Lessig Single-Issue Focus on Campaign Finance Reform Has Limited Appeal

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and recently announced Democratic candidate for president, believes there is one issue in the presidential campaign that overshadows all others – campaign finance reform – and he has promised if elected to serve only until he can secure passage of his proposed legislation – “The Citizens Equality Act of 2017.” Once the legislation is passed, he vows to resign.

Lessig’s reform proposals would provide for automatic voter registration; stop gerrymandering of Congressional districts; implement a “ranked choice” system to give voters more options, and finance campaigns, not through big money contributions to Super PACS, but through “citizen vouchers” and matching contributions.

Lessig is well known and respected in tech circles and Silicon Valley as a long-time advocate for electronic freedom and net neutrality. His view is that little if anything will get done until we reform campaign financing and put a stop to excessive money in politics:

As Lessig writes in yesterday’s NY Daily News:

“But here’s the dirty big secret: The government we have is not a democracy. It’s nowhere close. Instead, a corruption in the very idea of a representative democracy has rendered our nation almost ungovernable. We have entered the age of the “vetocracy,” as political theorist Francis Fukuyama puts it, where very small numbers in America can block almost any sensible change.

Gridlock happens not because Americans want it. Gridlock happens because it pays — for that tiny minority.”

Meanwhile, both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are aggressively courting wealthy doners, as noted in a recent New York Times editorial.

So, is it realistic to expect those who benefit from the system to reform it?

TDV is skeptical, as suggested in a recent blog on Hillary’s campaign finance reform initiatives. Lessig is skeptical as well.

“That’s why I am about one single issue and that is fixing this system so people will care again,” Lessig told The Guardian on Sunday.

The Guardian goes on to say that Lessig’s single issue focus “represents his critical difference with Sanders, whose platform takes on a range of issue including income equality and climate change.”

Lessig makes an important point: we no longer have a real democracy in this country, and campaign finance reform may be the key that unlocks other needed reforms.

But Lessig’s campaign approach seems very academic, geared primarily to a small cadre of technologists and academics. That may help boost his appeal on the lecture circuit, but it is not likely to win him support in primaries, where voters want to hear candidates address the range of issue that affect their daily lives.