Suit filed by candidate Gary Johnson over presidential debates raises questions


Photo Courtesy of Gary Johnson's Campaign

Alex Panasenko and Alex Panasenko

Libertarian Johnson says presidential debate invitations violate anti-trust laws, bringing up questions on the Democratic process

Gary Johnson, presidential candidate from the Libertarian party, is filing an anti-trust action against the Commission on Presidential Debates over CPD sending debates invitations to Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama only, not to other presidential candidates.
The press release by Johnson’s campaign says that he filed an anti-trust action in a California court saying that not allowing Johnson and his running mate to participate in the debates is a violation of Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The suite is calling for debates to be stopped until all constitutionally eligible candidates that appear on enough ballots are allowed to participate.
The court may not agree with the suite: the Sherman Anti-Trust Act regulates trade, not politics. So did Johnson file in a wrong court or wrong kind of case? Not necessarily. The suite argues that since President and Vice President are paid positions, restricting candidate’s access to debates–the seemingly essential election tool–constitutes a violation of anti-trust laws.
Now I wonder: is all of this just some way that an otherwise small candidate looks to get media time and notice? Or is this Johnson looking for justice, for more democratic election process? If it’s the former, then it doesn’t seem to be working: coverage of Johnson reminds me of how media covered Ron Paul. So I am inclined to think it’s the latter.
Johnson meets two of three conditions that CPD puts forth. He is constitutionally eligible (born in the U.S.). Appearing on ballots in 47 states, he has enough support to, at least in theory, win electoral votes. But he polls at six percent, which is below CPD’s 15 percent minimum.
But excluding him just because of that? In 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot was a major player. Perot polled just seven percent before his inclusion in the debates, but rocketed to near 40 percent in some polls during his campaign. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems unreasonable to exclude Johnson just because he does not meet a condition that’s not even established by the constitution as a prerequisite for debates. (CPD sets the conditions and changed the regulations in 2000 to 15 percent minimum polling number that it is today.)
If Johnson had been given same opportunities as Ross Perot, where would he be by now? Considering his policies, I’d say he’d have been getting there. I do not agree with him on everything, but he is for small government, a balanced budget, ending wars and he does not talk of some kind of JohnsonCare.
Maybe I just don’t understand American politics, but I think it’s not that Johnson or another independent candidate cannot win or compete. But that they do not always have the same opportunities as candidates from our main two parties.