Election 2016

Lawrence Lessig Wants to Be President for a Day

If the Harvard law professor can raise $1 million by Labor Day, he'll run for president. His pledge: He'll work to pass one particular law, then resign.


This is the guy. Right here. This man.
Lessig Equal Citizens Exploratory Committee

There have been many single-issue campaigns in U.S. history, but none quite like the one unveiled this morning by Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor best known for his writings on cyberspace and campaign finance issues. If his exploratory committee succeeds in a Kickstarter-style push to raise $1 million in individual donations by Labor Day, Lessig will enter the Democratic presidential race with a platform of passing what he calls the Citizen Equality Act. And then, as soon as he signs that bill into law, he will resign and let his vice president take over the job. In an ideal world, he says, he'd be president for just a day.

By focusing his candidacy on this issue alone, he believes he can turn the election into a referendum on his ideas for fixing the American political process. In a video announcing his plans, he says he wants to be a "referendum president."

The actual text of the Citizen Equality Act hasn't been finalized yet—Lessig hopes to have it ready by January—but an outline of what he plans to do with it is on his website. The first prong of the legislation would make it easier to vote, via same-day registration and similar measures. The second prong is a system of ranked voting, so that citizens can cast a ballot for a first choice, a second choice, and so on. And the third prong, which Lessig considers the most important part of the law, is a voucher-based system of public funding for elections, with citizens steering money toward the candidates of their choice.

Needless to say, this is an unusual campaign. To learn more about what the candidate intends to accomplish with it, I spoke with Lessig on the phone today as a car ferried him from his hotel to Bloomberg TV's New York studios.

reason: How would your campaign finance proposal work, and how does it differ from the current Presidential Election Campaign Fund?

Lawrence Lessig: It's totally different from the presidential public funding. Presidential public funding is top-down, government-directed public funding. This is bottom-up. Rebate the first $100 of your taxes in the form of a voucher. Every registered voter gets a voucher. They could give the voucher to any candidate who agrees to limit contributions to vouchers and small contributions. So you would radically increase the number of contributors and steer candidates away from focusing the way they do on the large-dollar funders.

reason: There was some language on your website about what the bill would do "at a minimum." Were you thinking about having more features than just that?

Lessig: That's right. That's the minimum commitment.

reason: So what other possible things are you looking at, as far as the funding of campaigns is concerned?

Lessig: This bill would steer far from any effort to limit [funding]. That would trigger constitutional issues. I think there's an open question—the courts have never really addressed whether SuperPACs are constitutionally required. The DC Circuit Court did in SpeechNow but the Supreme Court never addressed that. So there might be an opportunity to raise that issue separately. But this would solely be focused on de-concentrating funding, so we don't have a system where this tiny, tiny fraction of the 1 percent is funding campaigns.

When you give so much power to such a tiny number of people, then regardless of the issue they can block any change. I've forever been talking about the way this blocks people on the right as much as it blocks people on the left.

reason: When people talk about any kind of public funding of campaigns, the usual objection is that this means taxpayers are going to be forced to contribute to candidates they dislike. Even if you can choose where the money's being steered, you're still putting money in the kitty. What's your answer to that?

Lessig: First, we have to embrace our inner Tea Party: It's our money coming back to us. And by setting the number pretty low— In my book Republic, Lost, I had a number, $50, just for congressional candidates. I did some research on tax dollars and asserted, with pretty high confidence, that 99.4 percent of voters have sent at least $50 to the federal treasury. So you're going to send that first $50 back to me so that I can use that to fund the campaigns of the people I care about. So there's no cross-subsidy in that story. I crafted it specifically to respond to this concern about cross-subsidy.

Now, many people aren't much concerned about cross-subsidy. If I say I don't like the way my money's being used in Iraq or Afghanistan, people say, "Well, tough." So if it can be used to, quote, "defend democracy" over there, I'm not sure why it can't be used to defend democracy over here.

reason: You said in your press conference this morning that you've spoken at Tea Party events and that you think your platform could appeal to that audience as well as to liberals. So let's say you're the Democratic nominee and you're campaigning in a red state. Walk me through what your pitch to Tea Partiers would sound like.

Lessig: The pitch is: This system is a system of crony capitalism. And it's a crony-capitalist system because the only way members of Congress can get elected is if they raise money from large donors, and those large donors are expecting something in return. The Cato Institute says the United States government spends a hundred billion dollars a year on corporate welfare. Why are they spending a hundred billion dollars on corporate welfare? They're spending a hundred billion dollars on corporate welfare because this is the essential return to keep them interested in being in the business.

