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September 2, 2004

Posted 1:00 AM Eastern

The National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI) has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on behalf of candidates representing various political parties. This suit claims that the FEC wrongfully dismissed their complaint against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). It also alleges CPD is partisan and under federal law should not be allowed to use large sums of corporate funding to benefit Democratic and Republican parties and candidates. This legal action was filed on May 5, 2004, on behalf Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, John Hagelin, Winona LaDuke, the Green Party of the United States, and the Constitution Party.

In the past, the Commission on Presidential Debates (search) has forbidden any candidates outside those two parties to participate, the one exception being back in 1992 when billionarie Ross Perot was allowed to participate. Some of the CPD members who decide which candidates can participate in televised debates are: Gerald R. Ford (Rep), Jimmy Carter (Dem), Bill Clinton (Dem), Rep. Jennifer Dunn (Rep), Caroline Kennedy (Dem) and many others from the same two parties. According to the CPD, they use a very specific formula (search) to select candidates for these nationally televised debates, i.e., ballot access and constitutional requirements.

The NVRI lawsuit arises from a complaint that these plaintiffs filed with the Federal Elections Commission in June 2003 charging the CPD with violating federal law, which requires that it be non-partisan in order to sponsor the debates. The plaintiffs highlighted the CPD's use of a "face book" to keep third-party candidates from even attending the 2000 debates as evidence of the CPD's partisan nature.

On March 18, 2004, the complaint was dismissed by the FEC prompting this lawsuit. The plaintiffs are being represented by Boston attorney Jason Adkins of Akdins, Kelston and Zavez, PC, and Lynne Bernabei and Alan Kabat, of the D.C. law firm Bernabei & Katz, PLLC who are now are suing the agency in federal court for wrongfully dismissing the case.


On August 12, 2004, a Federal Court in Washington ordered the FEC to conduct a full investigation of the CPD. Supporters of this effort to bring the presidential debates to all legitimate candidates hail this as an important victory in the campaign to expose what they term the "transparent and very partisan presidential debates."

In a 25-page report (search) issued by several groups including Common Cause, National Voting Rights Institute and Judicial Watch, the problem is laid out in an effort to inform the American electorate as to the discriminatory nature of the CPD, and concludes with an endorsement of the Citizens' Debate Commission. Further information on this and other efforts in the area of debate reform can be found at,

NWVs contacted Presidential candidate, Michael Peroutka (search), who is the nominee under the Constitution Party for his comments on this lawsuit. "I welcome this effort to reform the patently unfair manner in which candidates outside the one party system are barred from being able to reach out to the American people via the Presidential debates. The current system is just another example of an oligarchy denying the voters of this nation the opportunity to hear and see serious candidates running for the highest office in the land."

When asked about the non-partisan posture of the CPD, Peroutka responded, "How can they be considered non partisan when their entire selection team is made up of individuals who are only Republican or Democrat? How can they be considered non partisan when despite a candidate meeting the requirements of their so-called criteria, they are barred from the debates anyway? Why should any qualified candidate from a party other than the Democratic or Republican party be shunned every election cycle and not allowed the opportunity to take place in this very important phase of the American election process by a privately owned operation?"

When asked what he meant by "the one party system," Peroutka responded: "If you study the principles and doctrine of both parties, there is very little difference. The Republican National Convention will be featuring keynote speakers Rudy Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both who support abortion and homosexuals. Laura Bush doesn't want Roe v Wade overturned. Dick Cheney stated in a recent speech in Davenport, Iowa regarding same sex marriage, 'People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.' These issues are of paramount importance to conservatives, yet the GOP stands in the same column on them as does the DNC."

Peroutka is now ballot qualified in 30 states including New York with enough electoral college delegates to meet constitutional requirements. At this time, the Commission of Presidential Debates will not allow any candidates to participate except the officially nominated candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties. These televised debates provide the only opportunity for tens of millions of Americans to see presidential candidates and hear their position on the issues. It is not clear whether any candidates from the Constitution or Libertarian Party will have the opportunity to have their message conveyed to the American people during these debates, but it seems unlikely unless forced by a federal judge.

Further information on the NVRI lawsuit can be viewed at:

Plaintiffs' Summary Judgment Motion (filed June 15, 2004) (pdf)
Plaintiffs' Summary Judgment Exhibits 1-3 (pdf)
Plaintiffs' Summary Judgment Exhibits 4-10 (pdf)
Wrongful Dismissal Complaint Against the FEC (filed May 5, 2004) (pdf)
Exhibits to Wrongful Dismissal Complaint Against the FEC (pdf)

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On August 12, 2004, a Federal Court in Washington ordered the FEC to conduct a full investigation of the CPD. Supporters of this effort to bring the presidential debates to all legitimate candidates hail this as an important victory in the campaign to expose what they term the "transparent and very partisan presidential debates."