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Lawrence Lessig’s Attack Lines for Tuesday’s Debate—Had He Been Invited

Scott Eisen / Getty

Lawrence Lessig sounded irritated as he spoke by phone while on a train Saturday morning. The Harvard professor turned political rabble-rouser, who launched his presidential campaign a month ago, has already raised more than a million dollars and started hiring political operatives. But CNN has not invited him to participate in the Democratic debate on Tuesday night.

“Obviously the only way that someone like me could qualify [would be] if the media were willing to engage about issues more interesting than Hillary Clinton’s emails or the depths of Donald Trump’s brain,” he told me.

Lessig made a name for himself with a TED talk and march across New Hampshire advocating for comprehensive campaign finance reform. His presidential bid likewise revolves around this single issue: If elected, he plans to step down after passing a reform bill called The Citizen Equality Act.

Lessig has had a rocky start on the campaign trail. Harvard stopped paying his salary in September. The Democratic National Committee has refused to acknowledge his candidacy. And now, reflecting a broader lack of recognition from the national news media, CNN has left him off its debate lineup. To qualify, Lessig had to register above 1 percent support in national polls, but most polling firms left him off their recent surveys.

While his competition takes the stage in Las Vegas, Lessig will be halfway across the country in New York, at 30 Rockefeller Center, to appear on NBC. Had he been invited, Lessig says he would have gone after the career politicians on stage—no holds barred. Here’s what he wanted to say to each candidate:  

Bernie Sanders: “He’s been checking off all the right policy boxes. But he’s not being straight about the need for fundamental democratic reform first. If we don’t have reform first, than all the other things he’s talking about are not credible.”

Martin O’Malley: “He has 15 proposals. Number 15 on that list is changing the way campaigns are funded. If you don’t take on the way that campaigns are funded, then you can’t take down Wall Street.”

Hillary Clinton: “She put out a policy paper the day I announced my candidacy saying that she supports public funding, but she has not demonstrated that she has concerns about Washington and a desire to change the way it works.”

Lincoln Chafee: “He has demonstrated no recognition of facts about campaign finance. He seems to think that candidates are already publically funded!”

Jim Webb: “I want to know where Jim Webb’s campaign is! There’s no campaign there.”