And we can go beyond the corporate welfare to talk about the particular tax subsidies, the tax expenditure games that get played—all of these are exactly at the core of what the right cares about, and how the right is increasingly recognizing how, unless we fix this system, we're never going to address those issues either.

I don't know if you know Richard Painter, who was George Bush's ethics czar. He's got a book in process right now called Taxation without Representation, and he has a much more aggressive proposal for a voucher of $200. The book takes every conservative perspective—social conservatives, economic conservatives, libertarians—and for each of these demonstrates how their values are defeated by this system of large-dollar funding of elections. So basically I think I would just steal Richard Painter's book and hand it out at every event.

reason: Now suppose you're talking to a liberal audience and a big Obama supporter stands up and says, "In the last few years we've passed Obamacare and Dodd-Frank and more, but you're saying we can't get sweeping liberal legislation passed. Are you saying those aren't substantial reforms?"

Lessig: Obamacare is an incredibly important piece of legislation. It has incredibly important compromises built in that are only there because of the money. For example, even though Obama ridiculed George Bush's prescription drug law for the rule that says the government can't negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers, that provision is in Obamacare. And why is it in Obamacare? Because the pharmaceutical companies basically said they would spend millions of dollars to defeat Democrats if it weren't included.

Now is that because the companies thought they could turn out millions of voters who would vote in favor of the interests of the insurance companies over the interests of people who want to be able to get afforable drugs? No! It was because of the money. Same thing with the public option. Obama pushed and pushed and pushed, said he would not sign anything without a public option. Then, when it came to the final deal, the insurance companies said we're gonna spend this amount of money if you don't give us what we want with the public option. And of course the public option disappeared.

This is just a particular example of what Robert Reich has written about, where he says, yeah, we can get social legislation in America—so long as we pay off the special interests. What that means is the social legislation always costs billions, and in these cases maybe trillions, more over the life of the legislation than what they would otherwise cost.

Dodd-Frank? Oh, my gosh. Don't get me started. Already we're at a place where at the one side you've got people arguing we've got to undo Dodd-Frank and re-deregulate derivatives, leading us into exactly the same problem we had before. And on the other side, basically every Democratic candidate is talking about how they're going to go forward and do another version of financial reform with, basically, a new version of Glass-Steagall.

I don't doubt the good motives of both Dodd and Frank, and they worked as hard as they could. But they worked as hard as they could in a field that had been narrowed by the recognition that you could not take on the largest contributors to congressional campaigns, namely Wall Street and insurance and real estate companies, without severe consequences. Indeed, if you look at the percentage of that money Democrats get, there's been a radical decline as Wall Street basically punishes the Democrats. Which leads Democrats—at least those worried about how to get elected in Congress—to ask the question, "What can we do to earn back the love of Wall Street?"

reason: The core of your campaign is that you're basically a human referendum on the Citizen Equality Act, and that once it's passed you'll resign in favor of your vice president. Wouldn't that ultimately make this a presidential campaign for your running mate?

Lessig: Well, it depends on how contested we get the referendum issue to be. I desperately would love to see a Republican step up and be a referendum candidate too. If we had two referendum candidates at the top, we would know we'd get reform, and then we'd have a fight about which of the vice-presidential contenders would be in office after the reform bill is passed.

So you're right, there's gonna be some bleeding there. But look, just think about the arc of the story if in fact this became the central focus of the campaign. We would have constant attention to why this central equality issue is so important. It would be the most important equality act passed since the Voting Rights Act. And it's about time. Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, we need to take the next big step, which is to extend equality in a way that reaches all citizens, and not focus on those who have been most burdened historically by the inequality of our government.

reason: Do you have anyone in mind for a vice presidential candidate?

Lessig: I think we've got to wait until the convention, but the type of people I'd like to see are people who articulate strongly the values of the Democratic Party. Bernie's obviously been doing that powerfully. Elizabeth Warren's been doing that powerfully. Those are my own personal preferences. But we've got to pick the candidate who makes it most likely that we can be victorious in November.

reason: You've argued that the pursuit of campaign funds effectively creates another primary where most voters are excluded. But voters are even more excluded from the selection of a vice presidential candidate—it's generally considered these days to be the nominee's perogative to pick any willing body that he or she wants. Since a lot would be riding on your selection of a running mate, how would you get around that problem?

Lessig: It's a great point, but here's why I don't think it's as powerful as it sounds. You're right that presidents historically have had the right to just pick. But the president is picking in light of what they know the electorate is going to do. And so in a certain important sense, the president is picking in light of the public's judgement about who's the right person to make the ticket work.

