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Lessig Discusses "Referendum Presidency" Switch

In an interview at The Texas Tribune Festival, Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig said that people had lost sight of his singular goal to implement an overhaul of the nation’s political system and ethics laws.

Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig was interviewed by Washington Post correspondent Karen Tumulty on Oct. 17,…

Saying that people became fixated on his pledge to resign soon after a potential election as president, Democratic candidate Lawrence Lessig elaborated Monday on his decision to pull back on his “referendum presidency” promise.

In an interview with Washington Post national political correspondent Karen Tumulty at The Texas Tribune Festival, Lessig said that people lost sight of his singular goal to implement an overhaul of the nation’s political system and ethics laws.

Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor, previously said he would only serve a referendum presidency, resigning immediately after his stated reforms were implemented.

“The idea of referendum presidency is new, and when it was described, people immediately fixated on the resignation point," Lessig said Saturday. “It made it impossible to actually get people to focus on what I think is the critical thing we've got to find a way for people to focus on."

Lessig added that "my objective is not to resign. My objective is to find a way to move what I think is the critical change that we need in American politics today, to address ... the corruption of representative democracy." 

He initially announced his decision in an Atlantic Monthly essay published Saturday. 

During the one-hour interview, Lessig also continued his criticism of the Democratic National Committee over his being omitted from this week’s Democratic presidential debate.

"I don’t want to complain ... I don’t want to be the Jim Webb on this stage and whine about this," Lessig said, joking about Webb frequently lamenting about his lack of questions during the Democrats’ debate. 

But, Lessig, said, "the rules have the effect, whether intended or not, to make it almost impossible for someone who is not a politician or a billionaire to run for president."

He said that polling outlets take their cues from the DNC when deciding which candidate names to include on their surveys. He argued that his name was left off and as a result, he never met network polling thresholds to appear in a debate. 

“My political people have tried to talk to people at the DNC about it, but their view is, 'If we let Lessig on, then we have to let the 140 other people who have said they are running for president.'" 

He argued that even if he did not meet the polling threshold, the fact that he raised more than $1 million should be enough proof that he is a serious candidate. 

A DNC spokeswoman wrote in an email that "each network host sets specific criteria," and "Lessig and his staff were briefed by DNC staff, as offered to other candidates and potential candidates."

Lessig on Saturday questioned the motives for the DNC.

“Now, maybe as the Democrats look at the politicians, they say 'Geez, the non-politicians on that stage are causing a lot of trouble. They don’t want us,’" he said with a laugh. 

"I guess I'm just so naive and such a believer in my party that I can’t really believe it’s conspiratorial in that sense. But the reality is here I am, I’ve raised more money than two, possibly three of the [Democratic] candidates [who were in the debate.]"

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