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A Harvard Professor Learns a Little Money Isn't Enough to Beat Big Money

Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law School
Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law SchoolPhotograph by Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig just learned a lesson: It takes more than some money to win an election. It takes a lot of money.

Earlier this year, Lessig announced the creation of MayDay, a super PAC that would take advantage of newly loosened campaign finance laws to spend lots of money supporting candidates who commit to tightening those same campaign finance laws. The big bet was New Hampshire, where MayDay spent $1.6 million supporting long-shot candidate Jim Rubens in the state’s Republican Senate primary. That’s nearly six times the $270,000 that Rubens’s own campaign spent through Sept. 10 and more than any other outside group spent on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But it was far less than Scott Brown, a former U.S. senator, had at his disposal, and only a fraction of the total that a coalition of other outside groups poured into the race, including Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, and the liberal Senate Majority PAC.