President, please, it sort of affects me and a lot of people I care about.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:16 AM on August 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


The most important question which I have been asking for years and is still unanswered:

What is the font Lessig uses for his slides? See e.g. this youtube of him at google.

It looks like I imagine Nietzche's blackboard writing looked like when Friederich was in an especially angry mood and shrieks out for attention and I want it.
posted by bukvich at 12:12 PM on August 12, 2015


"I want to pass a handful of pet issues (all of which, by the way, are legislation you would have to pass through Congress) and then I'll resign ...

Yes, that's the nuttiest part of the whole charade. And then I'll resign. Look, if you want my money to run a Presidential campaign then at least do me the favor of wanting to be President. It's an appeal to what often seems like the uniquely American belief that politics would work so much more effectively if only the politicians could be removed from it. It's the same belief that the likes of Trump and Palin and every other candidate who runs as an anti-politician appeals to, tho I must say, Lessig may be the first person to run for President on a platform of not actually wanting the office.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:22 PM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


What is the font Lessig uses for his slides?

Maybe one of the script fonts from P22.com. That's where the typewriter font he uses comes from.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:37 PM on August 12, 2015


Lessig doesn't not want the job; be wants the job to do exactly one thing
posted by Going To Maine at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2015


Scratch that, I think it's Architectural Lettering by Outside the Line.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2015


Lessig doesn't not want the job; be wants the job to do exactly one thing

"And then I'll resign" suggests that Lessig isn't willing to take on—even theoretically—the whole demands and responsibilities of the office. I guess there's a quibble to had over whether that means he doesn't want the job or not, but advance resignation plans make a sham of any promise to "faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States."

I expect Lessig's smart enough to know all this. I do agree with him that the American Presidential campaign system is badly broken and I'll even give him credit for coming up with a cleverer method for confronting the candidates than simply heckling them. But Lessig's spectacle isn't a fix for a broken system, it's a symptom of the malady.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:38 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is one way in which this could actually work: get Bernie and Clinton to agree and sign on.

If he can do that, this can actually happen. If Clinton and Sanders say: "We agree, this has to be done, vote for Lessig!", well, it happens: the democrat vote should carry over and many Republicans will as well, so Lessig not only gets the nomination but also the election.

Al that needs to be done is for Hillary and Bernie to agree to this and then they and Lessig just have to sit on their asses. No more campaigning, no nothing, except maybe for a single continuously running advertisement stating why this needs to happen.

And if you want another way of getting this done? Both Hilary and and Bernie get Lessig as Vice-President. When elected, whoever wins immediately steps down as president allowing Lessig to take their place and enact what he proposes, whereupon he resigns and Bernie or Hilary become president again, with a pre-chosen person they have announced to become vice-president in advance.

If Bernie and Hilary want this to happen, it actually can happen.
posted by MacD at 2:01 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a Presidential election, not an Abbott & Costello routine.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:04 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


snuffleupagus that font is beautiful but 30 dollars for a toy font is too rich for me. Anybody know of a close free or very cheap substitute?
posted by bukvich at 2:31 PM on August 12, 2015


Part of Lessig's game as of late is trying to use the ways the system is broken as sneaky ways of fixing it.

That was the entire point behind Mayday PAC, which took advantage of the removal of limits of contributions to create an organization whose goal was fixing the system that made it, itself, possible.
posted by JHarris at 2:36 PM on August 12, 2015


"faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States."

Um sometimes the only way to win is to not to play, is that internet enough for you?
posted by Apocryphon at 3:18 PM on August 12, 2015


Lawrence Lessig, and how not to run a single-issue campaign
So far, so good. But are these ideas absent from the Democrats already in the race?

Not really, although of course the details aren't identical. Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive frontunner, has solid views on these issues. She could certainly be pushed further, but this could be done by people already in the race. Bernie Sanders is a strong proponent of publically financed elections. Martin O'Malley, Hillary Clinton's largely forgotten challenger, has tried to make the right to vote central to his campaign. And his rhetoric has substantive achievements to back it up: When he was governor of Maryland, he signed legislation expanding early voting and same-day vote registration.

Lessig concedes that some of his opponents have good views on the issues. But he argues that they don't have a viable path to getting democratic reforms enacted into law. "The question is not if [Sanders] checked the right policy boxes," Lessig told Sam Stein of The Huffington Post. "It is does he have a way to get those policies passed?"

