WA S H I N G T O N — Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson isn’t going out without a fight.
The former New Mexico governor this week took his case for inclusion in the presidential debates to U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Johnson’s presidential campaign filed an antitrust lawsuit alleging that the Commission on Presidential Debates is colluding with the Republican and Democratic parties to prevent third-party candidates from participating.
“It’s antitrust. We’re being excluded by a private organization, and it is fundamentally unfair,” Johnson told the Journal on Friday.
The first presidential debate is Wednesday. Two more debates are scheduled for Oct. 16 and Oct. 22.
Johnson would appear to meet all of the debate commission’s criteria for inclusion except for one: 15 percent support in national polls. The commission’s web site says that to be invited to participate, a candidate must receive “at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations.”
Johnson sa id Friday that the standard is unfair because he hasn’t been included in most major polls, although he will be on the presidential ballot in at least 47 states, including New Mexico.
Johnson campaign adviser Ron Nielson said the debate system is “rigged.”
“Someone has to stand up and call this what it is: a rigged system designed entirely to protect and perpetuate the two-party duopoly,” Nielson said.
“It is unfortunate that a successful two-term governor who is already assured of being on the ballot in 47 states and the District of Columbia is forced to turn to the courts to break up a rigged system, but it appears that fairness is not to be found otherwise,” Nielson added.
Meanwhile, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is appearing in a YouTube video urging Johnson supporters – or just those who prefer a third voice in the presidential debates — to contact the commission and urge Johnson’s inclusion. The telephone number is 202-872-1020 .
Ventura, a former professional wrestler, appears in the video wearing a conservative blue blazer atop a colorful Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. Ventura says that when he ran for governor of Minnesota as a third-party candidate in 1998 he was mostly unknown — until he was invited to debate with the major-party candidates. Ventura went on to win that election.
“I was polling at only 8 percent. However, after I appeared in televised debates, that percentage skyrocketed because voters saw that I was able to challenge Republicans and Democrats when they are both wrong,” Ventura says in the video.
Johnson’s lawsuit maintains that the Republican and Democratic parties, through the debate commission, “indefensibly” limit access of other candidates from other parties. The suit says the exclusion violates the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.
The lawsuit asks the court to bar the presidential debate from proceeding “unless all candidates who will appear on the ballot in enough states to win in the Electoral College are allowed to participate.”
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson participated in several Democratic primary election debates when he ran for president in 2008. Likewise, Johnson – who launched his presidential campaign as a Republican – was on the stage for two debates early in the 2012 Republican presidential primary process. Johnson eventually abandoned his Republican presidential bid and sought the Libertarian presidential nomination, which he secured in May.
Rules for inclusion in presidential primary debates are set by the organizations hosting them, usually media outlets. The Commission on Presidential Debates administers general election presidential and vice presidential debates.