Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig visits Northwestern to discuss campaign finance reform


Katie Pach/The Daily Northwestern

Lawrence Lessig presents his platform to reform campaign finances during a speech at Cahn Auditorium on Saturday. The Democratic presidential candidate visited Northwestern as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival and discussed the urgency of monetary campaign reform.

Dan Waldman, Reporter

Democratic presidential candidate and Harvard Law School Prof. Lawrence Lessig advocated campaign reform to abolish safe seats for politicians in a talk at Northwestern on Saturday

Lessig’s speech in Cahn Auditorium, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, focused on campaign funding, gerrymandering and voting.

“Ninety-six percent of Americans said (campaign finance reform) was important,” Lessig said. “We all believe it is important to reduce the influence of money in politics.”

Lessig said the only solution to the campaign funding crisis is a bottom-up public funding system.

“The candidates would … rely on all of us to fund their campaigns and therefore (be) responsive to all of us, not just the tiny fraction of the 1 percent,” Lessig said.

The crowd then erupted in applause when Lessig mentioned how safe seats — congressional districts structured to give the incumbent party an electoral advantage — prevent a functional government. He said that such a polarized government, devoid of candidates the American people actually desire, cannot enact meaningful change.

The final issue Lessig addressed was the need for a national voting day. The presidential candidate said working Americans often cannot spare the 30 minutes waiting in line that it takes to vote, causing elections to no longer be representative of the people.

“Proposals like the Voting Rights Advancement Act and Bernie Sanders’ Democracy Day that moves voting to a single holiday are proposals that could make it easy for everyone to vote equally,” Lessig said.

Weinberg senior Kenny Mok said he liked the ideas Lessig presented in his speech, but he is unsure about the plausibility of actually enacting election reform.

“He still needs to do a better job of explaining the political realities,” Mok said. “He can propose all the things he wants — and I agree with them — but it’s about what is going to happen to pass it.”

Following the speech, Sylvia Margolies, a festival sponsor, said Lessig addressed a critical point about how campaign reform is not a priority for candidates who do not want to give up their own funding.

“It’s very distressing how difficult it’s going to be to make a change,” Margolies said. “The first thing to do is eliminate the need for funding, but no one wants to give it up.”

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