U.S. District Court Orders Federal Election Commission to Re-Consider Whether Commission on Presidential Debates is Breaking Campaign Finance Law

On February 1, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan issued a 28-page opinion in Level the Playing Field v Federal Election Commission, 1:15cv-1397, D.C. She ruled that the FEC clearly did not look at the evidence presented by the plaintiffs Peter Ackerman, the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and Level the Playing Field. The evidence is voluminous and shows that the Commission on Presidential Debates, and particular commissioners, are not non-partisan when they act to keep all presidential candidates (except for the Democratic and Republican nominees) out of the general election debates.

The decision says that when the FEC refused to investigate the behavior of the Commission on Presidential Debates, it did not even acknowledge the evidence, nor did it explain why it is disregarding the evidence. Here are a few samples of the evidence mentioned in the decision: a quotation from Alan Simpson, a Commissioner for the Commission on Presidential Debates, who said, “Democrats and Republicans on the commission are interested in the American people finding out more about the two major candidates — not about independent candidates who mess things up.” Also, Commissioner John Lewis said, “There’s no question that the two major parties have absolute control of the presidential debate process.” Commissioner Newt Minow said, “The responsibility for the debates should rest with the political system — with the Democratic and Republican Parties.”

The decision orders the FEC to reconsider the complaint against the CPD within sixty days. The decision says that the judge will not now order the FEC to change its debates ruling, and that the FEC now has a second opportunity to give the complaint the attention it deserves.

Two of the six FEC commissioners already voted to act on the complaint, so it is not difficult to imagine that the FEC will take the hint and revise its earlier ruling that the CPD is not breaking the campaign finance laws.


Comments

U.S. District Court Orders Federal Election Commission to Re-Consider Whether Commission on Presidential Debates is Breaking Campaign Finance Law — 26 Comments

  1. If the CPD is going to be considered non-partisan organization than the rules for getting in the debates must be clear. What poles the candidates must score well in must be specified. How people get in the poles must be specified.

  2. I am so glad that Judge Chutkan listened! I hope the FEC and CPD gets the message and makes some important changes that reflect voter registration trends and outcry. Otherwise, shut ‘me down!

  3. The Democratic and Republican parties control all the state legislatures which write ballot access laws. The same two parties control Congress that writes campaign finance laws for all federal office candidates. That no collusion between both parties occurs to exclude competing candidates and parties when trillions of dollars in governments (state and federal) expenditures are at stake defies all credulity.

    The assumed and illegitimate monopoly of access to the ballot for citizen-voters lies at the root of this abuse of power and effectively makes the Democratic and Republican parties state-sponsored political parties.

    I applaud Judge Chutkian’s well-tempered decision. It cracks open a can of vipers.

  4. When the polls are so incredibly biased and non-scientific in their process, they need to be eliminated as criteria. Period!!

  5. We the people have the right to hear all candidates running for any office in the federal government.

  6. @Dawn longfellow & @Newt Hackney
    I propose a Survivor/X-Factor style debate system. The campaign season starts out with everyone running for president in enough states to theoretically win, then week by week they debate and 1 candidate gets “voted” off the show until the last 3 or 4 are left

  7. Further, we need to have state criteria that vet candidates based on something other than age and citizenship. Would we allow Trump of Clinton to sit in the seat as pilot of an airliner,or perform surgery? There ought to be some basic qualifications, such as passing a neutrally prepared academic test on such domains as history, geography, ethics, ecology, biology, and economics–say at the level of a good high school senior. States can say that if a candidates does not take or pass the test, they will not be put on the ballot.Psychological evaluation would also be in order! If even a handful of states took this actin, it would make a HUGE difference.

  8. A positive step and good decision. Sending the issue back to the FEC is what the law requires but the sad irony is the FEC is also a two-party institution with an equal number of commissioners from the Republican Party and Democratic Party. Do we expect this bi-partisan group to correct the bi-partisan debate commission. Both the FEC and debate commission suffer from the same two-party corruption. The FEC is dysfunctional and was set up to be dysfunctional. Half the voters have left the two parties, where are these people represented at the FEC? How will our rights be protected by an election system run by the two parties that we left because they do not represent us? The system is flawed and is designed by and for the duopoly, not for the voters as a result the US has a mirage democracy with manipulated elections. An election system we should not to be proud of.