My own view is that what the Democratic Party has learned is that being principled and strong, the way Reagan was for the Republican Party, is the way to become a successful party again. Huffington Post had this great piece about all of Bill Clinton's laments. All of the things that Bill Clinton did that he regrets that he did. And if you go through every one of those, they were all examples of what he was calling the New Democrat, which basically was just trying to be a cooler Republican. I think we've learned that we've got to be as persistent and strong and principled about what we believe in as the Republicans were in the rise of the right.

That's the kind of message I hope we can be pushing. But the point of picking the vice president is to pick the person that can rally the nation. In this complicated context, basically you're getting two presidents for the price of one. What we need is the second president to be somebody who can take advantage of the opportunity to govern in a context where Congress is free to lead rather than following their funders.

reason: Suppose you're elected, and a major economic or international crisis takes place before you can shepherd the Citizen Equality Act into law. Do you handle that, or do you let the veep take charge while you lobby for the law?

Lessig: I'm president. It's my judgment and it's my call.

Now, I think that I'm a unique kind of president, in the sense that I have a dual trusteeship. I'm a trustee for the people to get the law passed, and I'm a trustee for the vice president, in the sense that we know that the vice president is going to be president, and therefore I need to structure the administration in light of the interests of the vice president. But there is no ambiguity about who's president. I'm president until I resign.

reason: You've spoken highly of Bernie Sanders. Are you worried at all that, whatever the differences are between his platform and yours, he already occupies the "progressive insurgent" niche as far as voter excitement and press attention are concerned?

Lessig: You know, I don't think this campaign is about the progressive base. The progressive base certainly is interested in this issue, but so is every other Democrat. I think Bernie Sanders has been pushing the issues in a very powerful way, and I hope he continues, and I hope he develops a more convincing platform for how in fact he'll have a mandate broad enough to get something passed. But it's not just the Bernie Sanders people who are interested in this. I've seen an enormous number of people who say, "Look, I'm a Democrat and fundamentally I agree with what you're saying, but I don't agree with what Bernie Sanders is saying." And I say to those people: Then you ought to be supporting me and somebody else. Like maybe Jim Webb. Or maybe Hillary Clinton. This campaign is not either/or. This is both/and. This is Lessig and somebody, because I am essentially doing one thing until somebody steps in.

reason: But the sorts of people who get fired up about a more idea-focused campaign tend to be campus-based activists. And it's Bernie Sanders who's been firing up that part of the Democratic base.

Lessig: He is, and more power to him. That is the most hopeful thing I've seen in politics since Obama. If people understand what I am saying as "Don't vote for Bernie, vote for me," then I lose. But if people understand what I'm saying to be, "We've got to get what Lessig's talking about done so that Bernie can get what he wants done too…"

reason: You mentioned your dream of running against a Republican referendum candidate. Are there any candidates on the Republican side that you feel come close to addressing the concerns that you're trying to raise?

Lessig: Well, now that Trump has pulled back the curtain and pointed to each of these candidates and said "I own these guys," and talked about Hillary Clinton coming to his wedding, all of the sudden this is an open issue in the Republican Party. I was eager when Buddy Roemer ran in 2012, because I imagined Buddy Roemer would have been a saner version of Donald Trump up on that stage making exactly the same point. But now that Donald Trump has done it, Ted Cruz has started to talk in this way. Lindsey Graham has been talking this way. For a long time Mike Huckabee has been talking about this. All of a sudden it's cool among Republicans to point out the deep corruption of this system, and that is enormous progress.

Is there any candidate who is talking about being a referendum candidate, the way I am? No. But if that did happen, I wouldn't be running against that person. That person and I would, I hope, be coming up with a sense of what the referendum package is, so that one of us comes in with a united Congress to pass it. And maybe even before we get there! The point is, this is only about getting this reform done, and I'm happy to get it however I can get it.

reason: Suppose you don't raise the amount you need by Labor Day. What do you do next?

Lessig: I sleep.

reason: OK. What do you next when it comes to promoting the idea?

Lessig: I don't know. I'm working as hard as I can to get this. If this doesn't work, we'll see what's in store.

NEXT: Watch Katherine Mangu-Ward Talk About the EPA's SunnyD Spill on Kennedy Tonight

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  1. The second prong is a system of ranked voting, so that citizens can cast a ballot for a first choice, a second choice, and so on.

    Throw in a binding “None of the above”, and I might consider ol’ Larry.

