This week, third party candidates saw victory in a significant legal battle which would allow for greater access for third party candidates in the future. In Level the Playing Field v. FEC, plaintiffs from the Libertarian Party contested federal regulations were violated in the selection process to choose individuals to participate in the Presidential debates.
Although the case is against the Federal Elections Commission, it is in essence going against the Commission on Presidential Debates, which selects the criteria for candidates to participate in the debates. These debates are places which many Americans look to in order to evaluate their options on who to vote for.
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This issue stems from the fact that the commission claims to be a nonpartisan commission, however it has become increasingly difficult for those who are neither a member of the Republican nor Democratic Party to participate in the debates. The plaintiffs state, “The Court should…direct the FEC to do its job, which is to enforce the law and put an end to the CPD’s biased, anti-democratic, and fundamentally corrupt and exclusionary polling rule.”
In the case, the Judge ruled that a situation has been created in which the Commission is more or less offering a major campaign contribution to members of both political Parties by making it so difficult for others to participate. Judge Tayna Chutkan writes:
The debate staging regulation…acts as an exemption to the general ban on corporate contributions to or expenditures on behalf of political campaigns or candidates. To prevent debate staging organizations such as the CPD from operating as conduits for corporate contributions made to benefit only one or two candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties—via the much-watched prime-time debates—the regulations require these organizations to (1) be nonpartisan, (2) not endorse, support, or oppose candidates or campaigns, and (3) use pre-established, objective criteria.
If a debate staging organization fails to comply with the regulations, such as failing to use objective criteria in determining which candidates participate in its debates, then the value of the debate is actually a contribution or expenditure made to the participating political campaigns in violation of the Act.
Although this may seem to be a victory for those advocating for increased ability for third parties to participate, there is still much that needs to be overcome. The ruling did not state that there needs to be any decision to allow others onto the stage, rather the FEC has been asked to review its procedures and to assure the CPD is nonpartisan rather than bipartisan.
(h/t Reason Magazine)