The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the FEC for not properly regulating the Commission on Presidential Debates. The court set a hearing date for Thursday, January 5, 2017, just under two weeks before the next president will be sworn into office.
Level the Playing Field and its CEO, Peter Ackerman, originally filed the lawsuit in June 2015. The suit charges that the CPD and its directors have violated federal election law that requires debate sponsors to be "nonpartisan" and use "objective criteria" to determine which candidates will appear on the presidential debate stage.
"We are grateful that the Court has granted our request for oral arguments and look forward to a hearing in January," said Alexandra A.E. Shapiro, lead counsel to the plaintiffs.
LPF cites extensive evidence showing that the CPD is not nonpartisan and instead promotes the candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties while excluding all others from the debates. Currently, the debate commission's criteria for debate entry says candidates must (1) be qualified to run for president, (2) be ballot qualified in enough states to have a mathematical chance at winning an electoral majority, and (3) poll at 15 percent in 5 polls hand-picked by the CPD.
Plaintiffs assert that the latter criterion is one that only the Democratic and Republican parties can reasonably achieve, and thus the commission illegally excludes third-party and independent candidates from the debates. The debate commission is run by former top officials of the two major parties, including a former chairman of the national Republican Party.
"The CPD is a partisan organization designed to ensure that every four years no candidate unaligned with either major party can compete for the presidency, and if you can't get into the debates, you can't win. This is reason that great Americans will not run for president as Independents, to the detriment of all Americans," co-plaintiff Peter Ackerman told IVN.
Other organizations have filed amicus briefs in support of the lawsuit, including the Independent Voter Project (a co-publisher of IVN.us), FairVote, and Better for America. In its amicus brief, IVP wrote:
“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
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Gov. Gary Johnson, Dr. Jill Stein, the Libertarian and Green parties, and several affiliated organizations in August. However, the D.C. District Court's decision to hear the LPF lawsuit will keep the conversation alive even after the presidential election is over.