  2. “Well, as long as I’m here, there are a few other really great ideas I’d like to share with inflict upon the American people. Maybe I’d better hang around for a while.”

    1. I mean, come on, he’d have a mandate! The people have spoken!

      1. Will the mandate have a prong?

        1. I don’t go on man dates.

    2. President for one day, dictator for life.

      1. Exactly. He very clearly says in his video that he intends to remain in office until his bill is passed.

        And what happens if his bill doesn’t get passed? Does he just stay?

  3. He’ll fix the federal government with this one weird gimmick

    1. LOL

      “And you won’t believe what happens next!”

    2. This voting hack has millennials ditching meaningful political discourse!

  4. Now we have a new heartthrob for tony, shriek, am soc, et al.

  5. Once he got a taste of that power, he’d start running for his second term on his second day.

  6. I wonder about a guy so into prongs.

  7. ..the only way members of Congress can get elected is if they raise money from large donors, and those large donors are expecting something in return.

    I don’t doubt it, but I still don’t understand it. Advertising sways voters that much? That’s the large expenditure, no? And if Candidate Dick Q. Fuknutz or his party dumps enough cash to saturate the right areas with ad dollars some crazy how, magically, he gets elected.

    1. Doubling your spending usually increases your vote by 1 percentage point.

    2. Advertising sways voters that much?

      “Oh, I recognize *that* name!”

      *** pulls lever ***

      1. FLORIDA MAN:

        “Oh, I recognize *that* name!”

        *** pulls wrong lever ***

        1. It’s OK, R C. It cancels out another wrong vote.

    3. This is, of course, the own progressive line about wealthy corporations “buying” politicians. The possibility that the politicians are extorting money out of the corporations as a price of avoiding punitive legislation is never considered.

      As Eric Foner wrote in his history of Reconstruction, when he addressed the alleged corruption of the reconstruction governments, it is difficult to tell when bribery ends and extortion begins.

      1. ^This^

        While there is no doubt that there are corporations actively engaged in buying influence with the government, the matter of politicians interacting with companies in a way that would be considered an extortion racket in any other context gets ignored.

        1. While there is no doubt that there are corporations actively engaged in buying influence with the government,

          Why shouldn’t they be? People have a right to petition government, and they have a right to gift money to causes and people they like.

          The problem with influence buying lies squarely on the shoulders of politicians themselves, nobody else. And no law is going to fix that.

          1. There’s a universe of things a person has a right to do. But I don’t think we’re arguing here about simply what a person has a right to do. This is more about what’s ethical.

      2. Good point. Few – if any – things are uni-directional.

  8. Public funding of elections is morally wicked. I should be forced to support political speech I disagree with.

    And look at what happened to the Vlaams Bloc in Belgium. The same pressures would start to build here.

    That having been said, I’d also think seriously about running a campaign with all the ads featuring hard-core porn.

    1. If we had public funding of elections would it be limited to the Democratic and Republican parties?

      1. I’m pretty sure the system, created by lawmakers, would be forged and gamed to benefit… the current crop of lawmakers. Funny that.

        1. It worked in Louisiana?

      2. Exactly. There is no way to fairly allocate public funding for political candidates in such a closed system. If you say “all comers” get funding, then everybody will run out and announce their candidacy. Then you either give everybody two bucks, or you bankrupt the whole thing.

        If you say only people polling at X percent, then you just kicked the can back to people funding getting enough polling. If you say only the two major parties, then you are stuck with an entrenched duopoly.

        There’s just no chance a system like this doesn’t immediately get gamed to ensure that the incumbent parties remain entrenched forever. It is so obvious and inevitable that I have a hard time believing anyone who has given it any real thought seriously suggests it without the ulterior motive of protecting the current power system. Bonus ulterior motive is that they believe that their party will be able to successfully game the system to ensure that theirs is the one that will have the most to gain.

        1. Lessig, like Obama, doesn’t have “ulterior motives” with the bad policies he advocates. He is simply overconfident in his intellectual ability, and he operates in an echo chamber where he is lauded and rewarded for the views he takes.

      3. That’s the way it usually works. But it’s worse than that: not only wouldn’t there be any independent parties, the candidates within each party would be limited to those that the party leadership approves of.

    2. Where can I join this ‘porn party’ you are referring to?

    3. Public funding of elections is morally wicked.

      It’s not “morally wicked”, it simply doesn’t work. It creates a self-perpetuating political class that can hold on to power forever; parties in government get to decide who they deem suitable for running against them, and of course they are abusing that power.

      1. It’s a floor wax AND a dessert topping.

        It is morally wicked and it doesn’t work.

