FEC Refuses to Grant Early Dismissal of Complaint Against CNN for Illegally Excluding Kennedy From Presidential Debate

WASHINGTON, DC—JUNE 18, 2024—Last week, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) made a public statement regarding CNN’s presidential debate making it even more clear CNN will violate federal law absent the inclusion of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on the debate stage on June 27 in Atlanta.

On the heels of that announcement, the Kennedy campaign requested that if the FEC was going to dismiss its complaint alleging CNN, and Presidents Biden and Trump violated federal campaign finance laws, the FEC do so immediately and no later than last Friday, June 14. Until the complaint is dismissed or 120 days have passed since the complaint was filed, Kennedy cannot bring a lawsuit. 

The FEC responded it would not dismiss the complaint as requested. One implication is that the FEC believes the complaint has merit, as indicated by its public statement that there is no such thing as a “presumptive nominee” for the purposes of exempting the debate from being an illegal campaign contribution from CNN to Biden and Trump’s campaigns. CNN, Biden, and Trump’s responses to the complaint are due to the FEC this week.  

As previously reported, Kennedy filed an FEC complaint alleging CNN, Biden, and Trump flagrantly violated the Federal Election Campaign Act requirement that media broadcasters use “pre-established” and “objective” criteria to determine candidate participation. Failure to use objective criteria renders the debate a campaign contribution, subject to strict donation limits. 

CNN’s published 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 requiring Presidents Biden and Trump to meet this requirement by claiming they are the “presumptive nominee” of a political party. 

The FEC has now made clear the phrase “presumptive nominee” is “not in the FEC’s debate regulation,” and therefore it cannot exempt CNN from the prohibition on excessive campaign contributions. As the Commission on Presidential Debates explains, “Until the conventions take place, we don’t know who the official nominees will be.” 

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 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. As explained in the FEC complaint, “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.”

This is why Kennedy has asked the FEC to, among other things, “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.” Short of that, Kennedy has asked that it dismiss the complaint sooner rather than later so he has an opportunity to obtain judicial review of the FEC’s actions related to the complaint.

To come into compliance, CNN must apply its criteria objectively. Presidents Biden and Trump have not yet been nominated by their parties and their names are not certified to appear on a single state ballot. Kennedy, in contrast, has been certified to appear on the ballot of numerous states, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Mississippi.

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

Learn more at Kennedy24.com. Visit our press page here.

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