The Utah Debate Commission has decided to exclude the campaign for Craig Bowden, candidate for Utah’s 1st Congressional District, as well as candidates for the Gubernatorial race and Attorney General race. This measure to exclude candidates is egregious on its face, and will be challenged. For far too long, systems set up by the two major parties have worked to keep alternate voices from being able to be heard. Whether it is with debates or ballot access, the drive to maintain power has kept third party ideas out of the eye of the public.
The Debate Commission is in direct violation of election laws, and will be held accountable for what it is doing. Under the Equal Time Rule, candidates from opposing parties are able to receive equal air time at the same rate that is offered to other candidates broadcast. Normally, this would not apply as a law, as it does exempt organizations that hold their own debates as long as it is not the broadcast station itself. Where the Utah Debate Commission violates the law, is that the news media sits on the board for the commission. They are instrumental in planning these debates, and dedicate non-regular air time to have these debates. As such, it does not fall under “on the spot news” as required to be exempt from the law. The media is helping manufacture the news under the guise of a private entity.
As such, the campaign of Craig Bowden, will be seeking the price of 30 minutes airtime from every broadcast station, both televised and aired on radio, on the prime time slot. This lawsuit will go away if the campaign is included in the debates.
Further, Craig Bowden’s campaign will be seeking equal damages for every third party candidate and independent who was excluded. This is in combination with any fines the Federal Communications Commission may seek to impose on the Utah Debate Commission. The monies awarded on behalf of other third party candidates will be paid to each candidate that was excluded from the debates.
By Craig Bowden, Libertarian Candidate for Congress: As many of you know, I have been protesting the Utah Debate Commission for the last couple months. I will continue to do so, even though I missed out on debating in the one held for Utah’s 1st District. This isn’t about me. This is about the voters having the opportunity to hear from eligible candidates and learn about where they stand. They may never get to hear from me on such a stage, but that doesn’t mean the other districts or the Attorney General’s race shouldn’t have all balloted candidates included.
On Tuesday, September 23rd, we held a protest outside of building where the first debate was held. I want to share my story of this process, because it is important that people understand what happened to us that day.
We began setting up at around 5:00 p.m. so we could make sure that voters heading in to watch the debate would be able to see the excluded candidates. We also had flyers and pamphlets to showcase where we stand on critical issues facing the State of Utah and the nation. We set up in a nice grassy area, one that seemed to be an ideal location, but we were duped.
The area we were allowed to protest was on the opposite side of the building from where the majority of voters would be entering, contrary to what I was told by Weber State’s Police Chief Dane LeBlanc. It appears that we were intentionally put out of site and mind by the police department, even though they had three officers keeping tabs on us to make sure we stayed in our “free speech zone” assigned to us.
We were told that we could not bring canopies for shade, in spite of the fact that the temperatures were in the high 80’s and low 90’s. We suffered the heat so we could be heard. The candidates that made the debate? They got to set tables up inside the Shepard Union Building to hand out information. So not only were we excluded from taking stage, but we also were shut out from being able to set up a table. Ironic that the mission of the Debate Commission is to inform voters.
When candidate Donna McAleer walked by, I called out and said hello to her, to have her look up and scoff my presence. I was afforded the exact same response by Congressman Bishop as he left. Neither of them thought we deserved to be within their presence.
The showing of support though small, was enthusiastic and we had some ad hoc debate going on between the candidates located at the protest. We discussed our differences and our common ground. We also got to have people stop and listen as they went about to classes. This was worth standing in the sun, getting to have voters interact with us and learn more about where we stand.
I think the biggest complaint that I have from this aside from the general disdain showed by major party candidates and the debate commission was the way we were treated by the news agencies reporting on the debate.
Fox 13 didn’t air any of the footage of the protest, nor any interviews with those attending, even though Dwayne Vance and I both took time to talk to the camera. As a matter of fact, Fox 13 barely even gave us a footnote on the 9 o’clock news. At least we were somewhat mentioned. Worse were the reactions from Channel 2 and Channel 4 News. They actually went out of the way to avoid talking to us. I watched them walking up the stairs near our staging area, and move to walk along the wall of the building to avoid talking to us at all.
