Kentucky Libertarians Object to KET Senate Debate Criteria

Kentucky Libertarian David Patterson is taking KET to task for its new criteria excluding his participation from their scheduled Senate debate.

Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell last week accepted the public television network’s invitation to face-off against Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes on Oct. 13. Grimes had accepted earlier in the summer.

KET’s debate requirements say a candidate must be a state resident, maintain an active campaign website by Aug. 16,  have raised $100,000, and poll at 10 percent or more in an independent survey.

“The two things that I don’t meet, those things have never been there before,” said Patterson. “It’s always been ballot access and having a functioning website. So it’s pretty disappointing, obviously I don’t know KET’s thinking but it’s the first time they’ve ever done this and I don’t know the reasoning.”

Earlier this month, Patterson’s campaign submitted well over the required 5,000 signatures needed under state law to be on the November ballot.

Related: WFPL’s coverage of the 2014 Kentucky Senate race

Patterson has not raised money for the Senate race, according to the latest federal campaign finance records. Two polls conducted this month said his support is at 7 percent.

Libertarian Party leaders argue KET is violating its mission by excluding Patterson—because the network receives taxpayer dollars it has an obligation to allow Patterson’s legally qualified candidacy into the debate.

In Kentucky’s last U.S. Senate race four years ago, the only criteria for a candidate to participate in statewide public television debate was qualifying to be on the ballot.

KET spokesman Tim Bischoff said the new criteria was put in place  so voters could hear from the leading candidates to provide viewers with a better public service.

“In addition to instituting criteria for the Senate race, criteria were also instituted for the House races,” he said “So it certainly was not aimed at one particular race or one particular program, and absolutely not at one particular candidate.”

Bischoff said KET attorneys reviewed the debate provisions to make sure they abide by campaign finance and federal broadcast law. He also points out candidacies such as the 2011 gubernatorial bid of the late Gatewood Galbraith would have qualified for this year’s debate under their new rules.

“Others who have organized potential candidate events—such as University of Kentucky and Centre College—also receive public funding, and what are their criteria or the criteria of other media outlets?” he said.

“As you may have heard Centre College President John Roush say on WEKU, just because you’re on the ballot doesn’t mean you’re a viable candidate.”

That isn’t a satisfactory explanation to Patterson and fellow libertarians, who are researching legal avenues to allow their candidate to join the debate.

“What would KET do if the public all of sudden said we’re going to cut your funding by 7 percent? I’m sure there would be an outrage and up in arms,” said Patterson.

“There is 7 percent of the public out there, poll-wise, that say they’re going to vote for me, and doesn’t that 7 percent deserve a voice in the debate? I think so.”

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