Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Kennedy Gets Confirmation From FEC On Contentions About CNN Debate Criteria


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Queens on February 17th. Photo by Jason Schott.

Independent Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has scored a victory, as the Federal Election Commission (FEC) issued a recent statement regarding CNN’s presidential debate that makes clear CNN will violate federal law, absent the inclusion of him in their debate planned for June 27.

This comes nearly two weeks after the Kennedy campaign filed a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint on Wednesday, May 29 alleging that CNN, President Biden, President Trump, and their campaigns have engaged in flagrant violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). To read our coverage, please click here.

CNN published a debate criteria require that “a candidate's name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold.” CNN is holding Kennedy to this requirement, but is not holding Presidents Biden and Trump to the same standard by claiming they are the “presumptive nominee” of a political party. 

The FEC has now made clear that the phrase “presumptive nominee” is “not in the FEC’s debate regulation,” and therefore does not exempt CNN from the prohibition on excessive campaign contributions. 

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which is not involved in planning this CNN one, states that, “Until the conventions take place, we don’t know who the official nominees will be.” 

The Kennedy campaign, in a statement, makes this contention: "This means that CNN, and every member of CNN who is participating in planning, executing, and holding this debate, is at risk of prosecution, as happened to Michael Cohen, for violating campaign finance laws. This risk is now acute given that any further violation would be knowing and willful, and thus could carry with it serious jail time. 

"CNN and its staff are on clear notice, especially given the damning evidence that the Biden campaign has openly demanded that Kennedy be excluded from the debates and Trump received assurances from CNN that Kennedy would be excluded. Now, with FEC’s recent statement, it appears beyond doubt the debate will, absent Kennedy’s participation, violate campaign finance laws and that CNN and its staff are knowingly and willfully violating these laws." 

The Kennedy campaign's FEC complaint stated, “By demanding our campaign meet different criteria to participate in the debate than Presidents Biden and Trump, CNN’s debate violates FEC law and is a large prohibited corporate contribution to both the Biden and Trump campaigns.”

One of the requests made of the FEC was to “enjoin the Parties from holding the presidential debate scheduled for June 27, 2024 until the Parties have come into compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act.” 

To come into compliance, CNN must apply its criteria objectively, as the two Presidents have not yet been nominated by their parties, and neither of them are certified to appear on a single state ballot.

By contrast, as of Friday, when the Kennedy camp announced ballot access victories in Florida and Minnesota, the Kennedy-Shanahan ticket has collected the signatures needed for ballot access in 19 states totaling 278 electoral votes - 52 percent of the 538 total electoral votes nationwide. This puts them over the requirement to be on states comprising 270 electoral votes to make the debate stage.

Florida marks the ninth state that the Kennedy-Shanahan ticket has officially made the ballot in, along with Utah, Michigan, California, Delaware, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Texas, and South Carolina. Minnesota now makes it ten states that the Kennedy campaign has also collected enough signatures for ballot access, along with New York, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, and Ohio. 

Objectively applying CNN’s criteria requires, at a minimum, that it admit Kennedy into the debate as he is the candidate that is furthest along in complying with CNN’s debate criteria.

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