A fair question. The problem is, Lessig doesn't actually have a good answer.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:00 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lessig concedes that some of his opponents have good views on the issues. But he argues that they don't have a viable path to getting democratic reforms enacted into law.
And here I thought the definition of "chutzpah" was killing your parents and pleading for mercy on the grounds of being an orphan.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:10 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Scott Lemieux at LGM has a well thought out takedown of Lessig's quixotic campaign:

In fairness, this was not just a postmortem but a mea culpa; Lessig, to his credit, admits that he was willfully naive and that this was a serious mistake. But his subsequent adventures in activism suggest that he didn’t really learn anything. He’s not interested in correct answers (i.e. “generating mass mobilization around procedural issues is enormously difficult; in the current political context, there’s no strategy that can get national Republicans to vote for electoral reform; getting something like the Citizens Equality Act passed will require the kind of favorable legislative context necessary to pass comprehensive health care reform, and what activists need to focus on is making sure electoral reform is at the top of the agenda the next time the opportunity arises”) if they seem bor-ring. He’d rather come up with a magic bullet that will allegedly change things RIGHT NOW, especially if it involves casting himself in a heroic role, even if it requires all known realities about American politics. And when the approach inevitably fails, it’s time for the next attempt to pretend that politics is the rapid boring of soft boards with a power drill. And while making bad arguments in law reviews or seminar rooms is no big deal, when lousy ideas are the basis for quixotic campaigns that squander resources that would be better spent elsewhere they’re far from harmless.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:38 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Part of Lessig's game as of late is trying to use the ways the system is broken as sneaky ways of fixing it.

And the problem is that he's really shitty at it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:41 AM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is actually a really good idea that I would support, regardless of whether it is likely to achieve its goal.

Lessig is a very smart guy. He knows this is primarily about building a movement and getting exposure to the cause. I would love to see him in the debates, which he might be able to do as a Democrat. He is actually a registered Democrat, and might have an easier time getting on to the ballots in all 50 states than Bernie Sanders would have, as he refused the Democratic nomination in his state, and isn't a registered Democratic voter.

Someone said they'd rather see the money used at a local level... well, chances are pretty good if they run a lean, internet-focused campaign, that much of it would be.

State and local governments have their own rules, but those running for federal office — including presidential candidates — must abide by strict FEC guidelines when it comes to their extra campaign money. They can donate an unlimited amount to a charity or political party.

This could be an effective way to expand their mailing list and regular contributors, much in the same way that candidates like Kucinich, Ron Paul, and Bernie Sanders used their national exposure to raise the lion's share of their money out of state.
posted by markkraft at 3:29 PM on August 13, 2015


He knows this is primarily about building a movement and getting exposure to the cause.

Then why doesn't he say that? I'm much more likely to give money to an organization dedicated to lobbying for campaign finance reform, than I am to a guy who believes (or who believes that I believe) that he can become President, fix everything, and then resign. The former's a worthy, if dull, mission; the latter's a joke and/or an insult to my intelligence.

Fundamentally, the only reason to prefer candidate Lessig over lobbyist/organizer Lessig is aesthetic: Lessig is entertaining and he would be more entertaining on the campaign trail. Which is worth paying for if you're a Lessig fan, maybe, but I feel like there's enough kayfabe in this race already.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:34 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fundamentally, the only reason to prefer candidate Lessig over lobbyist/organizer Lessig is aesthetic: Lessig is entertaining and he would be more entertaining on the campaign trail. Which is worth paying for if you're a Lessig fan, maybe, but I feel like there's enough kayfabe in this race already.

Actually, I suspect that most people don't have any idea who Lessig is. (Witness this thread, & the idea that Lessig is unfamiliar with separation of powers.) Getting him on the campaign trail would be a real opportunity to increase awareness of these issues and their particular fixes. (“I want to lobby for something” has very different stakes than “I want to run for president to fix something”.)
posted by Going To Maine at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lessig / Flame 2016: “Fix politics and 420 Blaze It.”
posted by Going To Maine at 10:02 AM on August 14, 2015


Witness this thread, & the idea that Lessig is unfamiliar with separation of powers.

Oh, I'm pretty sure he understands them academically. I doubt he understands them practically, though, given that he said this:

The idea that the Supreme Court decides cases based upon justices’ political preferences struck me as extraordinarily boring. I was not going to devote my life to teaching constitutional law if these nine justices were going to be petty politicians.

By the way, that's from his mea culpa over his glorious pooch-screw in Eldred.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:44 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and case in point - here's Lessig lecturing Obama's Solicitor General over strategy in the Supreme Court.

Hey, Larry - Verrilli did something you didn't - win. You don't get to lecture him on strategy.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:53 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Getting him on the campaign trail would be a real opportunity to increase awareness of these issues and their particular fixes.

