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Lessig on election corruption in the U.S.
05:31 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Lawrence Lessig is a well known constitutional lawyer and on Tuesday he announced he considering running for president

He needs $1 million by Labor Day in order for him to decide to run

He plans to run as a Democrat, but didn't pick out any Democrats running whom he had issues with

Manchester, New Hampshire CNN  — 

Harvard professor and constitutional lawyer Lawrence Lessig announced Tuesday that he was launching an exploratory campaign to find out whether he could viably win the Democratic nomination for president.

The reason he is running: To revamp campaign finance laws and rid the country of what he calls “political corruption.”

Coupled with his committee, Lessig is launching a Kickstarter effort to fund his campaign Tuesday. If he raises $1 million by Labor Day, Lessig tells CNN he will move forward with his bid.

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“The system is rigged,” Lessig said in an interview before his launch. “Unless we fix this issue, we can’t do anything else. You want climate change legislation? You want to take on Wall Street? How are you going to take on Wall Street when the biggest contributions come from Wall Street?”

Lessig’s campaign will focus on one issue: The Citizen Equality Act, a proposal that couples campaign finance reform with other laws to curb gerrymandering and expand voting access.

Lessig said that he realized his plan was unusual, but after giving the plan a lot of thought, he decided this was the best way to get his message out.

Here is what makes Lessig’s plan even more “out of the norm”: If he wins the presidency (and that is a big if), the professor will focus solely on passing his Citizen Equality Act. Once the law is passed, Lessig will step down from the presidency and elevate his vice president.

“Seems to be the year for that,” Lessig says about “out of the norm” candidacies. “Is Donald Trump the norm? This is the year that people are more open than ever to think about how to address the issue of politics without politicians being at the center.”

Born in South Dakota and raised as a Republican in Pennsylvania, Lessig has become a champion for campaign finance reform and a well known figure in liberal circles. He founded the New Hampshire Rebellion, an organization that walks around the state to inform people about “the corrupting influence of special interest money in elections.”

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Lessig has also tried to address campaign finance before. The professor founded Mayday PAC in 2014, which backs candidates who endorsed robust campaign finance reform. The plan didn’t go well: The PAC lost a substantial majority of all its 2014 races.

“The biggest challenge is to make it seem plausible and that is going to take a lot of work,” Lessig said Monday. “It is going to take excitement and people contributing and joining. It is going to mean getting large enough name recognition so you can get in the debates.”

Lessig sees the last point – getting into the debates – as the most important aspect of his campaign. Without it, he said, it is hard to frame the issues the other candidates will be talking about.

The professor and his staff reached out to the Democratic National Committee on Monday, Lessig said, and informed them that he would be exploring a presidential run.

There are currently five Democrats running for office, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. Lessig said his candidacy was not in reaction to any one Democrat.

Lessig did say that he plans on “calling out the fact that what Bernie Sanders is trying to do cannot be done unless we address this first issue first.”

Because Lessig is pledging to step down after his Citizens Equality Act gets passed, the professor has given a lot of thought to who he would want as a running mate.

“If I win, I would have a vice president and they could be president very quickly,” he said, adding that he thinks “people like Bernie, people like Elizabeth Warren” could fit the bill for him.

“People who stand strongly for the values that the Democratic Party is increasingly articulating,” he said. “It is exciting to give up the new Democrats of the 1990s.”