Lawsuit Filed Challenging General Election Debate Rules

June 22, 2015 Updated: June 22, 2015

NEWARK, N.J.—A nonprofit group and the Green and Libertarian parties filed suit Monday seeking to force open the general election presidential debates to candidates from outside the two major political parties.

The lawsuit filed against the Federal Election Commission seeks to force it to crack down on the Commission on Presidential Debates, which it argues is violating FEC rules that dictate that debates must be staged in a nonpartisan manner and candidates selected for participation based on objective criteria.

Alternatively, the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeks permission to sue the debate commission directly.

The plaintiffs, led by the advocacy group Level the Playing Field, also want to force the FEC to revise its current rules governing presidential debates.

“The objective of the lawsuit is to get a legal ruling that will force the CPD to change its rules of access, so a person who is neither a Democrat or a Republican has a realistic chance of participating in the fall general election debates,” said Alexandra Shapiro, the lead attorney in the case.

The group cites research by pollster and campaign strategist Doug Schoen that says an independent candidate would need to spend at least $113 million on advertising to achieve 60 percent name recognition among voters, making it impossible “as a practical matter” for any candidate who does not run in the Democratic or Republican primaries to satisfy the 15 percent rule.

The lawsuit follows an administrative complaint and petition for rulemaking filed with the FEC by Level the Playing Field in September 2014, which they say has been ignored so far.

The FEC and the CPD did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.