Broadcasters exlude Libertarian candidate

After participating in the first two U.S. Senate candidate debates, Libertarian Mike Beitler is being snubbed by the N.C. Association of Broadcasters for the debates they are sponsoring October 11 and 23.

The Beitler campaign first learned about the debates in late August from media reports. A campaign spokesman said that the association did not respond to repeated telephone calls and e-mail messages regarding the debate.

“We can only assume that the rumors are correct and that the NCAB is cash strapped and simply does not have the equipment necessary to host another candidate,” said Michael Shanklin, campaign manager. “Mike Beitler is willing to bring his own mic to this event. If necessary we will build our own podium as well.”

Association president Tim Morrisey told the Associated Press that Beitler hadn’t been invited because surveys fail to show him with at least 10 percent support. According to sources, the debate criteria is based on only one poll, conducted by Elon University, which does not restrict itself to registered voters. The sources said that Beitler might be included if he polls over 10 percent in a poll due out next week.

Libertarian state chair Barbara Howe called the debate rules arbitrary and unfair, especially since most polls do not include the Libertarian candidate as one of their choices.

“Often polling doesn’t even include the Libertarian candidate, so it’s impossible for a Libertarian candidate to poll any numbers at all,” she said. “It’s a disservice to the voters of North Carolina not to include all the ballot-qualified candidates.”

It is unclear exactly which Elon poll the NCAB is using as a criteria for debate inclusion. Morrisey did not respond to a request for information. The most recent poll of U.S. Senate candidates on the university’s website was published March 22. Beitler was included, but his name was incorrect. The question asked respondents to rate all the candidates in the Democratic and Republican primary on a scale of one to ten.

“The broadcasters association is not interested in informing the public,” Howe said. “It’s about protecting the interests of broadcasters.”

Beitler will participate in a televised debate October 13 sponsored by the N.C. League of Women Voters.

“We believe we’re being treated unfairly, but we are not surprised. Burr and Marshall are both worried about how many votes we are taking from them,” Beitler said. He said that if the association’s educational foundation, which is sponsoring the event, has tax-exempt status, they should lose it. “They are not educational, they are clearly political,” he said.

In 2004, Howe filed a complaint with the FCC against WRAL-TV for failing to include her in a gubernatorial debate. The FCC has never issued a ruling. The 2008 Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dr. Mike Munger was included in only one of the three televised debates in that campaign, which was also sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Both the Burr and Marshall campaigns have said they believe it’s unfair not to include Beitler in all the debates, but neither campaign is taking any action to support including the Libertarian candidate.

Third parties don’t confuse British voters

One of the benefits of a parliamentary democracy like the United Kingdom is the general openness to multiple parties. British voters don’t seem to get confused by more than two parties on the ballot. On the contrary, a third party helps expose corruption and malfeasance, as Dr. Mike Munger notes in this op ed published in the Herald Sun.

Sunshine, British elections and an example for U.S.

In politics, sunlight is the best disinfectant. But our political system is specifically designed to protect the two state-sponsored parties from media scrutiny and voter examination. Incumbent politicians find debates inconvenient; they hate to answer questions about why their corrupt practices in government can’t be changed.

They realize that best defense is to ensure such questions never get asked in the first place.

And so our legislature ignores sunshine rules. Committee meetings and bill markup are conducted in secrecy suitable for international strategic arms negotiations.

The best our media can do is to investigate after the fact, so outgoing administrations send a parade of officials to state and federal prison. But no one can learn much about current official malfeasance because of the darkness and secrecy.

Recent events in Great Britain suggest a solution: Include third parties in debates. It’s simple and costs very little.

But the government was overturned, and the bright light of public attention was focused on the ruling Labour party, simply by including the Liberal Democrats in the electoral debates. The positions presented by LD standard-bearer Nick Clegg reminded Labour supporters of how badly their party had abandoned them and, after the April 15 debate in particular, the LD was clearly outpolling Labour.

Ultimately, voters made their choices, and the Liberal Democrats were consigned to third party status again. But the LDs played a key role in the formation of the new government and they have injected a new energy and lots of sunlight into a process that had been infected with the dark, arrogant corruption of power.

How did Labour and the Conservatives, the two major parties, make up ground between the first and second debates? By adopting a number of the ideas put forward by the LDs, so that by losing the LDs won.

That’s how third parties can act as a disinfectant: by raising questions that the major parties have to answer. Otherwise, there is no way to get the attention of the ruling elite.

One could object to my claim, of course. Won’t voters be confused, presented with dozens of choices?

Won’t allowing myriad small parties to participate make the whole electoral system incoherent?

Maybe. But we are far from having to worry about that. North Carolina is one of the three most restricted ballot states in America.

To qualify, a prospective party would have to collect well over 100,000 signatures, at a cost of nearly a quarter million dollars. There can’t be a flood of new parties, because our laws keep them out.

And that’s a red herring anyway.

Have you seen the cereal aisle at Kroger’s? Yet people still figure out which cereal to buy.

Claiming that voters would be confused by having real choices is an insult to voters. When you hear that the state-sponsored parties want to protect you from being confused, you know that all they really want is to protect the kind of corrupt government that depends on darkness and deception.

Furthermore, the very nature of the process ensures that any party clearing the ballot access hurdle has established significant, broad support among voters.

That doesn’t mean that the new party will win. But it does mean that, like the Liberal Democrats in England, voters want to hear what the new guy has to say, and they may demand action.

Right now, the Libertarian Party has qualified for the ballot in 2010 and 2012.

Another party, North Carolina First, is struggling up the Mount Everest size mountain of ballot access requirements, and might well qualify, if not for 2010 then for 2012.

But will the candidates for those parties be allowed to participate in debates? That is, in spite of doing everything the state requires to be able to be heard by the voters, will the state-sponsored parties once again be able to coerce the media into accepting a restricted menu of candidates?

Sadly, the answer may be “yes.”

When running for governor in 2008, I was prevented from participating in the early debates, the ones that mattered the most, the ones that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats used to change things.

Our CBS affiliates and ABC affiliates both scheduled televised debates between the Democrat and Republican candidates only.

I was given no chance to have an impact on the questions raised, or the ideas that would be raised for public consideration.

Neither of the two media giants, both of which supposedly serve the public, gave any explanation for why they were opposed to sunlight.

We should look to the example of the Liberal Democrats in England. Because the third party was allowed to participate in the debates, there was a peaceful revolution, the kind we call an “election.”

I doubt the new government will bring in a new golden age, but at least England used a little of the power of the sun to clean up a tired and corrupt system.

Dr. Michael Munger is chairman of  the Duke University political science department and was the 2008 Libertarian candidate for North Carolina governor.