  9. @Jon says: “Would we allow Trump of Clinton to sit in the seat as pilot of an airliner,or perform surgery?”
    Well, Ben Carson is allowed to perform surgery.

    I thought the idea of a democracy is that the public determines qualifications. Sadly they’re easily manipulated through money and the corporate media.

    @Brandon L, that would be a form of runoff voting. The loser gets run off. Actually there’s value in multi round elections but turnout might be low. That’s why IRV should be used.

  10. CPD needs to be completely non-partisan. Current CPD should be obliterated and a new commission created to arrange fair and open debates including all candidates within an agreed upon voter base %age, perhaps as low as .05%

  11. @Jon Winter: Agreed . . . but would you consider that to require ballot access to a majority of Electoral College votes for a direct win? Or, in an environment with more than two candidates who could qualify (perhaps many more), would it be enough to have access to at least 1/4 of the EC votes — which, if you won them all, would (in case nobody won a majority) guarantee you a spot in the top three and in the House’s deliberations?

  12. I prefer the ballot access to a majority of Electoral College votes for a direct win option. It’s reasonable, understandable, and usually accessible to at least four candidates.

  13. Relying upon the current set of polls is inherently flawed as they often only query folks with land lines, completely disregarding most Millenials and other younger voters who tend to vote more Progressive. Some polls don’t even include minor Party candidates in their consideration sets. The criteria are designed to prevent any candidates outside of the duopoly. As long as a candidate has the required coverage within enough states to potentially win the Electoral College, as both the Greens and Libertarians did in the last election, they should have a seat at the table.

  14. I agree with the criteria of being on enough state ballots to hypothetically win, but I think that should include official write-in access as well. From what I’ve looked at, there were nine candidates running for president in 2016 who meet this criteria, and even though one of them was… eccentric, I think all nine should be included in the official presidential debates. It’s so obvious the debates only care about the two main parties, not the four other parties on enough ballots or the three independents.

  15. I believe the criteria should be on the ballot in enough states to win an EC majority. James, respectfully, I’m not sold on extending this idea to those who have write in access. I’ve looked at the write ins tallied in Maine for Evan McMullin, and it shows that all sorts of errors can happen with a write in vote to call into question whether or not a voter actually intended to vote for THE Evan McMullin, as opposed to AN Evan McMullin. That’s one of many reasons I viewed his candidacy as lacking good faith. Also, not all registered write in candidates have a slate of electors. If we were to extend this to write ins, I think a minimum requirement should be that they have a slate of electors in a sufficient number of states to get a majority.

  16. I’m still looking for the FEC’s new rulings, and it is well past the 60 days given for the commission to issue ordered publication. Has anyone found this?

  17. Combing through the FEC site:

    Subsequent Order
    On February 6, 2017, the Commission moved for clarification and/or partial reconsideration of the district court’s order. Three days later, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for clarifica- tion and partial opposition to the Commission’s motion. The district court issued a new or- der on February 10, 2017, which granted the plaintiffs’ motion and granted in part and de- nied in part the FEC’s motion. In its February 10 order, the court clarified that, with re- spect to its remand of the FEC’s dismissal of the administrative complaints, its February 1 order requires the Commission to notify the respondents, consider their written responses, consider the full evidence submitted by plaintiffs, determine whether there is reason to believe any of the respondents violated the Act, and issue a new statement of reasons in support of that determination. The court also extended the time for the FEC to complete those steps from the 30 days set in its original order to 60 days.
    (Posted 02/13/2017; By: Myles Martin)

  18. From the FEC website:

    Subsequent Order
    On February 6, 2017, the Commission moved for clarification and/or partial reconsideration of the district court’s order. Three days later, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for clarifica- tion and partial opposition to the Commission’s motion. The district court issued a new or- der on February 10, 2017, which granted the plaintiffs’ motion and granted in part and de- nied in part the FEC’s motion. In its February 10 order, the court clarified that, with re- spect to its remand of the FEC’s dismissal of the administrative complaints, its February 1 order requires the Commission to notify the respondents, consider their written responses, consider the full evidence submitted by plaintiffs, determine whether there is reason to believe any of the respondents violated the Act, and issue a new statement of reasons in support of that determination. The court also extended the time for the FEC to complete those steps from the 30 days set in its original order to 60 days.
    (Posted 02/13/2017; By: Myles Martin)

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