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Independent Voter Project Amicus: Presidential Debates Commission is a Monopoly, Reduces Competition

The Independent Voter Project (IVP) filed a brief of amicus curiae with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Wednesday in the case Level the Playing Field, et. al. v. Federal Election Commission. Level the Playing Field, along with the national Green and Libertarian parties, are challenging the legality of a presidential debate rule that prevents candidates outside the Republican and Democratic parties from being competitive in presidential elections.

“Without participating in one of the two parties’ private nomination processes, a candidate cannot realistically qualify for the presidential debates. And without entrance into the presidential debates, no candidate can challenge the nominees of the two parties in the competition of ideas and governmental policies,” writes IVP attorney Chad Peace in the amicus brief.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in June 2015, charging that the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) and certain of its directors have violated federal election law, including an FEC regulation that requires organizations like the debates commission to be “nonpartisan” and to use “objective criteria” to determine who can be in their debates.

Specifically, the plaintiffs’ grievance is with the “15% rule” which requires candidates outside the major parties to poll at 15% in national polls just seven weeks before Election Day, a hurdle Level the Playing Field Chair Peter Ackerman says is impossible to clear if these candidates are not given the opportunity to establish name recognition.

“The way our system works, if you are not known to be in the debates or have the prospect of being in the debates, you’re not considered legitimate by the media, you won’t be covered by the media, and therefore you have no way to get name recognition, unless you buy it through your own advertising,” he explains.

According to Ackerman, research has shown that the amount of exposure a candidate gets by participating in the Republican or Democratic debates equates to about $260 million — a steep price tag for any candidate outside the partisan establishment.

In its amicus brief, IVP adds that the CPD is a partnership between two private political parties and therefore has a fiduciary duty to preserve the interests of these groups that now represent a minority of the voting population. As a result, the CPD “is not incentivized to serve the nonpartisan purpose that its state-sponsored and tax-deductible status demands.”

“Put simply, the two major parties have complete control over the initial and most important stages of the political process, including the primary elections and the presidential debates. Unless this Court is willing to consider the consequences of the CPD’s private control over our public discourse, we risk losing our nonpartisan right to a representative democracy forever.” – IVP Amicus Brief

From confusing primary/caucus rules governed by corporate bylaws to the CPD’s “15% rule,” the Republican and Democratic parties have implemented anticompetitive election rules and laws that have given them a private monopoly over the public election process. The Independent Voter Project believes that this monopoly “threatens the health of our democracy and all of its institutions.”

Read the full Amicus Brief:

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