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MA Libertarian Dan Fishman Denied Access to Televised Debate

by Sam Humphrey, published

Dan Fishman, Libertarian for Congress

Dan Fishman, the Libertarian candidate for Massachusetts’ 6th District seat in U.S. House of Representatives, has made a striking entrance into a tight race, says the Newburyport Daily News. Fishman has his opponents, John Tierney (incumbent, D) and Richard Tisei (R), worried that he could steal votes from their bases. Tierney’s and Tisei’s campaign managers released statements regarding Fishman earlier last week; both said they respect his positions and are excited that he’s in the race. So why has WCVB, a local television station hosting the next debate between the three candidates, set up a debate-qualifying criteria that seems to aim to prevent Fishman’s presence on their October 25 debate? On October 11, two weeks before the scheduled debate, Fishman received an email notifying him that he must have the following to appear on their debate:

-       A campaign staff of at least three

-       A daily campaign schedule

-       Regular communication with news media

-       Campaign contributions of at least fifty thousand dollars

-       A minimum of ten percent in two recent independent polls

I had a chance to talk to Mr. Fishman on Monday.

To your knowledge, have these requirements been the standard criteria that WCVB has had for candidates in their previous debates?

Fishman: “I cannot find any previous mention of them. I do not know of a situation, I’m trying to think of one where there’s been three primary candidates beforehand in Massachusetts. I know that they did have Tim Cahill on, but that was a while back and his campaign was relatively mainstream.”

To your knowledge, did WCVB set these standards, or were they set up by a government voting board or other regulatory council?

Fishman: “It was the WCVB editorial staff, they set it up themselves. The issue is that Tierney and Tisei are both spending over a million dollars in their markets. And, as you can imagine, if a candidate comes along who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money, then that’s a real threat to the major media companies, because they depend on that money. So it is in their best interest that I not do well in this election, because they have to make money on advertising.”

Have you contacted WCVB?

Fishman: “I did. I wrote back and said that I thought that the requirements were ridiculous. First of all, I don’t know how they intend to ascertain whether or not I have contributions of at least fifty thousand dollars, since I don’t think the October 15 SEC filing will be out by then… The other things they asked for was a campaign staff of at least three, a daily campaign schedule, and regular communications with the news media. All three of those just seem odd, I just can’t understand what the point (of those requirements) is.

And then a showing of at least ten percent in at least two independent polls. The problem is there has only been one independent poll which included me as an option. The other two – and, honestly, the one by the Congressional Republican Office, I would not consider independent – but those two did not include me as an option, so it’s difficult to say what my numbers really are.

Again it’s one of those things that comes down to money. First, the polls are commissioned via money, meaning somebody’s donation allowes that polling to happen, unless it’s done by one of the major media organizations. So it’s discriminatory against a candidate whose trying to run a lean campaign… And I’m specifically trying to run a lean campaign with the idea that I don’t want a candidacy that is bought and paid for.”

Has WCVB responded to your inquiry?

Fishman: “Yes, they said if you meet these requirements by the 22nd of October, you will be included… It was suggested to me by the Libertarian Party that I should file a complaint with the FEC and so I’m starting to look into that now.”

Have your supporters or the Libertarian Party publicized this and have you gained any attention?

Fishman: “Yeah, the (Danvers) Patch picked up the story. It also went viral on Flashdot, and a lot of people have written to WCVB, but they don’t get any response at all.”

What will you do if you can’t reverse the channel’s decision and get on the debate?

Fishman: “There are still two more public debates, there’s one Wednesday at the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, and then there’s one the following Friday at the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce… and that’s with me and John Tierney and Richard Tisei. And at those public forums, I certainly intend to criticize WCVB for what they’ve done in their attempt to… monetize the campaign. It’s clear to me that what their doing has nothing to do with politics and everything about protecting their business model where candidates spend a lot of money on elections.”

Have you had any uncertainty about whether you can attend any of those future events that you mentioned?

Fishman: “No… I’m definitely in all of them and I’ve been in two previous debates already, and television appearances and stuff like that… And every mainstream media outlet has embraced me, every debate has embraced me, except for WCVB. They are the only institution to specifically exclude me. And (WCVB’s) rules… first of all, they were announced very late. The potential for the FEC filing is that they did not give advanced notice of what their criteria was for their debate. Secondly, it’s obvious that they were written to exclude me, because the other guys, well their positions are well known. They’re major candidates. So why bother to make up rules? Why not just say “We’re having a debate and we’re not inviting you. The idea that there are some set of rules, just to say, ‘Oh, we actually have an agenda. Our agenda is that if you had more money, we would invite you.’”

Emails sent to WCVB, Richard Tisei’s campaign, and John Tierney’s campaign all went unanswered.

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