        Kevin R

  9. which Lessig considers the most important part of the law, is a voucher-based system of public funding for elections, with citizens steering money toward the candidates of their choice.

    Seattle’s ahead of him:


    You know, that’s great what Lessig wants to do, but wouldn’t it be more effective if he became, you know, a lawmaker instead of the president?

    1. This Nixon campaign subsidies system was adopted in Brazil. Everyone is forced at gunpoint to subsidize and vote for 32 communist, fascist and prohibitionist parties. Here’s the list:
      It does not make me a bit proud to be American. Bad enough to foist religious dictatorships on people. Exporting bad laws to ensure they never have a chance to vote for freedom is criminal. When the LP tried to register the geriatric machine judges dissed their petitions and said the taxpayers couldn’t afford to subsidize any more parties.
      I was reminded of a conversation in the Country Joe and the Fish western, “Zachariah”…

  10. Warty’s penis has three prongs and I ain’t voting that thing into any kind of office.

    1. *** looks again ***

      Oh, “office”!

  11. What a short-sighted tool. The problem isn’t buying elections, that’s just human nature following incentives built into the system. That system is the core problem, and its name is coercive monopolistic government. All his proposal would do is concentrate even more power in that central coercive monopoly.

    1. Yep. The central problem is that even the nominally democratic parts of government wield power without meaningful accountability (and most of the government isn’t even nominally democratic). Getting money out of campaigns doesn’t fix that; if anything, it makes it worse. Instead of at least fearing the small portion of citizens with enough resources to make themselves heard (which doesn’t just include the wealthy, but also the larger activist groups), they’ll just stop fearing anyone at all and focus on enriching themselves.

  12. I have it on good authority that each dollar spent is counted as a vote in the ballot box.

  13. As long as we’re talking pie in the sky crap, we could take all the money out of federal politics by moving to a parliamentary system where Representatives are selected at random from the electorate, and Senators are appointed by their state legislatures with the approval of their governors, and then Congress selects the president.

    1. What about people who have more important things to do with their time than fly to DC just to legislate some dumb country?

      1. That’s why you telecommute.

      2. So much the better if they hate being there.

        It works pretty well for juries, anyway.

  14. The first prong of the legislation would make it easier to vote, via same-day registration and similar measures.

    We need to make it easier for the apathetic and disengaged to vote!

    The second prong is a system of ranked voting, so that citizens can cast a ballot for a first choice, a second choice, and so on.

    Alright, so what do you do with the second, third, etc. choices?

    And the third prong, which Lessig considers the most important part of the law, is a voucher-based system of public funding for elections, with citizens steering money toward the candidates of their choice.

    Harvard Law: Finding new ways to embarrass Harvard Law grads since 1817!

    1. While ranked choice is legitimate it isn’t great for electoral politics. The problem you outline is not really a problem. In RC (no relation) 2 and 3 etc. only count if your 1 is thrown out. This can be confusing. Hence I am a HUGE supporter of Approval.

      The best thing I like about approval is that there are never any incorrect ballots. No over votes, no under votes. Its awesome. It totally removes the “wasted vote” argument as well.

    2. So basically, he wants to be King for just one day, and enact one sweeping law of dubious Constitutional validity and expect it to passed by Congress and adjudicated by the Courts that very same day.

      This is not a smart a man.

      1. Maybe he can team up with Steve Rhodes and they can also introduce the $.99 coin.

      2. He actually expects to be dictator for life. Because he very clearly stated in his video that he will remain in office until his bill becomes law, and he MUST know that it will never happen.

  15. I don’t understand the whole “it is too hard to vote” idea at all.

    I mean, I do understand using it as a political issue to pander to “the man is out to get me” voters…. I just don’t understand it as an actual belief that there is some great difficulty in voting. Even without all of the crazy absentee ballot and early voting reforms we’ve made over the last 20 years, voting is dead simple and completely accessible. You just register – which means you give them your name – and then on election day you show up at your precinct and vote.

    Other than waiting in line I’ve never had the slightest problem. And I have actually been one of those people that “the man” actually tried to suppress my vote. Really.

    In my case “the man” was the democrat party in Chapel Hill North Carolina. They worried that if all of the students who lived there registered and voted, the locals would lose control of their government. So they set up “voter registration” tables on campus, for the express purpose of helping students register back home and request absentee ballots.

    We just went down to the courthouse and registered without their help. No biggie.

    All of this complaining about how you should be able to just show up and vote with no ID and without registering is really silly. The only rational explanation for this other than as a wedge issue would be if you were planning to commit large scale voter fraud.

