The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Candidate Larry Lessig won’t be at the first Democratic debate. He blames his own party.

He's not happy. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig may not be a household name, though his long-shot bid for the White House as a campaign finance reformer has sparked the interest of activists brimming with disdain for the influence big money has in electoral politics today.

But one crucial party, he says, isn't interested in seeing him run: Democratic officials.

“[T]he Democratic Party won’t recognize me as an official candidate. With the candidates who are going to appear on the debate stage they sent out a press release welcoming them to the race,” Lessig told Time Magazine this month. “But we’ve had to fight even for the ability to be in the polls, which of course are the preconditions to being in the debate. It’s a struggle for an outsider who is not a billionaire.”

Last week, he hinted that he might be ready to exit the Democratic contest -- but not the presiedntial race.

"If the party won’t allow me to run as a Democrat, that creates a lot of pressure to think about a different way of running that would allow me to make this case to the American people," he told The Washington Post's Dave Weigel. "I’ve received as lot of advice and suggestions from people as to how to spread this message. When I first got into this, I frankly didn’t expect that this would be an issue, but it's something I increasingly have to think about."

[Sidelined by Democrats, Larry Lessig considers running against them]

Lessig first indicated his interest in launching a protest campaign in August, pledging to enter the race if he could raise at least $1 million from small-dollar donors by Labor Day. Though he met that goal, he was not included in the CNN debate Tuesday because he has barely registered in the polls. As a condition for participation, CNN required that candidates have garnered at least 1 percent support in certain national polls during the last month – as Lessig himself has said, that's a tough feat when you aren't even mentioned in most of them.

Without a deep fundraising network or national name recognition outside of academic circles, his bid was always a long shot. Still, the most unusual part of his candidacy remains how he proposes he would do the job, were he to be elected:

In the interview, conducted by phone on Monday ahead of his announcement, Lessig said he would serve as president only as long as it takes to pass a package of government reforms and then resign the office and turn the reins over to his vice president. He said he would pick a vice president "who is really, clearly, strongly identified with the ideals of the Democratic Party right now," offering Warren as one possibility. He said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whom he considers a friend and has drawn huge crowds in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, was another option.

And so last week, Lessig sounded almost resigned to watching this week's faceoff from the sidelines.


"If they invited me today, it would be like that classic nightmare where you have an exam but haven’t prepared for it," he told The Post. "I haven’t spent any time in debate prep. Now, would I go? Of course I would."

Read more:

[Lawrence Lessig wants to run for president — in a most unconventional way.]

[Larry Lessig raises $1 million for 2016 bid.]

[Larry Lessig hits the presidential campaign trail.]