Gary Johnson, the former Republican Governor of New Mexico, filed official complaints against CBS on Tuesday for excluding him from last weekend’s televised GOP debate.
While that action alone is not unique, Johnson’s argument is: In complaints to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), he argues that giving pre-selected candidates free television airtime while excluding others essentially constitutes illegal corporate donations to political campaigns.
Federal law permits television networks to underwrite and televise presidential debates, so long as they’re put on by a non-profit group. In one of the last major challenges to corporate influence over the presidential election process, repeat presidential candidate Ralph Nader argued in 2001 that allowing corporations to set the rules that select candidates for major debates gives members of the two major political parties an unfair advantage.
Though Nader’s appeal made it all the way to the Supreme Court, the nation’s top judges declined to hear it.
Johnson’s complaint is notably different from Nader’s in that it attempts to characterize publicity itself as a political donation, which could have broad-ranging effects if accepted by a court.
Johnson’s FEC complaint specifically alleges that CBS was “directly and significantly supporting those candidates it favors, and advocating the nomination of one of their favorites and opposing the nomination of Complainant, whom CBS evidently disfavors.”
Similarly, his FCC complaint claims that “the public owns the airways over which CBS broadcasts, and the public deserves to be free from bias- favoring some candidates over others- as well as illegal support of certain presidential candidates on national network television.”
It was not clear if Johnson’s argument has a chance, and none of the election law experts Raw Story contacted were immediately available to comment.
Johnson, though a former Republican governor with a longer record of public service than the likes of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has largely been seen as an outsider in the Republican presidential race. He’s advocated for major cuts in defense spending and legalizing marijuana, among other issues far outside of the Republican Party’s typical stable.
So far Johnson has only been allowed to participate in two televised debates. He’s polling around 1 percent among GOP primary voters nation wide.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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