You are on page 1of 3


June 21, 2015
Via Time


Third-Party Advocates File Lawsuit Over

Presidential Debates
A coalition of advocates for third parties in presidential elections is filing a lawsuit
Monday against barriers to entry in presidential debates.
Alleging that the Federal Election Commission and the Commission on Presidential
Debates have fostered a duopoly in American politics that has made it impossible for a
third-party candidate to win the White House, the suit seeks to upend a decades-old
debate system, while striking a blow against the 150-year Democrat-Republican regime.
Organized by the group Level the Playing Field, which sprung out of the failed 2012
third party effort Americans Elect and backed by multi-millionaire financier Peter
Ackerman, the lawsuit includes both the Green Party and Libertarian National
Committee. It comes as the American public is more dissatisfied with the traditional
party system than ever before, and the prospects for fixing it are especially dim.
Its the little rules that nobody can see that make all the difference, plaintiff Peter
Ackerman told TIME in an interview, suggesting that the debate rule could be the
unseen panacea.Watched by tens of millions of people, the debates are the largest media
event of the political calendar, and offer candidates unrivaled opportunity to reach
voters. Ackerman asserts that Americans Elect was unable to secure a candidate in 2012
because there was no credible pathway to participating in the debates, making victory
on Election Day essentially impossible.
Critics of the effort scoff that the rules changes are a solution in search of a problem,
with no third party candidate on the horizon, or worse: that it is an effort to pave the
way for wealthy self-funding candidates to buy their way onto the debate stage.
CPD was founded by the Democratic and Republican parties in 1987 and has run every
presidential debate since. Only Ross Perot has made the debate stage without being the
nominee of either major party, and only during his first run in 1992. Rules in 2012
required that a debate-stage-aspirant be Constitutionally eligible to hold the presidency,
have achieved ballot access sufficient to potentially win the needed 270 electoral votes,
andcontroversiallyrequire that they poll at 15 percent in national surveys.

Level the Playing Field contends that the 15-percent threshold is too high, and that
reducing it alone would not make it any easier for a third party to participate. It
proposes a playoff six months before election to allow a third-party contender with the
highest poll numbers or most public signatures collected to participate in the debates.
Critics argue that the run-off would become a de-facto election, artificially boosting a
also-ran on one or the other side of the aisle and weakening one credible candidate over
the other.
Ackerman and the groups have filed complaints and rule-making requests with the FEC
alleging that CPD, has conspired to keep out third-party candidates to preserve the
influence of the two major parties. The lawsuit stems from the similarly-divided FECs
refusal to take action on their requests. The lawsuit contends that by effectively limiting
the field to Democrats and Republicans, both the CPD and FEC are not non-partisan,
rather, bipartisan, potentially putting the debate group in violation of FEC rules. The
FEC has set standards for debate sponsors, requiring them to be news organizations or
non-profits that do not endorse, support, or oppose political candidates or political
The FEC has had Plaintiffs administrative complaint for over nine months (284 days),
and yet has taken no action on it even though [Federal Election Campaign Act] requires
the agency to act within 120 days, the lawsuit states. The FEC has also effectively
pocket-vetoed a separate, but related, petition for rulemaking requesting that it amend
its debate regulation to prohibit the use of polling as the sole means of access to
presidential debates. The FEC is apparently ignoring the petition for rulemaking even
though it too was filed more than nine months ago; even though 1,251 independent
individuals and organizations all but four of whom were unknown to Plaintiffs filed
comments supporting a rulemaking; and even though the only commenter opposing the
proposed rulemaking was the CPD itself.
FEC - Re: Notice 2014-13, Rulemaking Petition: Candidate Debates

April 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Green Party leaders expressed strong support for the "Our
America Initiative" law suit against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).
The Green Party and Libertarian Party are among several plaintiffs in the suit.
The reasons for third-party inclusion in the presidential debates are many
The legacy of third parties in the U.S. includes abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, the eighthour workday, workers' benefits, public schools, unemployment compensation, the minimum
wage, child labor laws, direct election of senators, and programs like Social Security and
Medicare. All of these were introduced by third parties and adopted later by one or both of the
major parties. Scott McLarty
Since 1987, a private corporation created by and for the Republican and Democratic parties
called the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has sponsored the US Presidential
debates and implemented debate contracts. In order to shield the major party candidates from
criticism, CPD has refused to release debate contract information to the public.
In 1986, the Republican and Democratic National Committees ratified an agreement to take
over the presidential debates from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. Fifteen months
later, then-Republican Party chair Frank Fahrenkopf and then-Democratic Party chair Paul Kirk
incorporated the Commission on Presidential Debates. Every four years it implements private
contracts jointly drafted by the Republican and Democratic nominees.
Before the CPDs formation, the League of Women Voters served as a genuinely nonpartisan
presidential debate sponsor from 1976 until 1984, ensuring the inclusion of popular
independent candidates and prohibiting major party campaigns from manipulating debate
Historically, third party candidates have played critical roles in our democracy by introducing
popular and groundbreaking issues that were eventually co-opted by major partiessuch as the
abolition of slavery, womens right to vote, social security, child labor laws, public schools, the
direct election of senators, paid vacation, unemployment compensation, and the formation of
labor unions. With third-party candidates excluded from discourse, they cant break the
bipartisan silence on issues where the major parties are at odds with most Americans