2012 presidential candidates Gov. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, along with the Libertarian and Green parties and their vice-presidential candidates, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC, today charging that the exclusion of qualified candidates from the general election presidential debates by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) violates federal anti-trust laws.
The lawsuit is funded by the Our America Initiative, a not-for-profit advocacy organization, through their Fair Debates project, https://www.fairdebates.com. It was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Our America Initiative’s attorney Bruce Fein, who served as Associate Deputy Attorney General and General Counsel to the Federal Communications Commission under the Reagan Administration.
The legal challenge maintains that the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private 501©(3) organization created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic national parties, intentionally limits participation in the nationally-televised debates to the Democrat and Republican nominees – placing other national party nominees at an unfair disadvantage. According to the complaint, other candidates are excluded by imposing arbitrary polling criteria, and the possibility of additional nationally-televised debates being sponsored by anyone other than the CPD is eliminated by agreements among the CPD and the two major party nominees forbidding participation in other debates or joint appearances.
The proposed remedy is that the debates include all candidates who are legally qualified to serve and whose names appear on enough states’ ballots to potentially secure a majority in the Electoral College. In 2012, that threshold would have allowed participation, in addition to President Obama and Mitt Romney, by the Libertarian nominee Gov. Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, as well as the two parties’ vice-presidential nominees.
Announcing the filing of the complaint, Our America Initiative Senior Advisor Ron Nielson stated, “A majority of Americans today do not believe that either the Republican or Democratic parties represents them. Yet, through the Commission on Presidential Debates, the two major parties have seized and maintained control over the televised debates voters see every four years, and have gone to great lengths to insure that no candidates other than their own have the opportunity to appear on the debate stage. This lawsuit seeks to change that, and give the American people a chance to see that there are other real choices.”