The Democrats Have Now Changed the Rules, And Forced Larry Lessig Out

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 27:  The stage is prepared for the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado Oc
BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 27: The stage is prepared for the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado October 27, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. The 14 Republican presidential candidates will take part in theird republican debate that will be broken into two debates October 28. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

For the past six weeks, I've been the general consultant in Larry Lessig's presidential campaign, working with him and a team of senior and extraordinary campaigners to get him into the Democratic Party debates and to help Americans see why I believe we need him as our next president.

I did this in no small part because I believe, as does Lessig, that big money is destroying our democracy. And like Lessig, I believe that until we control big money in politics, our democracy will continue to be severely compromised if not abdicated. So for the past six weeks, we have worked hard to show the Democratic National Committee as well as Democrats and all voters nationally that we were a serious campaign with a serious candidate whose voice needed to be heard both to help bolster our party and to save our democracy.

Toward that end, Larry's campaign raised over $1 million in a matter of weeks and it even qualified for federal matching funds over this same period of time - a very impressive feat. We then fleshed out the campaign team with a wonderful mix of campaign veterans and strategists with next generation experts on social media and digital platforms. We also ran an unprecedented digital campaign reaching tens of millions of voters while at the same time running significant television advertising buys in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

All of this was designed in part to show the DNC that Larry deserved to be included in their pivotal national presidential debates so that all Democrats nationally could hear his critical arguments for taking back our democracy from the big money interests.

The DNC's rules for candidate participation in their debates were pretty straightforward--or so we thought. In August, before the Lessig campaign began, DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, announced the standards for being included in the debates. As she described the rule, a candidate had to have 1 percent in three DNC sanctioned national polls, "in the six weeks prior to the debate."

Hitting 1 percent would not be easy, but it was possible. And indeed, at the end of August already one national polling firm, PPP, found Lessig at 1 percent nationally.

Yet, about this time, Lessig's campaign manager received a troubling email from the DNC, suggesting the debate participation standards were different. The email included a memo that stated that the three polls had to be "at least six weeks prior to the" debate--contradicting what Wasserman-Schultz had said that they could be "in the six weeks prior to the debate." To try to clear up the contradiction, I arranged a call with the DNC. On that call, the DNC political director confirmed to me the rule was as the Chair had stated it--three polls finding 1 percent "in the six weeks prior to the debate."

And indeed, that is precisely the rule that was applied in the first debate. As CNN specified in a late September memo, to qualify a candidate had to poll at 1 percent in the "polls released between August 1, 2015 and October 10, 2015." The first debate was October 12.

So, we believed we had our guidelines. And as such, we worked hard--and spent our campaign's resources--to meet this clarified goal. It wasn't easy, as most of the national polls didn't even include Lessig's name. But then a week ago, a Monmouth poll of Democrats nationally found him at the qualifying percentage. Then an NBC poll found the same. HuffPost Pollster now lists three polls at 1%. Since the Monmouth poll, no poll that included Lessig's name found him with anything less than 1%.


But apparently it did not matter. Late last week, the DNC again changed the rules for participation in the debates. Just at the point that it seemed Lessig was about to get in, the DNC has shut the door.

We were informed of this change in a phone call late last week that I had with the DNC political director. During that call, I was told that the DNC participation standard for the debates was for a candidate to be at one percent in three polls conducted, "six weeks prior to the debate"--not the clarified rule cited earlier by Wasserman-Shultz and the DNC political director that a candidate had to be at one percent in three polls conducted "in the six weeks prior to the debate." To further make the point, the political director confirmed the new rule in a follow-up email to me.

Under this new rule, Lessig obviously cannot qualify for the November 14 debate. He would have had to qualify four weeks ago! Under this new rule, all the work--and expense--of the past four weeks has been for naught. The door has been shut. By DNC mandate, Larry Lessig won't be participating in the Democratic Party debates.

I have been a Democrat my entire life. I have proudly helped elect many of the leaders of our party including Tom Daschle, Bob Kerrey, Mark Warner, Jim Webb, and Tim Johnson to high office and I have served nearly four years at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as Communications Director and Senior Advisor. But I am sad to say that I have never experienced this kind of game playing and deception from party leaders in nearly 38 years of political activism.

As I said at the outset, big money is destroying our democracy. Larry Lessig is a leader in the most important political reform movement within our democracy today--his voice and his cause need to be heard. If he were allowed into the Democratic Party debates, I believe Americans would see him, as I do, as a leader who would be true to his word and were Americans to elect him as President of the United States, he would win back our democracy.

But his participation in the debates now will not happen. It is sad and it is wrong for the Democratic National Committee to change their rules, and block him from the debates just as he was on the cusp on getting into them and giving America a chance to hear his critical message. Without access to the debates, I cannot advise him to continue as a candidate in the Democratic primary. That is our loss.