WASHINGTON, DC – A federal court judge yesterday issued an unprecedented ruling that could open the way in 2020 for the first serious challenge in decades by an independent candidate for president.
In a blistering 28-‐page decision, Judge Tanya Chutkan told the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that in its rejection of a complaint by Level the Playing Field, a non-‐profit group trying to open up debates to a third candidate, it had acted in a manner that was “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”
The Judge ordered the FEC to “reconsider the evidence and issue a new decision consistent with this Opinion within 30 days.”
Judge Chutkan blasted the FEC for its “refusal to engage in thoughtful, reasoned decision-‐making in either enforcement or rulemaking in this case.”
The complaint, filed in September 2014, focused on rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) that have blocked independents from the final fall debates for the past quarter-‐century.
The court ruling, said Peter Ackerman, the scholar-‐businessman who founded Level the Playing Field, “lays the groundwork for removing the primary obstacle to providing Americans with the independent alternative to the two parties that polls clearly indicate they want.”
Alexandra Shapiro, the New York-‐based lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that Judge Chutkan’s decision “marked the first time the FEC and CPD have been successfully challenged over debate rules. This is an enormously important ruling. It could pave the way for a new kind of election in 2020.”
The complaint, which included more than 100 exhibits, argued that the CPD was functioning as a political committee and not as a non-‐partisan organization. LPF showed that the CPD directors had acted in a partisan fashion, making political contributions and holding fundraisers for presidential candidates. LPF also provided research by experts that concluded that the debate commission’s criteria were beyond the ability of independents to meet.
Judge Chutkan, in her ruling, said she was “faced with the difficult task of determining the reasonableness of the FEC’s analysis when the FEC did not provide any indication that it actually considered the submitted evidence and engaged in any reasoned decision-‐making.”
“This task,” she continued, “is made all the more difficult by the fact that the evidence unaddressed – or outright ignored – by the FEC is quite substantial.” The judge then referred to a study by Dr. Clifford of Ipsos, the international research organization, that showed that “for a third-‐party or independent candidate to achieve fifteen-‐percent approval in polls [the CPD standard], she ‘must achieve a minimum of 60% [national] name recognition, and likely 80%.”
In addition to Ackerman and LPF, plaintiffs in the case included the Libertarian National Committee and the Green Party of the United States.
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