The mainstream media—perhaps not surprisingly—is virtually ignoring three pending lawsuits against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Commission on Presidential Debates, all of which cast a glaring light on the bald corruption eating away at the current political process. But they should not be ignored. More than just footnotes to the tumultuous 2016 election, these are legal battles that could have broader implications on third-party and independent political movements in U.S. elections going forward.
Thanks to disclosures from WikiLeaks, it became obvious late last year that the Democratic National Committee privately colluded to block Bernie Sanders from winning the presidential nomination. These were damning exposures that eventually cost then-DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz her job. The worst of course, was the revelation that former DNC chair, Donna Brazile, secretly provided Hillary Clinton with the topics ahead of CNN’s televised debates.
A group of Bernie Sanders supporters who made contributions to the DNC responded in kind. They filed a class-action lawsuit last year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Represented by a Miami-based firm, Beck & Lee Trial Lawyers, the plaintiffs’ allegations in this case, Carol Wilding et al. v. DNC Services Corp. include fraud, impartiality, and collusion.
The DNC hasn’t denied most of the allegations. The current DNC chair, Tom Perez, even admitted in February that the primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders. He said, “We heard loudly and clearly yesterday from Bernie supporters that the process was rigged, and it was. And you’ve got to be honest about it. That’s why we need a chair who is transparent.” Predictably, Perez recanted his statement hours later.
It’s remarkable that the DNC fraud case has essentially been ignored by most major media outlets because it has been an unbelievably newsworthy event. Case in point: the Democratic Party has argued in court against the core values of its name; the Democratic Party has thumbed its nose at the democratic process. To be specific, Jordan Chariton of the TYT Network reported that a DNC lawyer stated in court, “We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way’” — because it was in their legal right to do so.
Although this story has been largely ignored, it hasn’t come from a lack of effort from the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, Jared and Elizabeth Beck. They’ve been interviewed by numerous sources in the alternative media world, and as a result, they’ve raised a tremendous amount of grassroots interest. There is a Facebook page with over 58,000 followers that is dedicated solely to this case.
Then again, it’s easy for the casual observer to cast this aside because, at the superficial level, it looks like sour grapes. But there’s a lot at stake for future elections, particularly for anti-establishment candidates who ever want a fair shake on either side of the aisle. The attorneys for the Sanders group are merely making a case that the DNC has a fiduciary duty to uphold the democratic process. The same goes for Republicans, since we all know how they treated former Rep. Ron Paul during his unsuccessful runs for the GOP nomination in 2008 and 2012.
In his case, the bitter reality of partisan collusion was evident even without a WikiLeaks email dump. The Republican National Committee opposed Ron Paul’s nomination both cycles. It was all out in the open. For example, Bill Crocker of the RNC sent out this mass email in 2012:
“Please plan to attend the SD [Senate District] conventions next Saturday and bring all your friends. We need to be sure we are not overwhelmed by the Ron Paul people, who still want to send a list of all Ron Paul people to the state convention.”
There were also controversies with allegations of voter fraud in multiple state caucuses. In fact, Mitt Romney actually admitted that the party committed underhanded acts to give him the nomination. In the documentary film, Mitt, he relayed what someone from the RNC leadership told him:
“In some ways, we kind of had to steal the Republican nomination. Our party is Southern, evangelical and populist. And you’re Northern, and you’re Mormon, and you’re rich. And these do not match well with our party.”
It’s also worth noting that the RNC shot themselves in the foot by interfering with the democratic process. In 2008 Ron Paul seemed well-positioned to generate a Republican wave against Obama. While his libertarian, anti-war positions repelled the GOP establishment, he was bolstered by a grassroots swell of passionate support from youthful, tech-savvy voters poised to influence left-of-center independents and even disillusioned Democrats. Much like Bernie Sanders was doing for progressives and independents in 2016.
Getting left out of the debates
That leads to the other pending litigation affecting independent, third-party politics and the election process as a whole. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party, Jill Stein, and the Green Party are currently fighting the Commission on Presidential Debates in court. This group has two separate lawsuits, Level the Playing Field v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Johnson v. Commission on Presidential Debates.
The FEC has faced these kinds of lawsuits every election cycle since the Commission on Presidential Debates was formed in 1987. However, this is the first time when such a lawsuit has been juxtaposed with something like the DNC Fraud case.
The lawsuits against the DNC and Commission on Presidential Debates are indirectly connected because candidates such as Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders have essentially been forced to run within the two-party system. In other words, if independent candidates can’t get a fair shot within the two-party system, then there need to be fair opportunities for third-party candidates. Simply put, there are too many unreasonable barriers against third-party candidates, in particular, the Commission on Presidential Debates.
These lawsuits contest that the 15 percent polling requirement by the Commission on Presidential Debates isn’t a reasonable threshold. They’re absolutely right. If a third-party candidate couldn’t reach 15 percent during this election, then it is an indicator that the barriers to entry are nearly insurmountable. After all, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the most unfavorable candidates in American history. Also, a record-high 43 percent of Americans identified themselves as independents during this election cycle.
A strict polling requirement is also a poor metric for eligibility because many of the polls used simply don’t include the third-party candidates. Secondly, only independently wealthy candidates, such as Ross Perot, can pay for enough advertising to reach the 15 percent figure before the debates take place.
Perot spent $63.5 million of his own money to finance his campaign in 1992. However, that amount of money is only a drop in the bucket now that campaign financing has exploded to the tune of $1.5 billion in the last presidential election. That’s over six times the figure from 1992. With that in mind, it makes the message of Gary Johnson’s campaign more impressive considering that he polled as high as 13 percent in September with only $11.6 million in donations.
Whether you voted for Gary Johnson or didn’t support him in any way, his candidacy was an important one for democracy. Third-party candidates haven’t had much success on Election Day, but our country benefits from the presence of third-party candidates as they often pressure the main party candidates to modify their stances on various issues.
Of course there need to be barriers to entry, albeit more reasonable ones. Otherwise, the debate stage could be filled with politicians only seeking their 15 minutes of fame. The plaintiffs in this case believe that a candidate should be able to debate if he or she is on enough ballots to win the Electoral College. With that suggested criteria, the presidential debates would have included Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein. The same requirements would have enabled Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan to debate in 2000.
All that said, these lawsuits, even the one against the DNC, are longshots. Ultimately, the courts are unlikely to curb corruption within the two major parties. However, with enough public pressure, the Commission on Presidential Debates could be dissolved or forced to reform its ways. In the end, we all benefit from more competition in the political process.
Brian Saady is the author of the three-book series, Rackets, which is about the legalization of drugs & gambling, and the decriminalization of prostitution. www.briansaady.com. Twitter handle @briansaady