The Salt Lake Tribune, though not present at all, made a footnote about only Dwayne Vance and I being in attendance. They reported total misinformation with stating it was just the two of us and forgetting to mention the supporters and other candidates who showed up to give support.
The Deseret News at least shot two pictures and posted them up with their article, but aside from the captions in the pictures, they made no mention of what we were trying to accomplish or what our legitimate complaints were.
One highlight of this was the coming together of all third parties in Utah, something that has never happened before. We are sending in a formal complaint for the Utah Debate Commission violating the law, and all of us are standing together in this common goal: that Utah voters have the chance to hear from every legitimate candidate in the election and not the chosen major party candidates that continue to offer the same tired rhetoric of the last few decades.
I have also included in this writing a message I have for Scott Howell, the Co-Chair of the Utah Debate Commission that spent two days in the media calling us “wackos” and “extremists” and claiming that we haven’t been putting in the leg work to be considered “real candidates.”
UPDATE TO STORY
I am a person who will give credit where credit is due; I’m not a partisan individual. Tonight I learned that Donna McAleer, my Democrat opponent, fought hard to get third parties into the debates this year.
I also need to apologize for a statement made from the debate night. I had stated that Donna did not acknowledge me when I said hello. While it was true she didn’t, she was quite nervous going into the debate and didn’t realize I had said hello, as she was focused on what was about to happen.
I should have accounted for the nerves and focus needed, as I’ve had the jitters doing speaking engagements as well.
I have been fighting for a long time to expand liberty and improve the way things happen in Washington, D.C. One of my latest tasks has been running for Congress out of Utah’s 1st District. It has been challenging and rewarding. Today I want to talk to you about my experience with the Utah Debate Commission, the supposedly non-partisan group that is running the televised debates in Utah.
I knew almost immediately that there was going to be a threshold set too high for third party candidates to be able to participate. That is the way the system works with the two party monopoly, especially when you only have Democrats and Republicans staff your commission. So I took to a petition, asking people to sign if they would like to hear third parties speak.
In a matter of a few days, I had managed to garner over 600 signatures in hard copy and online using a petition website. I delivered the results to the Utah Debate Commission, only to be told that their way is how it is. They refused to listen to what the people wanted.
Well, yesterday they released their poll numbers to reveal who would be in the debates, and as figured, not one third party candidate made the cut. But there is more to the story, and something I haven’t been able to get a single news agency to cover (largely because they are part of the commission, which I will show later). In each poll, the “undecided” category marked anywhere from 20-31%! So a fifth to a third of people in Utah weren’t sure who they would vote for. They want to see their options!
Well, of course the two parties polled well enough in order to make the debates (though Democrats in Utah almost didn’t make the cut in two races). This is obvious since Democrats and Republicans have spent a couple million in this race to get their names out there, largely funded by special interest groups outside of the state and not the voters (you can verify where money comes from on Open Secret’s website).
I believed that I could appeal to the Debate Commission with this information, but was again shot down. Even though so many voters were undecided in the polls, the commission still will not allow for third parties to debate.
Now, earlier I mentioned that the press would not cover the news on this, and I want to present to you the Board of Directors for the Utah Debate Commission. Please note the media partners on the board will be in bold, emphasis added by me.
