Libertarian Gary Johnson Files Suit To Gain Access To Presidential Debates

[by Doug Mataconis at Truthout]

presidential debates, duopoly, Obama, Romney, U.S. President, White House, politics, Washington

Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson has filed suit against the Commission on Presidential Debates for their refusal to include him in the upcoming Presidential debates:

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson has filed a lawsuit to win a spot in the presidential debates that start in Denver on Oct. 3.

It’s unlikely that he will succeed, but Johnson argues that the private Commission on Presidential Debates, along with the Democratic and the Republican parties, are unfairly blocking him from participating. Only President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney are being allowed to debate.

“Someone has to stand up and call this what it is—a rigged system designed entirely to protect and perpetuate the two-party duopoly,” says Johnson spokesman Ron Nielson. “That someone will be the Johnson campaign.”


Johnson, who is a former two-term governor of New Mexico, argues that the commission and the Democratic and Republican parties are colluding to exclude the Libertarian Party from the debates. He says this amounts to a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act because the collusion limits competition and causes injury to both the American public and Gary Johnson.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which has run every Presidential and Vice-Presidential debate for the past 24 years, was formed after the League Of Women Voters refused to sponsor the 1988 debates after it became aware that the Bush and Dukakis campaigns had agreed among themselves to an “understanding” that would exclude third-party candidates from the debates. The commission itself was formed by Frank Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee, and Paul Kirk, a former head of the Democratic National Committee, a fact that has led many to allege, with some justification I would submit, that the CPD was really just a tool of the two major parties. Under Commission rules, a candidate will only be invited to appear at the debates if they meet these three criteria:

  • The candidate is Constitutionally eligible to serve as President (or, as applicable, Vice-President);
  • The candidate has achieved ballot access in a sufficient number of states to comprise at least 270 Electoral Votes; and,
  • The candidate has the support of at least 15% of the population based on the results of polls by five pollsters selected by the Commission.

Johnson satisfies the first two criteria, but does not satisfy the third given that the highest he has polled nationally recently has ranged between 1% and 2%.

In all likelihood, this lawsuit will not be successful, just as other challenges to debate rules set by private organizations have been unsuccessful. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some merit to the argument, though. Here we have an organization effectively controlled by the two major parties that effectively controls the four most important events of the General Election campaign season. On some level it’s unfair to the candidates and to the American public to exclude alternative points of view and, more importantly, it strikes me as a serious conflict of interest for the major political parties to be the ones that control the debate. At the very least, the public would be better served if organizing these debates were back in the hands of an independent organization like the League of Women Voters.