Even this proposition is incredible because Lessig—as near I can see—doesn't have a fix. His plan is 1) Get elected. 2) Fix things. 3) Resign. But if we've conceded that Lessig neither will or even actually wants to be President, then the best argument left is that a Presidential race is the best way to "increase awareness of the issue." And that's ridiculously vague as a goal, in fact, the point at contention, and a strategy whose effectiveness is belied by all of the minor league message candidacies that have been forgotten.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:48 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lessig is doing pretty well thus far. Quite a bit of mainstream media exposure, and some pretty rational people saying that he is pushing all the candidates to the left on this issue.

As of today, he has raised $329,155 of his $1M goal, with 23 days left, and is on track to easily surpass that goal.

From my point of view, neither Lessig nor Sanders is a viable candidate. It's not just me saying this, though... it's people like Noam Chomsky.

"In our system of bought elections he has scarcely a chance of getting beyond the primaries, and even if by some miracle he were elected he wouldn't be able to do anything, lacking any congressional representatives, governors, etc."

In truth, I find Lessig to be a more viable and effective protest vote, because I want him in the debates, pushing both candidates. Lessig seems to indicate that one of the main reasons he's running at all is that Sanders was weak on campaign finance reform.

As Lessig wrote Sanders:
“…[A]fter the surge of support for you, the single strongest attack is going to be the ‘reality argument. . . You’re talking about a string of reforms that simply cannot happen in the Washington of today. The ‘system is rigged.’ If that rigging is good for anything, it is good for blocking basically everything you’re talking about.

The only response I’ve heard you give to that is that you’re beginning a revolution — making it sound like the mechanism of change is a bunch of people in the streets of DC. Whether you believe that is possible or not, other people won’t. Indeed, talking like that only weakens your credibility.”


In my opinion, Lessig has a point.

Sanders is not as credible as I would like when it comes to campaign finance reform, though he has been pushed to the left somewhat on the issue. He lacks the institutional support, broad-based policies, and superdelegate strength within the Democratic Party to get elected, and the support if elected, to pass any laws.

Hillary can get elected, and does have institutional support, but also doesn't have a credible plan. She hasn't been pushed far enough and hard enough yet on the issue.

Given those dynamics, why *wouldn't* I want to support him in a state where Hillary will win by a landslide -- in part, because she's the more credible instrument of change -- so that he's a part of the national debate on the issue?
posted by markkraft at 10:15 AM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Three hours later, and Lessig is at $341,476... so, about $4100 dollars in contributions per hour. and this seems to be accelerating from his first few days.

Basically, he could meet his goal with 160 more hours of fundraising like this. Odds are very good he'll do it within the next two weeks, with over a week to spare. This is pretty close to the same fundraising pace that O'Malley had last month, despite having an established stable of prior donors.

Get ready for Candidate Lessig... would not be the least bit surprised to see O'Malley get bumped into fourth place in the race.
posted by markkraft at 1:16 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also of interest... Last month, Gov. O'Malley, with all of his connections and big $$, raised about $65K a day for his campaign.

Lessig's exploratory fundraising is basically on par with those numbers.
posted by markkraft at 2:27 PM on August 16, 2015


Why Bernie needs to be pressured to support campaign finance reform,, too.

Collective Actions PAC is run by Sanders' former campaign coordinator, Vermont politician Chris Pearson.

"We're trying to raise big checks, yes," Pearson says. "We'll see how successful I will be."

From Sanders' PAC's website,
"Bernie’s opponents promise to raise a billion dollars. And Federal law only lets you give $2,700 to Bernie - not exactly a fair fight."

Which is basically the same argument for Obama's SuperPAC's last election, Hillary's superPACS this election, etc.

Sanders is going to look like a major hypocrite if he doesn't move sharply away from this position. It undermines his believability, and just helps the GOP.
posted by markkraft at 9:16 PM on August 17, 2015


Larry Lessig and Jimmy Wales are having an IAMA tomorrow / Tuesday Aug. 25th at noon, ET, on Reddit, for those interested.

They are now at $552,000 of their $1M monthly goal, with 15 days left.
posted by markkraft at 7:45 AM on August 24, 2015




The IAMA on Reddit has been well worth reading. Lessig and Wales are still answering questions, for those interested.

Also, the campaign is just about to top $600,000, with half a month left to reach $1M... though they hope to reach the goal early, so they can get the campaign started.
posted by markkraft at 11:59 AM on August 25, 2015


Lessig is running.

(made a doubled, now deleted post, oops)
posted by pos at 3:50 PM on September 7, 2015


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