August 16th, 2015
11:08 AM ET

Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig: "…if elected, I will stay as president only as long as it takes to get this [campaign finance reform] fundamental reform passed."

Please credit any usage to “CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS”

The following transcript is of an interview by host Fareed Zakaria with Harvard Law School professor, Lawrence Lessig. They discussed whether Lessig plans to run in the 2016 presidential race, his plans for political reform, his opinion of the current presidential campaigns, and how he plans to fund his campaign goal through crowdsourcing.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

On GPS: Campaign funding and a rigged political system

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Harvard Law professor, Lawrence Lessig on running in the 2016 presidential election: “...My claim is, we've got to find a way to fix the rigged system first. …if elected, I will stay as president only as long as it takes to get this [campaign finance reform] fundamental reform passed. And once it's passed, I would step aside and the elected vice president would come in and fill out the term and could run for reelection so that the mandate that I would have would be as strong as any mandate could possibly be.”

Lessig on his 3-part plan for reform: “…The one I care the most about is to change the way we fund elections so that no longer is it the tiny few at the front of the line, the rich billionaires and the millionaires at the front of the line, who get the attention of our government, but all citizens are represented equally in that. But that's not the only inequality in our system. Political gerrymandering takes huge chunks of the American public and makes them irrelevant to their representatives because they are minority parties in a safe majority seat. …That's plank two in what we're talking about. And number three, these schemes for making it difficult for people to vote by putting burdens like ID requirements are completely unjustified in a system that is supposed to create equality of citizens. So these three together, force us to recognize that we have lost the fundamental commitment of a representative democracy, and the consequence is a government that can't do anything.”

Lessig on his views of the current presidential campaign: “...Well, sometimes, when I let myself engage in a state of disbelief, I'm incredibly excited because the bold ideas that are being spoken of in my party about how we address some of the most important problems are exactly the kinds of solutions we need. But then, I'm woken up into the reality that these ideas that they're talking about cannot happen until we address the rigged system first. So climate change legislation will not be passed in the United States until we address this corrupt system for funding campaigns first –

Lessig on America’s corrupt system of political funding: “…we have set up the most unequal, corrupt system for funding anywhere in the world - basically, right now, members of Congress and candidates of Congress and candidates for the president are spending all of their time raising money from a tiny, tiny fraction of us. …you know, in the South, they used to run the white primary, where only whites were allowed to vote. We've now created the green primary, where only the funders get to vote and they vote on who will have the money necessary to run their campaigns.”

Lessig on financing his campaign through crowdfunding:  “So what we’ve set is a $1 million goal by Labor Day. So that was about 27 days. In the first day, we raised $150,000 - $125,000, which means we're about one-eighth of the way in the first day. So we're pretty optimistic we're going to be able to hit that goal.”

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN GPS HOST:  My next guest is mad and he's not going to take it anymore. Lawrence Lessig is angry about the current state of American elections, especially American presidential elections and how they are funded. He says our representative democracy is decidedly unrepresentative. The whole system is rigged, and until we unrig it, no reform is possible. So what is he going to do about it?  He is going to run for president - maybe - depending on how much money he can crowdsource. I will let him explain.

Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law and leadership at the Harvard Law School and a very popular TED talker, totaling more than 4 million views and counting. So, Larry, first let me ask you, what do you think of the current presidential campaign? You've been watching it.

LAWRENCE LESSIG, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL:  Well, sometimes, when I let myself engage in a state of disbelief, I'm incredibly excited because the bold ideas that are being spoken of in my party about how we address some of the most important problems are exactly the kinds of solutions we need.

But then, I'm woken up into the reality that these ideas that they're talking about cannot happen until we address the rigged system first. So climate change legislation will not be passed in the United States until we address this corrupt system for funding campaigns first. Same…

ZAKARIA: Why? Explain why.

LESSIG: Well, because we have set up the most unequal, corrupt system for funding anywhere in the world, I think, in a democracy like ours, and equivalent to what we had basically 100 years ago.

