Although 13 independent or minor-party candidates running for federal or statewide office qualified for the Iowa ballot this year, only Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, and the third Congressional district have been invited to televised debates. After each of these events, I’ve seen comments on social media complaining that third-party candidates were denied the opportunity to speak directly to voters.
Libertarian nominee for secretary of state Jake Porter announced yesterday that he “is filing an open records request on Iowa Public Television (IPTV) regarding an episode of Iowa Press that was recorded on Friday, October 3 […] The open records request will look into possible collusion and violations of Iowa law to keep him out of the debate.” I’ve posted the full press release from Porter after the jump.
According to Porter, Iowa Public Television claimed that edition of “Iowa Press” was not a debate. The program in question was presented as a “job interview” for Democrat Brad Anderson and Republican Paul Pate. It sure looked like a debate to me. The format was virtually identical to programs Iowa Public Television billed as debates between Dave Loebsack and Mariannette Miller-Meeks in IA-02, and between Staci Appel and David Young in IA-03 (excluding an independent and a Libertarian candidate who are also running for Congress in that district). The main difference was that the Congressional debates were one-hour special programs, whereas the “Iowa Press” show featuring Anderson and Pate was the usual 30 minutes long, aired at the usual time. So was last month’s show featuring Attorney General Tom Miller and his Republican challenger Adam Gregg.
I sympathize with Porter’s frustration, because unlike some third-party candidates, he has been running for a long time and has staked out substantive and relevant policy positions. He was included in the 2010 “Iowa Press” program alongside Democratic Secretary of State Michael Mauro and his GOP challenger Matt Schultz.
I doubt Porter will get far in any legal action against Iowa Public Television. A 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that “public television stations have the right to choose which political candidates appear in the debates they broadcast.” They can exclude candidates they deem to be on the fringe, with little campaign infrastructure or public support. I’ve enclosed below more details on that case. Click here to download a scholarly analysis of that ruling.
I suspect Iowa Public Television would have invited Porter to participate in this year’s “job interview” if not for Spencer Highland, the unknown candidate representing the unknown “New Independent Party Iowa” who also qualified to run for secretary of state. Offering four candidates equal time on a half-hour show would be unwieldy, especially since Highland has not given the media any reason to take him seriously as a candidate for this office. Limiting the show to the two major-party candidates may have seemed easier to justify than inviting Anderson, Pate, and Porter but not Highland.
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