Sponsors of the presidential debates have pulled out in protest of the exclusion of Libertarian Party candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, saying that they agreed to sponsor “nonpartisan” debates and not “bipartisan” ones.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Philips Electronics said in its announcement of the withdrawal that it was concerned the commission’s work “may appear to support bi-partisan” instead of “non-partisan” politics. The YWCA also withdrew its sponsorship, saying that it is a “nonpartisan” organization.
The Commission on Presidential Debates requires that candidates poll at 15 percent minimum nationally to be included in the forums. A Gravis Marketing poll in Ohio last week showed Johnson pulling 10.6 percent support.
The sponsors’ change of heart is seen as largely the result of a concerted Open Debates effort that criticizes the current system for being skewed to shut out third parties. Last week, Open Debates, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Rock the Vote, Judicial Watch, Public Campaign, FairVote, Demos, Democracy Matters, League of Rural Voters, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, Essential Information, Personal Democracy Media, Reclaim Democracy!, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Citizen Works, Free & Equal Elections Foundation, and Rootstrikers called on the commission to make public the debate contract negotiated behind closed doors with the Obama and Romney camps.
“The Commission on Presidential Debates undermines our democracy,” said George Farah, executive director of Open Debates. “Because of the Commission’s subservience to the Republican and Democratic campaigns, the presidential debates are structured to accommodate the wishes of risk-averse candidates, not voters.”
The Libertarian Party was already doing a victory lap, reporting Friday that Johnson is on the ballot in 48 states plus the District of Columbia. From an email to supporters:
For 4 solid months, the Republican Establishment Bullies have attacked and assaulted our Petition Drives to put our Libertarian candidates on the ballot in all 50 states plus D.C.
They smacked us and slammed us in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
They must have mistaken us for chumps or wimps or victims. Big mistake.
We came out swinging. We whipped them in Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia.
Then we fought hard and dug deep in Pennsylvania – to prove that we had 20,600 valid signatures out of the 49,000 signatures we turned in (!) – and the Court ruled in our favor. We won. They’re appealing the Court’s decision.
That’s 48 states + D.C. for our Libertarian Presidential ticket – and more than 503 federal, state, and local Libertarian Party candidates.
96% of all Americans can vote for Libertarian Party candidates this November 6th – even if the Courts rule against us in Michigan and Oklahoma. Even if the Supreme Court refuses to right this wrong in the next two weeks.
Johnson filed a federal antitrust lawsuit on Friday against the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party to compel them to include the Libertarian ticket in the upcoming debates. Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray — Johnson’s running mate — is expected to give the party’s arguments in the case.
The Libertarian Party has vowed to push the antitrust violations allegation all the way to the Supreme Court.