    1. “if you were planning to commit large scale voter fraud”

      all of that just to finally answer your own question.

      1. and actually it’s more like planning on continuing to commit large scale voter fraud

      2. Yeah, pretty much. But it is rude to just come right out and say it.

        1. Yeah, don’t wanna be too big of an asshole or you could find yourself as the GOP presidential front runner.

  16. First thing I would do is paint the white house florescent green

    1. Then I would play Radioactive over the loud speakers

      1. And *then* ? resign?

        1. Yes. After I took a Air Force One out for a round the world alcohol, pot , and cocaine fueled two week bender.

          1. The Secret Service should be quite valuable for such matters.

          2. Can I be a cabinet secretary?

            1. Can you roll a joint?

              1. Well, I can be your Joint Chiefs of Staff.

                1. nice:)

                  1. Careful. Sudden offered to do the nasty with Lizzy Warren.

                    1. I don’t judge

          3. You forgot Mexican ass sex.

          4. Bubba used to do that a lot.

  17. the only way members of Congress can get elected is if they raise money from large donors, and those large donors are expecting something in return.

    Presumably, then, he will have to outlaw political speech during the campaign season, or those large donors are just going to fund independent campaigns in order to buy influence.

    1. I don’t know how much it takes to “buy influence” at the presidential level. But I have direct experience at the House and Senate level. It isn’t all that much.

      Our industry needed legislative help a few years back. An industry composed of small companies – so not a lot of people and not a huge pile of cash. We attended a few events for our Representatives with checks in hand for 1,500 bucks…. a total of 5 or 7 grand for each candidate. We even held a fundraiser for a Senator, raising maybe 15 grand.

      All total individuals in our industry probably donated 50-100 grand to a couple of dozen candidates.

      The money was part of the access…. but the big thing was that we had every employee in our industry, and every member of their families contact their representative. Our company was only about 135 people at the time, but we probably sent out 500 letters to each of our senators and the local reps. Then many of us went down to our own representative’s constituent services offices to personally ask for help.

      One local rep was straightforward about being in the pocket of the insurance industry and told us he’d be opposing us. The rest were ready to help and went to work trying to get a bill passed. Well, except my personal representative .. Cynthia McKinney. Her people semi-politely told me that they didn’t have any time for me … so I sent my wife in my stead. They had time for her. Race actually does factor in for some people….

      1. I suppose it’s good that after reading this I still can’t tell what race you are.

        1. Then you are unfamiliar with Cynthia McKinney.

      2. But I have direct experience at the House and Senate level. It isn’t all that much.

        I can’t quite tell whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

    2. Presumably, then, he will have to outlaw political speech during the campaign season, or those large donors are just going to fund independent campaigns in order to buy influence.

      You haven’t been paying attention, obviously. Free speech and political speech should be restricted to incumbents, people on street corners, and government-approved media organization, according to people like Lessig. Any other form of political speech will result in federal charges.

    3. THANK YOU.

      This is the point that NONE of these fucking people seem to get through their head. They just go off on their utopian daydream about ‘getting big money out of politics’, and completely ignore the reality that the only way to actually do that would be through hyper-regulation of ALL political speech, even down to the most trivial blogs and lawn signs.

      So you make it illegal for Acme Corporation to donate to a politician. Okay cool. Can Acme Corporation not run their own issue-based ads? No? Hmm. Okay, well then what about the New York Times editorial board? What’s the monetary value of their support for an issue or candidate? What about the Huffington Post and DailyKos? Surely all their opinionated political writing adds up to something, no? And when Ben Affleck or Leo DiCaprio gives a speech at a political rally, isn’t their star-power extremely valuable? And lets say that Joe Citizen decides to spend some money and have a bunch of lawn signs made for all his neighbors in support of his favorite politician. How does that get handled? Are we prepared to outlaw all of these things?

  18. It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist that panders to the well-intentioned, but misguided ‘equality’ progressives and it’s NEVER going to change, so can we move on to addressing the real issue which is how to somehow reduces the size and influence of a government that makes anyone give a damn about it? If I were POTUS for a day, that’s what would be on my list.

    1. Money follows power, not the other way around

    2. Yup. There’s no incentive to buy power from a small government.

  19. He didn’t mention #BlackLivesMatter. Therefore, he doesn’t think #BlackLivesMatter. Therefore, RACIST!

    See? This is why that movement is awesome. It makes everything so much easier!

