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Gary Johnson: One Debate Rule is Preventing Real Choice in POTUS Elections

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Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and potential 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate, discussed the current lawsuit challenging the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) in an exclusive interview for IVN.

Among the plaintiffs in the suit, which concerns violations by the CPD and the Federal Election Commission, are the Green Party and the Libertarian National Committee. The purpose of the suit is to change the rules that obstruct third party candidates from participating in presidential debates.

The CPD was created by the Democratic and Republican parties “for the express purpose of keeping third party and independent candidates out of debates,” according to the plaintiffs.

Governor Johnson’s Our America Initiative and related project, Fair Debates, are at the forefront of the efforts to reform the debate rules.

A similar suit was filed prior to the 2012 campaign. In his interview, Johnson compared the outcome of that suit and the current action:

“It’s important to note that our 2012 suit was, unavoidably, filed very late in the process. Ironically, we had to be excluded in order to have a claim, and the CPD was very careful to not formally exclude anyone until right before the first debate. That timing issue clearly hurt our case.” – Gary Johnson

Johnson argues that the CPD has been “very open and, frankly, arrogant in their intent to exclude candidates other than the Republican and the Democrat.” He also claimed the CPD has “gone to extraordinary, documented lengths to ensure that no other nationally-televised debates can ‘compete’ with their own.”

Johnson has a lot at stake. In his 2012 bid for the presidency, he placed third, with under 1.3 million votes. He knows that to stand a real chance at the presidency, the first hurdle is winning the lawsuit.

What outcome constitutes a win? Johnson answered:

“A ‘win’ is very simple. If there are to be nationally-televised debates, they must include all candidates who are constitutionally qualified to serve and who appear on enough states’ ballots to potentially be elected in the Electoral College.” – Gary Johnson

According to the lawsuit, current CPD rules require “a candidate to poll at 15% in an average of five national polls taken in mid-September.” The plaintiffs argue that this is biased against independent and third party candidates, who do not receive the national attention generated by those running in the Democratic and Republican primaries.

“Simply removing the arbitrary polling requirement eliminates any potential bias and subjectivity from the decision as to who will be on the debate stage. That is the most straightforward and realistic solution,” Johnson explained.

The CPD case cites polling data that shows a “record number of Americans – well over 40% – now identify themselves as independent, and 62% say they would vote for an independent candidate for president in 2016.”

So why should it be so hard to reach the 15% threshold?

“Unfortunately, while a majority of voters clearly are not satisfied with their ‘major party’ choices, they are also vulnerable to the perception, institutionalized by the Republicans and Democrats, that those are their only real choices. The debates are a big part of that perception, and the news media plays along.“ – Gary Johnson

According to Johnson. research shows that $100 million in spending would be required to match the media coverage automatically granted to the Republican and Democratic candidates.

“In short, reaching 15% without the inherent advantages enjoyed by the ‘major’ parties is virtually impossible,” he contends.

Elaborating further, Johnson stated: “Achieving ballot access in dozens of states is a monumental, expensive process that provides a more-than-adequate and perfectly logical threshold. If a candidate can be elected, he or she should be allowed to participate. There is no need for any polling requirement.”

Other groups have also joined the campaign for more open debates. Yet, public complacency on the issue may be a barrier to building grassroots support for these efforts. Is there enough public awareness and support for efforts to open up debates?

“Not yet,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t enough in 2012 to deter the CPD from its exclusionary ways. Thousands of voices need to become millions, which is why the Our America Initiative’s effort is so crucial.”

To generate these millions of voices requires money – a lot of it – and Johnson does not underestimate the role this will play:

“Timing is obviously important, and frankly, an important element of that timing is funding. The CPD will have unlimited resources from its corporate and special interest supporters, and will use those resources to bury us with motions and other delaying tactics. It is essential that we have the resources to fight back and get a timely resolution.” – Gary Johnson

“We have a strong case, and when both the court and the public have an opportunity to see the lengths to which the Republicans and Democrats have gone to seize and maintain control over the debate process, we believe we can ultimately prevail,“ Johnson concluded.

Grassroots efforts have a history of overcoming great odds to achieve change. With a little help from the courts, that could become a reality for the 2016 presidential campaign and have a major impact on election dynamics this coming year and in the future.

Check Out Part 1 of the Interview

IVN Exclusive Interview: Gary Johnson Says Voters Need A Candidate Not Constrained by Partisan Litmus Tests

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Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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884 comments
Mike Biggs
Mike Biggs

Yes I would say that's. only fair but there s nothing fair about this butch they are the new world order

Charlie Johnston
Charlie Johnston

This is the problem with our system, (or at least our perception of our system). the parties are private, the debate commission is private. Private monopolies RUN our public elections!

