The first crowdfunded presidential campaign may soon be underway and it just might encourage others to adopt the fundraising tactic.
Government reform activist Lawrence Lessig on Tuesday launched an effort to crowdfund $1 million for a presidential run. If he hits his target by Labor Day, he’ll run as a “referendum candidate.”
“I would make citizen equality central to this election,” he said in an announcement video. If he doesn’t hit the goal of raising $1 million, he’ll refund all donations and won’t enter the race.
“We need to challenge this rigged system like [Eugene] McCarthy challenged the [Vietnam] war,” he said. “We need to make fixing it the priority of the next president and the next Congress.”
Digital consultant Melissa Ryan, who earlier this year predicted “web-based crowdfunding will play a bigger role in 2015,” is interested to see how Lessig does despite some "obvious flaws” in his “overall strategy.”
“Raising money with a promise to return if he doesn't meet the threshold, as opposed to seeking pledges could serve as a roadmap for other potential office seekers who want to crowdfund their own campaigns,” said Ryan.
One drawback to Lessig’s effort to foster broad-based support is his unusual pledge, should he win, to vacate the Oval Office after his electoral and campaign finance reform agenda is implemented and hand over power to the vice president. It’s also questionable what Lessig would be able to accomplish with a budget of only $1 million. As co-founder of the Super PAC Mayday with Mark McKinnon, Lessig, a Harvard professor, had earlier failed to influence key races in 2014 with a budget of $12 million.
Still, protest candidates have had success during previous cycles, noted Pia Carusone, a Democratic consultant who recently crowdfunded an investment in a whiskey and vodka distillery.
“There have been candidates who have raised incredible amounts of online, low-dollar, grassroots funds — Howard Dean, Carol Shea-Porter, Barack Obama — but I don't know of any that have tied their fundraising success to a potential candidacy,” she said. “They have all previously decided to run and then sought low-dollar, grassroots funds.”
Lessig’s website reported he brought in more than $90,000 in the 12 hours after he announced. If Lessig raises $1 million by his deadline, it may attract more interest from candidates in crowdfunding a budget before entering a race.