RFK to FEC: CNN Illegally Colluded with Biden, Trump Campaigns

Trump and Biden Debate
Created: 30 May, 2024
4 min read

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes on Flickr


Robert F. Kennedy Jr filed a complaint with the FEC this week, alleging that CNN has illegally colluded with the Trump and Biden campaigns to ensure presidential debates favor the two major parties -- and only the two major parties.

The complaint states:

"Media reporting on how the debate came together shows that the Biden Committee and the Trump Committee negotiated and colluded with CNN and with one another to exclude other candidates, specifically Candidate Kennedy, from the debate."

The complaint lists out relevant facts showing that the rules established for the first presidential debate scheduled on June 27 violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.

These facts include a Washington Post report that details a conversation between a CNN producer and the Trump team in which the producer promised that "RFK will not be on the stage."

Further, a letter from the Biden campaign to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which the major parties ditched in 2024, specifically said the debates should only be one-on-one.

Prior to the May 15 announcement of the CNN debate and ABC debate in September, the major party campaigns engaged in conversations about how they could get around the debate commission.

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The desperation by the media to have Biden and Trump debate gave them the opportunity they needed.

News of the Biden camp's letter to the debate commission, the CNN invitation, and the Trump and Biden campaigns' acceptance of the invitation didn't just happen in the same day -- it happened in a matter of hours. 

This included negotiations and acceptance of the rules for debate entry - almost as if all parties involved were on the same page from the jump. CNN did not extend its invitation to any other candidate.

Kennedy's complaint also points out that he has to meet different criteria for debate entry, including appearing on ballots in enough states to get to 270 electoral votes before Trump or Biden are even officially nominated by their party.

The official nomination of the major party candidates happens at each party's national convention. The Republican Party will host its convention first, but it's slated for mid-July -- after the first debate.

CNN is making an exception to its own stipulation that "a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots" based on an assumption that is not granted to candidates outside the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Kennedy's team laid out everything they needed to prove collusion between CNN and the major party campaigns. The problem is the FEC -- which is composed of Republicans and Democrats -- will likely ignore the complaint.

After all, it has successfully been able to dismiss similar complaints in the past. 

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In 2015, a group founded by the late civil rights and election reform leader Peter Ackerman called Level the Playing Field filed a lawsuit against the FEC because the agency ignored administrative complaints that the CPD was in similar violation of federal law. 

The lawsuit laid out a "mountain of evidence" that the FEC acted "arbitrarily and capriciously and contrary to law" by ignoring rules established by the debate commission that were designed to keep independent and third party candidates out of debates. 

The most egregious example of this is the CPD's 15% rule, which requires candidates to poll at 15% or higher in 5 national polls handpicked by the commission. However, it is all but impossible for most independent and third party candidates to meet this criteria.

The media rarely covers candidates outside the two major parties or presents issues in a way that isn't Republican vs Democrat. So, candidates with little name ID won't have an opportunity to bolster that name ID.

Pollsters also tend to favor a two-party horse race. Many, including pollsters used by the CPD, don't include candidates outside the major parties when they survey voters. If they do, the names are buried in a way that makes voters believe there are only two real options.

It would take a candidate who already has a lot of money and ample name ID to get noticed. For example, if a Kennedy ran for president. 

Federal Judge Tanya C. Chutkin initially agreed with the plaintiffs in their lawsuit and ordered the FEC to explain its actions in dismissing complaints against the debate commission and its rules.

Yet, the FEC chose again to ignore the evidence that proved illegal collusion between the CPD -- which is supposed to be nonpartisan -- and the two major parties. Additional legal efforts to get the debate rules changed have failed in court.

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There is no doubt that the CPD endorses the Republican and Democratic nominees each election cycle. It is a commission founded by the two major parties and is composed of people with a financial and political investment in the parties.

LEARN MORE: Everything You Need to Know About the Commission on Presidential Debates

The commission has even had independent and third party candidates arrested just for being on the same grounds as a presidential debate.

There is also no doubt that CNN has colluded with the presumptive major party nominees on the structure and rules for the first presidential debate in a manner that is far from nonpartisan to give the campaigns what they want.

Kennedy's campaign, however, will soon find out that the FEC doesn't care -- because it exists within a two-party duopoly that makes the rules and ensures the process endorses and protects the major parties from competition. 

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