Craig Bastian
Craig Bastian

I think in the primaries no one should have to register with a party. You could vote for whoever you wish, you could write in for a third party candidate, but you would only be able to vote once of course. If a third party candidate received more than a fixed percentage of the vote, they should be able to participate in the debates for that election. This would open up the process to all registered voters and also give people more choices.

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

Primaries are on a state by state basis. All states have widely different ballot access laws, that are extremely burdensome. Taxpayers pay for the primaries, some third parties opt out of the primary process because they don't want to spend taxpayer money. In some states you don't have to register wth a party, you just say which party ballot you want on primary day. So tons of areas need to be changed. Also that is a bad requirement for access to debates.... Debate access should be much easier.

Ray Leghart
Ray Leghart

Here's the deal...we get stuck for the bill for the events and elections of these private parties. I'd say, that makes them not so private anymore. Make the Democratic and Republican parties pay for their own primaries or let everyone participate. That's just simple common sense.

Ken Gibson
Ken Gibson

Fundamentally I agree; however, Gary came to the party late. He's like a drunk uncle showing up late and uninvited to his nieces sweet sixteen party and then demands that everyone stop being uncomfortable when he's breathing heavily into the girls cleavage. He's just wasting everybody's time and someone's money.

Austin Bobo
Austin Bobo

Except saying he or any third party is late to the party is not completely accurate.... Using your same scenario about the party. It's like the niece and her parents went out and created road blocks on every conceivable route between the uncles house and their house. They also stole his car keys, slashed his tired, took a sledge hammer to his car engine..... Then he finally shows up, the parents lie about him so everyone thinks he is drunk and a creep, when the truth is they know everyone will really like the uncle. (I am not a Johnson supporter, so this is not about just Johnson, it's about 3rd parties and independents in general)

Scott Hauck
Scott Hauck

Yup. We have to represent all of the voters, not just the two party monopoly.

Clara Morici
Clara Morici

AGREE100 % IT SHOULD BE TELEVISION FREE TIME FOR ALL THE PEOPLE THAT WISHES TO RUN AND PRESENT THEIR MESSAGE. THAT WAY NO ONE CAN BUY THE MEDIA AND NEWS.

Luanne Taylor
Luanne Taylor

agreed...if your name is on 90% of the ballots, you should be included in the debate...no excuses.

Keith Meyer
Keith Meyer

Puff puff pass Gary Johnson, support a stoner with minimal ambitions. Weak!

Donald Anderson
Donald Anderson

I just can't believe that Democrats are that bad of people, they are not the United States original human beings, my Grandpaw was a Democratic when I was growing up but the Clintons has turned it to communist.If my granpaw was still alive he would have fixed it.

Shelly Sampier
Shelly Sampier

Johnson, you need to just get out of the way! Our country is in bad need of Trump right now!

Vicki Knapp
Vicki Knapp

Gary Johnson is correct. The "powers that be" are shutting out those that are fully qualified to be elected who are not democrats or republicans in order to keep the power base the way it is so they can control it.

Cheryl Sedlock
Cheryl Sedlock

"they must include all candidates who are constitutionally qualified to serve" then that leaves Hillair out. She is not qualified

Randy Aronson
Randy Aronson

This year more than any other in my history, we need to hear other voices and other choices.

Rich Barron
Rich Barron

Can we please also have a Harvard style moderated debate focusing on specific topics, with an opening statement, rebuttal, and Q And A, followed by a closing statement - all timed and without interruptions? I want to see who has the best ideas. Who understands the topic best. Not people shouting talking points at each other that have already been debunked ad nausium.

Linda Wright
Linda Wright

Not impressed with this guy - just hits me the wrong way.... Voting Trump !

Moriisu Isha
Moriisu Isha

Of course he's right, which is why we won't be seeing any third party candidates at the debate. The oligarchy doesn't like competition. It's hard enough rigging those voting machines as it is.

Kyle Waggener
Kyle Waggener

Absolutely he is right!!! Why should Americans only get to see that same two shitty choices each time?

Colette Mounts
Colette Mounts

Sorry he is a Republican who stated after this election if a third party wins we will simply return to the two party system. .have a difficult time after that statement to even take him seriously.

Ross A Mahan
Ross A Mahan

OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: As of today, the #NeverTrump has changed their hashtag to #wesuckatlife. That is all.

Wendy Huston
Wendy Huston

Done that already. Now it's just the two nominees.

Fleur Kohls
Fleur Kohls

I'm not a fan of Mr Johnson's but he is 100% correct. The American public deserves to have direct access to learn the platform of all all candidates running for POTUS.

Donna Broome-Kleim
Donna Broome-Kleim

I don't know that I like his politics but I would like to hear him debate.

Sean Whitt
Sean Whitt

I don't care for Mr Johnson's politics, but like his idea. I should be able to see him debate with the others. Who knows, maybe he'll change my mind.

Ralph Welton
Ralph Welton

I'm not a Johnson supporter, but I agree with him about this.