Allegation: Democrats Tried to Punish Fox News for Debate Decision

By Dustin Siggins Published on June 30, 2016

One of the Republican members of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is accusing his Democratic colleagues of targeting Fox News over a decision to expand its August 6, 2015 debate to 17 candidates.

According to Commissioner Lee E. Goodman, “A complaint was filed with the FEC alleging that Fox News’ editorial decision to expand the debate from one debate to two debates, and to include 7 candidates in the undercard debate, constituted an illegal corporate contribution by Fox News to the candidates who participated in the debate.”

“Astonishingly,” continued Goodman in his allegations, which were given to The Washington Examiner, “three FEC commissintegrityioners (Weintraub, Ravel, Walther) concluded that Fox News violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by making a prohibited corporate contribution to the 7 candidates invited to the debate. That is, by expanding the debate format to a broader group of candidates, Fox News violated the law.”

Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert with the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen, told The Stream that the complaint that led to the vote was filed by primary candidate Mark Everson. He also indicated that Everson had a case to make.

“FOX News kept changing the criteria for candidates as the debate drew near. First the network selected the top 10 candidates in the polls. Later the network changed the criteria to candidates who polled at least 1% on average. Finally it changed the criteria to a subjective standard of candidates who ‘consistently’ showed up in the polls, a standard that gave FOX News discretionary control,” said Holman.

“One Republican candidate, Mark Everson, filed a complaint because FOX opted not to include him. The final two-tier debates appeared to favor some candidates over others and clearly lacked pre-established objective criteria.”

Everson is a former head of the IRS who ran a little-noticed campaign for the White House. He was included in no debates, and few polls.

According to Holman, “Federal regulations impose two reasonable guidelines on the networks. One, that the debate does not promote any particular candidate over another. And two, that the process for selecting candidates be according to pre-established objective criteria.”

“The essential problem is that the networks are in charge of determining who gets included, and who gets excluded, from the debates,” Holman said in his e-mail to The Stream. “The networks operate by the motive of selling TV time, rather than operating in the public service.”

The Washington Examiner noted that CNN held a similar tiered system when it hosted the GOP candidates, but was not targeted by the FEC. According to Holman, “CNN used a two tier system of debates, which does raise concerns. The one thing CNN did not do, however, is change its selection criteria into a subjective standard.”

The alleged vote took place on May 26. The FEC’s website shows that a public meeting was cancelled that day, in favor of a private meeting.

The vote results and other information are expected to be released today. A spokesperson for the FEC did not respond to a request for comment.

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