Lessig Fudges Campaign Fundraising Numbers

Dem presidential candidate says he raised $1 million before Labor Day, but FEC reports show he fell far short

Larry Lessig
Larry Lessig / AP

Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig is running for president on a platform of campaign finance transparency, but he appears to have publicly misled the American people about his own campaign’s finances.

Lessig announced on Sept. 6 that his campaign had achieved the $1 million contribution threshold that he had previously established to trigger a formal run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

However, financial disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission this month show that Lessig was well short of that threshold when he made the announcement on ABC’s This Week.

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Lessig pledged in August that he would only launch his campaign if he received $1 million in contributions by Labor Day. According to its October FEC filing, the campaign raised at most $900,000 by that date.

The actual sum was likely less than that, since that total includes all unitemized contributions through the end of September, some of which likely came after the Sept. 6 deadline.

The campaign did not respond to questions about the discrepancies between Lessig’s public statements and his reported fundraising numbers, which the FEC makes publicly accessible in order to facilitate transparency in elections.

Lessig is running a quixotic one-issue presidential campaign. He has pledged to reform the campaign finance system, which he says stacks the deck in favor of wealthy political donors.

"We’re looking to change the game and show the politicians how powerful transparency and openness can be," he declared in kicking off his candidacy.

Lessig initially pledged to immediately step down if elected and hand the presidency to his running-mate—who supporters would select through on online poll—but has since reversed that position.

Lessig is not expected to be the next president of the United States.

UPDATE 4:34 P.M.: After publication, Lessig called this story "wrong" in a post on his website and said that his $1 million goal included pledges of support in addition to actual contributions.

"Our goal was to raise $1M in crowdfunding pledges — including amounts paid immediately and amounts pledged in advance — by September 7. We beat that goal by a day," he wrote.