Press Release via the Libertarian Party of Milwaukee County:
Milwaukee Libertarians: GOP debate proves Broadcasters Assn. ban on third-party candidates is unjustified
For the past two decades, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association has exercised a monopoly on organizing general election debates between candidates for Governor and Senator. In that time, they have not once allowed any candidate other than the Republican and Democratic nominees to participate. As Republican presidential candidates prepare to gather on stage in Milwaukee, local Libertarians are saying that if ten Republicans can debate, there is no justification for the W.B.A. refusing to allow three or four candidates in their debates.
Legally prohibited from outright stating that their policy is major-party-only, the W.B.A. has resorted to a subterfuge of writing “objective” criteria that are designed to be impossible to meet for third-party candidates. In 2014, the W.B.A. insisted no candidate could participate who had not raised at least a quarter-million dollars, money that coincidentally would mostly be spent on buying advertising time from W.B.A. member stations. Additionally, the W.B.A. has said candidates must poll at least 10%, while refusing to consider polls that include more than two candidates. To defend this policy, they raise the specter of “dozens” of candidates qualifying, when in reality the number of candidates who secure a place on the ballot almost never exceeds four or five.
6 in 10 Americans agree that both Republicans and Democrats “do such a poor job representing the American people, that a third major party is needed,” a historic all-time high according to Gallup. It was not that long ago, that a third-party candidate won the Governorship in neighboring Minnesota, and four years later that Mayor Ed Thompson of Tomah shook up Wisconsin politics with his Libertarian bid for Governor in 2002. Milwaukee was governed by members of the Socialist Party for much of the 20th Century, and in 1924 “Fighting Bob” La Follette won the state’s electoral votes as the Progressive Party presidential candidate.
Even the Milwaukee Theatre, site of the upcoming GOP debate, has its own historic third-party connection. It was here that third-party candidate Theodore Roosevelt famously took a bullet in 1912, before finishing his speech anyway and proceeding to win more votes than the incumbent President. The myth that third-party candidates can’t win and don’t have an impact, the justification for excluding them from debates, is more self-fulfilling prophecy than objective reality.
There is an unfortunate history in Wisconsin of debate organizers siding with incumbent politicians and entrenched party machines, over the best interests of the viewers and listeners they claim to seek to educate and inform. In doing so, they are perpetuating what the League of Women Voters has condemned as a “fraud on the American voter,” and are providing not a debate, but a corporate-sponsored electioneering advertisement.
The W.B.A. has yet to announce its criteria for inclusion in the expected 2016 debates for U.S. Senator. They should take this opportunity to break from the past and embrace honest and fair debates, that include all legitimate candidates. The contrast between major media organizations hosting a ten-candidate debate in Milwaukee, but refusing to allow a three-candidate debate next year, speaks for itself.
The Libertarian Party is comfortably the third-largest political party, both in Wisconsin and in the United States. A candidate seeking our 2016 nomination for Senate, Phil Anderson, recently achieved double-digit vote percentages for State Assembly; and in 2014 almost a quarter-million votes were cast for a dozen Libertarian candidates across the state. It is time for the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association to recognize this reality, and grant all legitimate candidates a place at the table in 2016.