Earlier this year a Federal district court judge ruled in favor of the Libertarian Party and against the Federal Election Commission. The judge found that the FEC did not properly address the Libertarian Party’s complaints which alleged the Commission on Presidential Debate was not in fact nonpartisan. While that ruling was historic, there was still a possibility that the FEC would simply appeal the decision. Fortunately, the Commission voted not to take that course of action and will acquiesce to the judge’s ruling. They now have less than thirty days to rewrite the rules governing the Commission on Presidential Debates.
“In 2015, Plaintiffs filed suit against the Commission, challenging the Commission’s dismissal of two administrative complaints regarding alleged violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended, and FEC regulations by the Commission on Presidential Debates and other respondents and the FEC denial of a petition for a rulemaking to address the criteria used to determine who may take part in certain general-election debates.
On February 1, the District Court ordered the Commission to reconsider Plaintiffs’ allegations and evidence, issue a new decision on the two administrative complaints and issue a new decision on the rulemaking petition. The Commission voted on February 22 not to appeal the District Court’s decision.”
While the ruling technically only orders the FEC to issue new decisions, they won’t be able to justify making the same decision they did last time (leaving the current presidential debate standards in place). If they do, the judge will not consider that to be consistent with her ruling and would issue another ruling allowing the plaintiffs to sue the Commission on Presidential Debates directly. That would be the end of the Commission as we know it. Therefore, the FEC will need to address the Libertarian Party’s allegations and issue decisions that address them.
The FEC will be writing new regulations for Presidential debate commissions that will have to take into account the plaintiff’s allegations that the CPD’s standards were too arduous. Instead of the broad guidelines that the CPD have impartial public standards, there will likely be much more specific requirements. It’s possible the FEC could require the CPD to reduce, or potentially eliminate, the one requirement that kept Gary Johnson out in 2016: the 15% average polling threshold.
Any lessening of that burden will prove to be a major boon to the Libertarian Party’s 2020 Presidential nominee. That candidate just might make it into the next series of presidential debates as a result of these new FEC rules. We’ll find out on April 3rd.