CPTV and League of Women Voters: No money, no debate
I should say up front that I have enormous respect for the work of the League of Women Voters.
What’s not to love about an army of volunteers who work tirelessly all over the country to keep the wheels of democracy greased?
And I would be happy to forgive them for a grievous error made this election season in Connecticut, one that undermines so much of the good work they do, if they can find their way to fix it.
I’m less ready to forgive Connecticut Public Television, co-sponsors, according to the league, of a debate for the Second Congressional District, because, as an organization that professes to practice journalism integrity, they should know better.
Incredibly, the debate sponsors have excluded one of the candidates in the race for the Second Congressional District, Green Party nominee Kevin Blacker of Groton, because they say he hasn’t raised enough money to satisfy them.
Honestly, that’s their big threshold for admission to debates, money. The other one, an active campaign, would certainly not exclude Blacker, who any journalist in eastern Connecticut included on his daily email blasts will tell you, has certainly been as busy as the other candidates in the race.
At a time when most democracy defenders worry about the horrible effects of too much money in politics, the league and their partners in this debate, CPTV, are busy counting it, making sure candidates have enough.
It is especially galling in Connecticut, where gubernatorial contests have become a showdown between super-rich, self-funding white guys. They can literally buy their way onto a CPTV/LWV stage.
Blacker has made a point of refusing to accept donations for his campaign, a principled stand against the corrosive influence of money in democracy.
Blacker’s name will appear on the ballot throughout eastern Connecticut as the candidate representing the Green Party, a functioning political party which has a place on the ballot for its nominee in the congressional race because its history of viability meets all state election laws.
Blacker will be included in a debate sponsored by the league and The Day, to be televised by WFSB, because the newspaper said every candidate on the ballot should be invited.
“There’s a lot of criteria you can use for debates so we decided to use one that was simple and fair: if you’re on the ballot you’re in,” Executive Editor Tim Cotter explained when I asked.
“Debates are not just about picking a winner but are about exchanging ideas. In that regard, the more the merrier.”
Mark Contreras, president of Connecticut Pubic Broadcasting, texted me that he was on a plane, after I left voicemail and email messages, and gave me the name and number of someone to contact.
That high-ranking content executive refused to go on the record to discuss Blacker’s exclusion from the debate CPTV plans to televise.
I am still not sure which is worse, excluding a legitimate candidate on the ballot in a congressional race or not explaining that decision to the public. A news organization that is constantly asking people to explain themselves won’t offer its own explanation.
I guess I wouldn’t want to be the person going on the record to say the reason a legitimate party candidate, with a place on the ballot in a congressional race, is excluded from a televised debate is because he doesn’t have enough money.
And these are people who take public money and solicit charitable donations to practice journalism in Connecticut.
Everyone I reached out to at the League of Women Voters was pleasant and glad to talk about the decision. But I didn’t think much of their answers.
“Rules are rules,” said Laura Smits, president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, as if we were talking about rules for some other group, not the ones promulgated and enforced by the organization she runs.
Even more unsettling was that Smits suggested maybe the money criteria isn’t a good one and they could consider scrapping it for the next election season.
She didn’t seem to understand why that’s no consolation to Blacker or the voters of the Second Congressional District who will see his name on the ballot and wonder if they should vote for him.
Smits suggested the principal reason not to drop the money standard this year is because it is too late in the cycle, that the rules have already been set.
That makes no sense to me. I don’t see why it can’t change any time before the debate.
If there are other candidates in other races on a ballot who have been excluded because they haven’t raised enough money I am sure they wouldn’t complain about being added now.
If the best and most fair way to conduct a debate is to include every candidate on the ballot, every candidate that voters will be asked to choose from, then that can happen right up until the microphones go hot.
Sometimes you need to stop and think and reconsider when you are about to commit a great injustice. You don’t say, gosh, too bad we are unfair and unreasonable this time, and we won’t do it again.
I have to say I’ve lost my appetite for CPTV programming and my respect for their journalism, as they sign on to ranking political candidates by how much money they have.
I would be very impressed if the candidates who are still invited to the CPTV/LWV event, the ones with enough money, refuse to participate unless all candidates on the ballot are included.
Now that would be inspiring for the principles of democracy in Connecticut.
This is the opinion of David Collins