  20. Can I just get my $100 back? How about that.

    1. I want my $2.

    2. The real winner from a Lessig presidency is the party that pledges to send everyone a check for $100. And finances its campaigns with a mixture of oil industry bribes and Confederate flag sales.

  21. Lessig is unimaginative and his proposal is unlikely to do much. Here’s something radical instead:

    Pronghorn #1: No party labels on the ballot. Just the candidate’s name and an assigned unique candidate ID (to avoid homonyms running on the same ballot). 2 party system ceases to exist overnight for all but the presidency/governorship, and probably isn’t viable in the long run.

    Pronghorn #2: Voter subset. For any election, 1% of eligible voters in each relevant area are randomly picked to be the electors. Since your vote is more likely to affect the result, and you vote only 2-3 times in your lifetime, you’re more likely to pay some attention. 1% is large enough to not skew results much.

    Pronghorn #3: “None of the above” is always an option, results in empty seat (Nevada is almost there).

    If we’re going to pretend to “save democracy”, let’s not just put forward lipstick-on-a-pig measures.

    1. How about I just get a hashtag receipt so I can use it to look up how the government says I voted, say, the following day? (The following month, maybe, in Jeb’s state). If any random voter can verify that its vote was counted correctly, then all voters can know whether the election was honest or not. Lysander Spooner harped on the importance of this and Bernard Baruch gave specific examples of how elections were rigged during reconstruction. Right this minute there is no way anyone here can know (as opposed to guess, suppose or believe) that these elections controlled by looter parties are honest in how the votes are counted. Surely we can do better than THAT.

    2. #1 I’ve favored for a long time. I assume of course you’d want it to go with equal access to the gen’l election ballot, such that party nomination would have no bearing at all.

      Better however would be my idea of completely blank ballots: no candidates or offices listed. You’d have to write in both. If the office you list isn’t up for that election, the vote for it doesn’t count. Doesn’t handle the problem of same-name candidates, though.

      #2 is interesting, but in small polities 1% of the electorate could be a very small # indeed, so you probably wouldn’t want it for those elections.

      #3 is problematic as applied to executive rather than body-member offices.

  22. Gosh, having tha gubmint use tax money to buy the elections for government parasite candidates! What a novel idea! I must be imagining Tricky Dick Nixon doing that as soon as the LP filed papers to become a party (as an alternative to Nixon’s wage and price controls).
    Come to think of it… wasn’t there someone else in favor of wage and price controls?

  23. Scratch a liberal, find an autocrat. Larry can go fuck himself.


  24. Range voting would be awesome, which is why it will never happen.

    1. Approval is so far superior to Ranked that this would be detrimental.

  25. Too bad it is Ranked Choice instead of Approval.

    Approval is superior in many ways not the least of which is ease of implementation and voter understanding.

    1. Both approval and ranked voting are starting from the erroneous premise that the function of a democratic government is to give the most people what they want; i.e., to let some majority impose its will on some minority.

  26. And his vice-president would be Barack Obama. Technically, I think this would twart the 22nd Amendment on consecutive terms in office.

  27. Thank God for this! I was just lamenting the lack of leftie Ivy League saviors on the horizon…

  28. If I’m elected President, I promise to resign right after signing a bill to retire the debt in ten years.

    Of course, the shock of seeing such a useful bill on my desk would give me a heart attack, so the question would be moot.

    1. I’ve made no secret of my “how fast can a president get impeached” platform.

      I would unilaterally pardon all nonviolent, consensual crime convicts – drugs, prostitution, etc. With the full acknowledgement that some of those fine folks would go on to commit heinous crimes.

      If that isn’t enough to get the impeachment rolling, I would move to legalize all drugs. Not decriminalize, legalize. And prostitution. Yikes.

      Worse, I’d pull an FDR on the Supreme court and run them out of town for failing to uphold the constitution. I’d put a bunch of idiots from HnR on the court with the specific mandate to strike down anything and everything that isn’t strictly within the limits of the constitution (as envisioned in the 9th and 10th amendments) That would pretty much cover everything there is, so any idiot dumb enough to take the job might just get themselves assassinated along with me before the impeachment could roll around.

      Luckily, HnR is full of just that sort of idiot. And equally luckily, we’ll never have to see how that would play out.

  29. My first objection was when he characterized libertarians as a branch of conservative. We are no such thing. Yes, there are some overlapping areas, but overlap exists on the other side too. We are different and unique from either left or right.

    Secondly, while he is right that money corrupts politicians, I think power is an even more corrupting force. It is the most power-hungry, not the greedist, who seem attracted to political careers. Efforts must be made to limit their power and hold their feet to the constitutional fire, so to speak. THAT is what has been sorely lacking over the last century.

