Despite Push, Lessig Not to Run for Congress

BY KATIE MAPES

Prof. Lessig, a preeminent cyberlaw scholar, resisted pressure to run for a vacated congressional seat. Media Credit

Lawrence Lessig, formerly a professor at HLS and now at Stanford Law School, announced that he would not run for Congress Monday, ending a week and a half of speculation. Lessig was, in part, spurred to consider running by HLS professor John Palfrey, who founded a “Draft Lessig for Congress” Facebook group. Lessig then launched lessig08.org and announced that he would decide within the week whether to run for a California congressional seat left open by the death of Representative Tom Lantos.

Lessig posted a video on his site explaining his decision not to run. He had studied, he said, the question of whether it was possible to mount a campaign based on his Change Congress platform in the short time frame before the special election: “There is a simple answer to that question,” he concluded. “It is not possible.” Instead, he stated, if the aim of a congressional run was “to convince the others of a Change Congress movement . . . then losing big in the first important battle is not an effective strategy.”

The difficulty occasioned by the short time frame was compounded by the fact that Lessig would have been facing popular local politician Jackie Spier, a former state senator, who Lessig praised as “a person who had spent 30 years of her life in extraordinary public service.”

Lessig also thanked the “extraordinary number of friends, who reached out both to support and dissuade me from this decision,” as well as supporters on Facebook and elsewhere on the web. “One friend wrote that this was kind of humbling,” he said, “which is true in the sense that it was not just kind of humbling. It was simply humbling and inspiring.”

Lessig urged supportors to sign up for a mailing list at change-congress.org; he had previously announced the Change Congress project on his blog, in conjunction with the announcement that he was considering a run for Congress. The ultimate goal, he has said, is to eliminate the role of money in influencing political decisionmaking. To that end, he promised not to take money from PACs or lobbyists to fund his campaign, and instead collected pledges and donations from individuals, particularly from actblue.org which allows donors to donate to the democratic candidates of their choice nationwide.

Lessig was the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and seemed to enjoy broad support among his former colleagues, particularly in the cyberlaw arena. “Those of us who have learned from and worked with Lawrence Lessig thought that he would make a terrific member of Congress,” Palfrey told the Record, noting that Lessig “has turned his attention from our field, cyberlaw, toward a study of corruption.”

“I think he would be the man from Mars in a good way,” visiting HLS Professor Jonathan Zittrain told the Wall Street Journal, “I come from Silicon Valley and I am here to change your ways.”

Palfrey also commented on how the Draft Lessig movement had taught him a great deal about the role of online communities. “By using the most simple technologies – a blog, a wiki, a social network – and 10 days, a movement came together,” he said. “The Draft Lessig effort obviously failed to draft a candidate and launch a campaign, but we learned a great deal about how online activism works.” Palfrey noted that hundreds of people contributed $40,000 to Lessig’s campaign, and thousands more volunteered to support it. At the time of this writing, the Draft Lessig Facebook group had well over 4,000 members.

Many HLS students supported Lessig, as well. Dan Kahn, a 3L and Berkman Center research assistant, told the Record that Lessig had been on the forefront of issues he cares about. “When we have members of Congress like Ted Stevens who are lucky to know the difference between the Internet and a dump truck,” he said, “it would have been great to have someone like Lessig in Congress who could have been a leader on Internet and copyright-related issues.”

Lessig has long been known as a leading figure in copyright reform movements, and is particularly known for founding the popular “Creative Commons” alternative licensing system, which aims to create processes and incentives for the free sharing of licensed works.

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