Scott Howell, Former Utah State Senator & Candidate for United States Senate, Co-Chair
Bob Bennett, Former United States Senator, Co-Chair
Ed Allen, Former Utah State Senator
Rod Arquette, Program Director, KNRS
Renai Bodley, Vice President, News Director, FOX 13
Damon Cann, Co-Director of Operations, Institute of Government & Politics, Utah State University
Irene Caso, News Anchor, Producer, Univision 32
Morgan Lyon Cotti, Hinckley Institute of Politics
Jennifer Dahl, News Director, KUTV
Richard Davis, Professor of Political Science, BYU
Jay DeSart, Associate Professor of Political Science, Utah Valley University
Paul Edwards, Editor, Deseret News
Karen Hale, Director, Community Relations, Salt Lake City and Former Utah State Senator
Corey Hodges, Lead Pastor, New Pilgrim Baptist Church
Eric Kirby, Director, Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service, Southern Utah University
Fred Lampropolous, Founder and CEO, Merit Medical
Dan Liljenquist, Former Utah State Senator and Former Candidate for United States Senate
Carol McNamara, Director, Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service
John Miller, Assistant General Manager, Mark Miller Toyota
Terry Orme, Editor, Salt Lake Tribune
George Severson, News Director, KTVX
Diena Simmons, Station Manager, KBYU
Karl Sun, CEO, Lucid Software
Tanya Vea, Executive Vice President, KSL
Ken Verdoia, Production Director, KUED
Olene Walker, Former Governor of Utah
Thomas Wright, President & Principal Broker, Summit Sotheby’s International Realty
Michele Zabriskie, President, Utah Broadcasters Association
Now, based on this evidence, it would appear that the media is complicit in blocking attempts for third parties to enter into the debates. Only two newspapers picked up a letter to the editor I wrote, and one of them isn’t part of the board. All news agencies, however, mentioned nothing of the attempts third parties were making to get into the debates.
Now, all arguments used in this fight are totally legitimate, and make sense for more freedom and choice for the people of Utah. Let me go over the whole argument used in this process so that you can make sense of what we attempted to do and the Commission ignored:
1. All the debates, except one, were being held in taxpayer funded venues. The universities and colleges are all state run and as such, even though a private entity was organizing the debates, the fact that some candidates could not speak is a violation of the first amendment.
2.Each candidate, whether independent or a party nominee, must meet a threshold requirement to even be considered for the ballot. In the case of Independents in Utah, hundreds of signatures must be collected, verified by county clerks, and turned in with filing paperwork before being ballot qualified. As a member of a party, you must be elected by voting members or delegates in a 50% or more majority in convention to be ballot qualified. If you do not meet that threshold, you cannot run as a candidate. You must be able to clearly articulate ideas and positions you want to accomplish in office.
3. Title 47 U.S. Code Sec. 315 (Communications Act) states that candidates be given equal time by broadcast news with the following exceptions:
- bona fide news cast
- bona fide news interview
- bona fide news documentary (if the appearance of the candidate is incidental to the presentation of the subject or subjects covered by the news documentary)
- on-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events (including but not limited to political conventions and activities incidental thereto)
Since the Utah Debate Commission is staffed by members of broadcast media, this does not fall under the “on the spot” coverage. They are helping plan and coordinate the news event, so free air time is being granted to two candidates not afforded others in the race. This is a violation of the law.
4. Former Senator Bob Bennett (who is one of the co-chairs) once stated that had he not been given the ability to debate, he would have lost his race since he was behind by approximately 52 points. However, he is now turning around and not affording the same opportunity to candidates who could turn the election if given the chance.
5. In order for a truly educated, voting public, candidates who will appear on the ballot should be able to express themselves to the voters.
All of these arguments are valid, but the commission will not listen to the people.
Third party candidates and supporters will be protesting at Weber State University on September 23rd, the night of the first debate. We are hoping to change the future of the debate process to reflect a more fair process that encompasses the freedom and values of the United States Constitution.
Several third party candidates, including me, are on the ballot this November but are being excluded from participating in the debates, even though the debates are being held on tax payer funded venues like universities. Supporters feel that in order for true non-partisanship and voter education, ballot qualified candidates should be allowed to debate.
Please go to http://utahdebatecommission.org/contact-us/ to send the debate commission a message you want third party voices heard.
You can sign the petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/let-third-parties-debate
You can also join our Twitter and Facebook campaign by using hashtag #LetThemSpeak especially on their pages
@UtahDebateCom and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Utah-Debate-Commission/302816553199941
Let’s do this Utah!
It is time for third parties to be allowed to debate. This petition is for the Utah debates to be hosted throughout September and October. Please add your signature to be delivered to the Utah Debate Commission.