Basically, right now, members of Congress and candidates of Congress and candidates for the president are spending all of their time raising money from a tiny, tiny fraction of us. The New York Times had an article last week finding 400 families have contributed half of the money that has gone into the presidential election cycle so far. We've run - you know, in the South, they used to run the white primary, where only whites were allowed to vote. We've now created the green primary, where only the funders get to vote and they vote on who will have the money necessary to run their campaigns.

ZAKARIA: The public perception is with you. NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked what is the leading issue concerning voters in the upcoming election, and what was it?

LESSIG: It was this issue precisely, the influence of big money in the elections. Same thing – The New York Times ran a poll, found 84 percent of Americans thought this issue, this money in elections, was an important problem that had to be addressed. Now the problem is people are so cynical, so skeptical that anything can be done about it. We -

ZAKARIA: And so you're going to run for president, and you - on a platform that will fix it?

LESSIG: That's right. My claim is, we've got to find a way to fix the rigged system first. And that means a plan that would have a mandate powerful enough to actually stand up to Congress and fight for this idea against the most powerful interests that we have in our democracy.

And if elected, I will stay as president only as long as it takes to get this fundamental reform passed. And once it's passed, I would step aside and the elected vice president would come in and fill out the term and could run for reelection so that the mandate that I would have would be as strong as any mandate could possibly be. Because it’s not one of eight different issues; it's the only issue.

ZAKARIA: And what is the reform? What would you do?

LESSIG: So the essence of the reform is to de-corrupt, uncorrupt the system, to make it so we are equal citizens again.  The one I care the most about is to change the way we fund elections so that no longer is it the tiny few at the front of the line, the rich billionaires and the millionaires at the front of the line, who get the attention of our government, but all citizens are represented equally in that.

But that's not the only inequality in our system. Political gerrymandering takes huge chunks of the American public and makes them irrelevant to their representatives because they are minority parties in a safe majority seat. That should be addressed as well. That's plank two in what we're talking about. And number three, these schemes for making it difficult for people to vote by putting burdens like ID requirements are completely unjustified in a system that is supposed to create equality of citizens. So these three together force us to recognize that we have lost the fundamental commitment of a representative democracy, and the consequence is a government that can't do anything.

You know, this is not a philosophical or theoretical problem. This is practical as mud. The problem is our government can't govern. And until we confront that reality and just accept the fact that we have to find a way to fix it and then talk about what we're going to do to fix it rather than playing this fantasy politics game every four years, we're not going to have the ability to govern.

ZAKARIA: And the reason nothing can get done, you say, is you can - you can talk a good game, but once you get in, Congress is so beholden to a group of very small special interests that will veto all these things.

LESSIG: That's right. I mean, obviously, you know, I'm from the Left and I care about things like climate change legislation or taking on Wall Street; you know, when you listen to these candidates talking about taking on Wall Street, you say, look, this is the largest contributor to congressional campaigns. You can't begin to take them on until you change the way elections are funded.

ZAKARIA: If your plan goes as you hope, and you do end up president and preside over these reforms and then leave, it sounds like the very consequential choice you're going to make is who will be your vice president because he or she will serve out your term.

LESSIG: That's right. So this is kind of two for the price of one. But the judgment has got to be who's - who can make it possible for this ticket, this very unique referendum president and a vice president, to win the votes necessary to prevail in the general election.

ZAKARIA: And describe the crowdsourcing. How likely is it that you will hit your target and how does it work?

LESSIG: So what we’ve set is a $1 million goal by Labor Day. So that was about 27 days. In the first day, we raised $150,000 - $125,000, which means we're about one-eighth of the way in the first day. So we're pretty optimistic we're going to be able to hit that goal.

ZAKARIA: Larry Lessig, best of luck.

LESSIG: Thank you, Fareed.

END INTERVIEW


Topics: CNN • Fareed Zakaria • Fareed Zakaria GPS
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