Fair Debates lawsuit filed against Commission on Presidential Debates


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Press Release from Our America Initiative: 
Gov. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Join to Demand Fair Debates

September 29, 2015, Washington, DC – 2012 presidential candidates Gov. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, along with the Libertarian and Green parties and their vice-presidential candidates, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC, today charging that the exclusion of qualified candidates from the general election presidential debates by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) violates federal anti-trust laws.

The lawsuit is funded by the Our America Initiative, a not-for-profit advocacy organization, through their Fair Debates project, https://www.fairdebates.com. It was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Our America Initiative’s attorney Bruce Fein, who served as Associate Deputy Attorney General and General Counsel to the Federal Communications Commission under the Reagan Administration.

The legal challenge maintains that the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private 501©(3) organization created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic national parties, intentionally limits participation in the nationally-televised debates to the Democrat and Republican nominees – placing other national party nominees at an unfair disadvantage. According to the complaint, other candidates are excluded by imposing arbitrary polling criteria, and the possibility of additional nationally-televised debates being sponsored by anyone other than the CPD is eliminated by agreements among the CPD and the two major party nominees forbidding participat ion in other debates or joint appearances.

The proposed remedy is that the debates include all candidates who are legally qualified to serve and whose names appear on enough states’ ballots to potentially secure a majority in the Electoral College.  In 2012, that threshold would have allowed participation, in addition to President Obama and Mitt Romney, by the Libertarian nominee Gov. Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, as well as the two parties’ vice-presidential nominees.

Announcing the filing of the complaint, Our America Initiative Senior Advisor Ron Nielson stated, “A majority of Americans today do not believe that either the Republican or Democratic parties represents them. Yet, through the Commission on Presidential Debates, the two major parties have seized and maintained control over the televised debates voters see every four years, and have gone to great lengths to insure that no candidates other than their own have the opportunity to appear on the debate stage. This lawsuit seeks to change that, and give the American people a chance to see that there are other real choices.”


The complaint filed can be read here (link to pdf).

23 thoughts on “Fair Debates lawsuit filed against Commission on Presidential Debates

  1. Jed Ziggler

    I doubt the lawsuit will be successful, but more pressure on the CPD is a good thing. Of course, best case scenario is the CPD makes this all go away by letting alternative candidates into the debates voluntarily.

  2. J.R.Myers

    The 2016 Presidential Debates must include at least FIVE candidates for POTUS to be legitimate. The nominees of ALL FIVE Federal Election Commission recognized political parties would include the Constitution, Democrat, Green, Libertarian and Republican candidates. The American people deserve a true election year LIVE forum to examine ALL FIVE candidates. Anything less perpetuates the wearisome sham we have been subjected to for far too long.

  3. paulie


    That would exclude independents and new parties since FEC national party recognition can’t be granted that quickly. It would also mean changing the criteria completely, as opposed to getting rid of one non-objective and discriminatory criterion and keeping the other existing criteria in place. I like the approach of the CPD lawsuit that was just filed better – see https://www.fairdebates.com/

  4. paulie

    However, if JR Myers is really only just trying to get the CP included, I think they would be. They have been on the ballot in enough states to have a mathematical chance to win in most recent presidential elections and only very narrowly missed the cutoff in 2012 due to the very poorly run campaign of their last candidate, Virgil Goode, ending up with 48% of electoral votes having Goode on the ballot due to very preventable ballot access mistakes on his campaign’s part due in no small part to his disdain and contempt for the people he hired to do the work. So far for 2016 the CP shows signs that they will make the cutoff, already qualifying in several states where they failed to do so in 2012.

  5. Mark Axinn

    >I doubt the lawsuit will be successful, but more pressure on the CPD is a good thing.

    Absolutely. Supporters like to see action, especially after contributing funds.

    Also the concomitant public relations campaign whether the lawsuit succeeds or not.

  6. Wang Tang-Fu

    It will make our allies, enemies and a bigger chunk of the general public all sit up on their hind legs and notice.

  7. Mark Axinn


    Unless I missed something in civil procedure classes, a plaintiff has to survive the motions to dismiss first before you get any discovery.

  8. paulie

    True. That’s what a lot of the delay with filing was about, and much of the fundraisng, to be fully prepared financially and theoretically to deal with all the expected motions to dismiss.

  9. paulie

    The publicity part of the campaign is just starting. While we have the lawsuit fully funded – we had to make sure the lawyers could be paid for the entire job, as we are not allowed to switch lawyers midstream, and deal with the expected flurry of motions to dismiss – we do need more money for the publicity/PR campaign, additional expert witnesses and the like.

    Donations would be very much welcome and appreciated at http://www.fairdebates.com/funding.html

  10. Joseph Buchman


    Interesting use of “we” above. Is the “we” you reference here OAI? If so, maybe they want to add this argument to the case and you could pass the suggestion along. I’ve not seen this particular angle before (the article is not related to the lawsuit, but does point to a significant flaw in their “standards” for inclusion).


  11. paulie

    Thanks… I believe we have been making this argument already. I know I certainly have personally. Yes, I am doing some fundraising for the lawsuit/publicity campaign, not sure if I raised anything yet…. online only so far but I’ll make a few calls too.

  12. paulie

    We hope to roll out a bigger publicity campaign about this than anything done in past cycles. See comments above.

    Even the late breaking effort in 2012 got several sponsors to back away from the CoPD.

  13. Caryn Ann Harlos

    Having a hard time finding the link for the first suit filed… anyone got that handy (a link to the pdf of the actual suit)

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