Judge throws out antitrust challenge to US presidential debates

31 January 2017 9:56am

5 August 2016. By Leah Nylen.

Politics isn’t a market and the antitrust laws don’t apply, a federal judge ruled Friday, dismissing a challenge by the Libertarian and Green party presidential candidates that alleged the US’s two main political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, conspired to monopolize the presidential debates and 2012 election.

US District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said that the Commission on Presidential Debates — a non-profit created by the Democratic and Republican National Committees which hosts presidential and vice-presidential debates — didn’t violate the antitrust laws or First Amendment when it excluded Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson from the presidential debates in 2012. Both Stein and Johnson are running for president again this year and filed the suit in an effort to obtain invitations to the 2016 debates.

“Calling political activity a ‘market place’ does not make it so,” Collyer wrote. “The Sherman Act is aimed at business combinations with commercial objectives. When a case involves political opponents and political objectives, not commercial competitors or market place goals, antitrust laws do not apply.”

Neither Stein nor Johnson alleged an injury that could be traced to the debate commission, Collyer said.

“Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries are wholly speculative and are dependent entirely on media coverage decisions,” she wrote. “The alleged injuries –– failure to receive media coverage and to garner votes, federal matching funds, and campaign contributions — were caused by the lack of popular support of the candidates and their [parties’ inability] to attract media attention.”

Collyer also rejected the third-party candidates’ First Amendment arguments, finding that it doesn’t apply to private actors. She dismissed the case on all grounds.

FTC - Qualcomm Trial