RFK Jr. files FEC complaint over June 27 presidential debate criteria


RFK Jr.’s campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that accuses CNN, President Biden, former President Donald Trump and their campaigns of violating federal election law. 

The Kennedy campaign claims CNN is approaching the debate criteria differently for Kennedy, an independent candidate, than for Trump and Mr. Biden, the presumptive nominees of their respective parties. CNN is holding the first presidential debate in Atlanta on June 27, before either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party hold their conventions to formalize their nominees. The Kennedy campaign is alleging the debate is an illegal campaign contribution to both Mr. Biden and Trump. 

“CNN is making prohibited corporate contributions to both campaigns and the Biden committee and the Trump committee have accepted these prohibited corporate contributions,” the complaint says. 

CNN’s debate criteria says a candidate must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 threshold for the presidency, and receive at least 15% in four major national polls by June 20. Kennedy has not yet met the polling criteria or the ballot appearance criteria. 

Still, the Kennedy campaign argues that, since neither Trump nor Mr. Biden has been officially nominated, they aren’t eligible for any electoral votes, while Kennedy says he may qualify in a handful of states. Candidates still have several weeks to meet the qualification threshold. 

“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,” Kennedy said.

The Kennedy campaign is asking the FEC to find the parties in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, and stop them from participating in the debate for now. 

CNN, however, defended their qualification rules. 

“The law in virtually every state provides that the nominee of a state-recognized political party will be allowed ballot access without petitioning,” a CNN spokesperson said. “As the presumptive nominees of their parties both Biden and Trump will satisfy this requirement. As an independent candidate, under applicable laws RFK, Jr. does not. The mere application for ballot access does not guarantee that he will appear on the ballot in any state. In addition, RFK, Jr. does not currently meet our polling criteria, which, like the other objective criteria, were set before issuing invitations to the debate.”

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns have also agreed to debate on ABC on Sept. 10. The Biden campaign has accepted CBS News’ invitation for a vice-presidential debate this summer, although the Trump campaign has yet to respond. 



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