    1. Money is an expression of power. Money is power democratized. When you take money out of politics, the power does not go away. Who makes the rules?

      1. Yeah, but spending – using – money is an exercise of power. When you take money out of whatever you reduce the exercise of power. You even reduce power, as power only exists insofar as it can be exercised, applied.

        1. Power will be exercised even if no money is spent, for starters by whoever decides how much money who is allowed to spend on what.

        2. When you take money out of whatever you reduce the exercise of power.

          But you aren’t taking the money out of government; government still gets vast quantities of money through taxes. It uses that money to finance a police force and the military, which have the power to deprive people of life, liberty, and property. In addition, it uses the money to finance a huge propaganda machine.

          What Lessig is proposing is to take the money away from politicians. What you end up with is a government that now not only has vast amounts of power and money, but that isn’t even under political control anymore because you took away the power from politicians.

    2. Conservatism is a branch of Libertarianism–not the other way around. A more statist branch.

  30. Oh for fuck’s sake, more of this public funding shit. I DON’T WANT TO PAY ANY OF THESE CORRUPT COCKSUCKERS!

  31. Why is Reason featuring this stale old marxist?

    1. Agreed. Yet another Democrat who has come up with yet another brilliant way to take the capitalism out of crony-capitalism.

    2. Interesting contrasts.

  32. Apparently candidates have to agree to being financed only through vouchers if they want to be recipients of even a single voucher. Who will agree to that? Economically, those who expect their returns to be greater than what they can raise on the alternative (!) regular campaign finance market. This means money will be redistributed. It doesn’t have the agnostic equality characteristic of basic income, or of flat taxes on the other side. The whole thing is suspicious, in addition, because this allegedly libertarian proposal is restricted to campaign finance and the principle is not applied in allowing individuals to choose other expenditures of tax dollars, let’s say for libraries, theatres, and parks, respectively (– note again that individuals’ funding choices are not free; they can only use vouchers to support candidates who rely solely on vouchers). Further, his strategy is clearly not in line with the envisioned process; it’s bending the rules.

  33. Those are some seriously brain dead proposals to run on.

  34. The ‘president for a day’ idea is just a gimmick to get publicity for the policy proposal. From what I can tell, I like the policy of directing donations to particular candidates.

    I think it makes sense because it gives a viable alternative source of funding for candidates and incumbents. Incumbents would have more incentive to create a meaningful legislative record and wouldn’t need to rely upon special interest support. It’s easy to imagine how an incumbent funded primarily by special interests would be ridiculed for not getting more taxpayer directed support.

  35. When he says this–

    I think we’ve got to wait until the convention, but the type of people I’d like to see are people who articulate strongly the values of the Democratic Party. Bernie’s obviously been doing that powerfully. Elizabeth Warren’s been doing that powerfully. Those are my own personal preferences

    the interview goes into the circular file.

    There’s nothing here for libertarians. Don’t you grasp that yet? Nothing that comes from socialists advances the cause of liberty. NOTHING.

    1. Yeah, but imagine all the jobs Elizabeth Warren would create.

      1. You know who else created a lot of jobs?

  36. I’m sure a huge percentage of people do pay federal taxes, but a lot of those people get net refunds after EITC. And a big chunk of the taxes low-income workers pay is payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. So many of those people are already net receivers.

    You can’t just charge $10 billion without a tradeoff somewhere. And Congress is also really bad at unusual budgeting, and this will presumably be once every four years. Maybe the revenue stream will at least look more even if they set aside a quarter of the money every year.

  37. How did this thread get to nearly 100 posts without this showing up?

    You people disgust me.

  38. How many prongs can you stick in a mid-size woodchipper at once without boggin’ her down?

  39. Why not just resurrect the $100 tax credit for contributions to any political party or candidate, which we had on our 1040 forms in the ’70s?

  40. I stopped reading after he said his preference for a Vice President is Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

  41. The first-past-the-post electoral college system we currently have makes it really hard to run as a third party candidate. It also creates an incentive for the other candidates to distance themselves from a third party candidate and creates a disincentive for voters to always vote for their first choice.
    At first I thought Lessig’s proposed ranked choice voting would be cool but it actually leads to some bizarre outcomes and still creates a disincentive to vote for your first choice candidate in some cases.

    1. The first-past-the-post electoral college system we currently have makes it really hard to run as a third party candidate

      Combined with our fairly loose party structure, that’s a feature, not a bug.

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