If Tom Steyer has a rival as the biggest loser from the Democratic funder/advocate class in this election, it has to be Lawrence Lessig, perhaps the most puffed-up pompous professor among the many prodigious pomposities who inhabit Harvard. Lessig is a famous scold of campaign spending, whose solution (like nearly all academic solutions) would conveniently empower people like himself.
Lessig deplores money in politics, and set out in this election cycle to sponsor his own super-PAC, called “Mayday,” whose objective would be to support candidates who support campaign finance “reform” political free speech suppression. He raised and spent $10 million—not exactly Steyer money, but no mere bagatelle either. Call it “performance irony” perhaps—starting a super-PAC to end super-PACs. In any case, Mayday PAC did worse than Steyer.
Today Kenneth Vogel has a coffee-spit-inducing takedown of Lessig in Politico, “How To Waste $10 Million.” I’m guessing that writing this story was the most fun Vogel has had since his 21st birthday party:
Embracing the irony of setting up a super PAC that would spend big money in order to fight super PACs and other groups that spend big money, Harvard professor Larry Lessig and GOP strategist Mark McKinnon went all-in on the idea voters would kick megadonors to the curb.
Tuesday, voters shrugged and cast their ballots for business as usual, leaving Mayday and Lessig — who emerged as its public personae — facing questions about the disconnect between its bold predictions and results. . .
But it’s not just the rout that makes this story fun. Vogel reports the juicy details about how a lot of liberals and Democratic operatives have got Lessig’s number for being a total diva:
Prior to Tuesday, Lessig and Mayday were media darlings — the subject of glowing profiles and nonstop press coverage about its efforts. Lessig and Mayday scored a front page profile in the New York Times, a long piece in the New Yorker, several glowing Washington Post write-ups upon launch and a segment on Meet the Press about money in politics. That was supplemented by nonstop horserace coverage about the group’s every ad buy or independent expenditure. . .
Lessig did not respond to multiple phone calls from POLITICO in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election. That’s a marked change from earlier, when he and his allies assiduously courted media coverage – to great effect. . . A PR firm representing Lessig declined requests to make him available. . .
It gets even better:
Asked over the course of the campaign about Lessig’s splashy media coverage, a number of advocates for campaign reform rolled their eyes, but declined to comment for fear of undercutting their collective efforts and also potentially offending Lessig’s donors. . .
When Lessig did the voice overs for some of Mayday’s early ads, even some of his defenders blanched.
“He does not have a radio voice. He sounds like a Harvard professor. That won’t go over well in New Hampshire,” said one operative who has been generally supportive of Lessig. “They may be the worst political ads I’ve ever seen or heard, and I’ve seen and heard a lot of them.”
Another reform advocate who has worked with Lessig said “The last thing that the progressive movement needs is another ivory tower egghead trying to play political operative and sucking up valuable donations and resources for his personal vanity project. For the sake of reforming money in politics, I wish Larry Lessig would please stop.” . . .
“Behold the power of super smart people pursuing a boutique policy solution that the average American could not give a damn about if you poked them in the eye with it,” said veteran GOP consultant Rick Wilson about the group’s efforts.
That’s going to leave a mark.
I hope Lessig persists. In fact, I hope he merges his efforts with Steyer in the next cycle, and combines campaign finance deform with climate change. It ought to make for some interesting new material for the next edition of his biography.
Yes, you heard that right—a middle-aged Harvard professor already has a biography. No vanity there, I’m sure.