Democrats Squeeze Lawrence Lessig Out of Presidential Race

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Lawrence Lessig, a famous Harvard Law School professor and presidential candidate, announced that he is no longer pursuing the Democratic Party’s nomination because the Party recently changed the requirements to participate in the November 14 debate.

Lawrence Lessig announced his candidacy for president in early September, meeting a self-set goal of raising over $1 million in small donations. A well-known campaign finance advocate, Lessig sought to run for president in order to enact electoral reform, which he thought would increase political responsiveness and ensure everyone’s “equal right to vote.” His campaign was unique from the outset, but the support that he did have was vocal and polls suggest that campaign finance is an important issue to many. However, aside from being a longshot in the presidential race, his campaign encountered several additional obstacles.

“It is now clear that the Party won’t let me be a candidate,” Lessig said in a video (below) released on Monday. According to Lessig and his advisors, a subtle change in the debate criteria has made it impossible for him to participate in the upcoming debate. When the Democratic National Committee (DNC) initially announced the debate schedule back in August, the rules stated that participating candidates must receive, “at least 1 percent in three national polls, conducted by credible news organizations and polling organizations, in the six weeks prior to the debate.”

But recently, according to Lessig, the DNC tweaked these requirements ever so slightly in a way that precludes Lessig from participating. A memo from the DNC changed the wording from “in the six weeks prior to the debate” to “at least six weeks prior to the event,” meaning that participating candidates need to have met the threshold six weeks ahead of time, rather than in the period leading up to the debate. According to Lessig, “Under the new rule, unless we can time travel, there is no way that I can qualify.”

If what Lessig says is true, this change would exclude him from a debate that he would otherwise be participating in. One of the most significant challenges faced by the Lessig campaign is the fact that his name is not included in many national polls, but recently, he has hit the 1 percent threshold several times–meaning that he would likely qualify under the initial rules. Under the rule change, he would have already needed to qualify at the beginning of October.

Outside of polling, but also related, are Lessig’s challenges with the Democratic Party. Last month, he wrote an article for Politico Magazine titled, “I’m Trying to Run for President, But Democrats Won’t Let Me.” In the article, he outlined the challenges facing his campaign, and the unwillingness of the Democratic Party to accept him as a candidate. He argues that Party leaders don’t really view him as a legitimate candidate–noting that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had not yet taken the time to even speak with him.

It’s worth noting that even if Lessig was openly welcomed by the Democratic Party, his chances of receiving the Democratic nomination were extremely slim. While he would likely qualify for the upcoming debate if the rules did not change, polling at 1 percent isn’t necessarily impressive. Granted, if he was listed as an option in every poll he might rank a little higher, but it still wouldn’t materially change much.

The fact is, his candidacy is pretty peculiar–he even started out saying that, if elected, he would only serve as president until he could implement electoral reform, after which point he would resign. While he has since dropped the idea of being a “referendum president,” his nearly exclusive focus on a narrow reform agenda can limit the extent of his support. But that perspective might also miss Lessig’s point.

Sure, the best way for him to enact electoral reform would probably be to actually get elected, but it also seems like he simply wants to elevate the issue to a much higher level in the United States, particularly among policymakers. Were he able to attend the upcoming Democratic debate, he may have been able to do just that by demanding that the other candidates address the issue. Instead, he has been excluded from the debate and, as a result, the Democratic Party.

So what’s next for Lessig? He hasn’t announced whether he will pursue the presidency as an independent candidate, but in an email to the Washington Post he noted, “nothing (legal) is ruled out.” Lessig has made some unorthodox attempts to address the issue of campaign finance in the past, so we may want to keep an eye out for his next move.

Kevin Rizzo
Kevin Rizzo is the Crime in America Editor at Law Street Media. An Ohio Native, the George Washington University graduate is a founding member of the company. Contact Kevin at krizzo@LawStreetMedia.com.



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