Lawrence Lessig, a constitutional law professor seeking the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has renounced a widely ridiculed campaign pledge in the hopes of reviving his struggling presidential bid.
Lessig said on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday night that, if elected president, he will no longer resign after passing a law that would expand voting access, end partisan gerrymandering and reform the country's campaign finance system.
“You said that you were running on this one issue and that when you got elected and fixed it, you would quit,” Maher said.
“Yeah, that’s stupid,” Lessig replied, looking downward. “That was totally stupid.”
“I withdraw that promise,” he said. “I am not going to resign. I am running for president with the commitment to pass legislation that gets our democracy back.”
Lessig said he did not anticipate that his promise to resign would overshadow his message of restoring democracy.
“What’s weird about politics is that you know, you come in and you say, ‘I don’t want all the power,’ you’re a little bit humble about what you want. They’re like, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’re a crazy man,’” he said.
“They don’t trust you,” when you do that, he added. “And I didn’t quite get that. That was my stupidity.”
Lessig discussed his presidential ambitions on HuffPost's "So That Happened" podcast in August.
Lessig’s decision to stay on as president notwithstanding, he reiterated his belief that campaign finance and electoral reform must come first. He argues that those measures are prerequisites for enacting other progressive priorities championed by his Democratic rivals, which Lessig also supports wholeheartedly -- since even the most enlightened president cannot overcome a corrupt and wildly non-representative Congress.
He likened Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to family members debating different vacation options before fixing the broken-down car they need to get to their destination in the first place.
The other Democratic candidates broadly share Lessig’s commitment to campaign finance and electoral reform, but disagree with his insistence that it come before any other legislation. Sanders’ campaign refuses to accept super PAC money and supports public financing for campaigns. And both Clinton and Sanders have said that they would only nominate someone to the Supreme Court committed to overturning the Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on elections, provided that it is done independently from a party or candidate.
Since officially launching his campaign in September, Lessig has failed to gain traction, rarely rising above 0 percent in the polls. Earlier this month, though, Lessig announced he has raised $1 million for his campaign.
Lessig argues that he has been unfairly sidelined by the Democratic Party, protesting their decision to exclude him from Tuesday’s debate. He has said that if the Democratic Party is not more accommodating, he will consider running as an independent.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Citizens United allowed corporations and individuals to anonymously donate unlimited sums of money to super PACs.
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