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USA: Nader Challenges Presidential Debate Funding

by Leslie GevirtzReuters
October 6th, 2000

BOSTON -- Lawyers for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader sought on Thursday to toss out corporate financing of the presidential debates, arguing before a federal appeals panel that such funding was illegal.

''The FEC (Federal Elections Commission) debate regulations are unlawful ... and must be vacated,'' Nader's lawyer, Scott Lewis told the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit seeks a court order invalidating the FEC regulations. Such a ruling could result in an action against the Commission on Presidential Debates. The nonprofit corporation has organized this year's debates with financing from corporations.

The three-judge panel questioned whether Lewis's client had standing, at this point, to continue the suit filed in August.

Earlier polls showed Nader with about 3 percent support, but on Thursday a Reuters/MSNBC poll showed the man who first gained fame as a consumer activist had surged to 7 percent.

Lewis maintained that who better than his client, a candidate for president, had standing to challenge what he sees as the ''unfair deployment of wealth for political purposes.''

Nader spent part of Thursday campaigning in Connecticut and taping the Daily Comedy show for Comedy Central. He has argued that, since 1907, federal law has barred corporations from making contributions or expenditures in connection with political campaigns for federal office.

Tuesday's debate at the University of Massachusetts-Boston was underwritten in large part by corporate sponsorship.

Nader was excluded from the debate between Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Gov. George Bush. He was further kept out of the debate hall, despite having a ticket, and barred from the UMASS property despite an invitation from a media organization.

''I don't know how Mr. Nader has been harmed,'' FEC lawyer Stephen Hershkowitz told the court.

To which Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch replied that both Gore and Bush ''had an enormous boost to their campaigns...being seen by millions of Americans in prime time...And he has been deprived of that.''

Hershkowitz's final words to the judges were: ''No matter what happens, it is not possible for this court to issue an order for Mr. Nader to appear in the debates.''

The court is expected to rule shortly.''

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