The state Elections Board will meet today to hear a complaint over leaving Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Ed Thompson out of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation debate.
WBA is sponsoring a televised debate featuring gubernatorial candidates Republican Gov. Scott McCallum and Democrat Jim Doyle. Thompson was not invited to participate because he did not receive 6 percent of the vote in the primary election.
Josh Morby, media director for the Thompson campaign filed the complaint Monday with the state Elections Board, which stated that not allowing Thompson to participate in the debate creates a “non-partisan news event to an infomercial for the benefit to specific candidates.”
Morby asserted that WBA is contributing more than $43,128 of free airtime to Doyle and McCallum. This violates the state law that prohibits political action committees from contributing more than $5,000 to gubernatorial candidates.
Morby is represented by Madison attorney Kirby Brant.
“The T.V. time that WBA is allowing McCallum and Doyle exceeds the PAC,” Morby said.
Morby said he has contacted and written WBA Foundation president John Laabs to ask that Thompson be included in the debate but was denied.
Laabs said the only reason Thompson was not invited to the debate was because he did not receive 6 percent of the vote in the primary election. The rule was enacted by WBA in early August, and all candidates were notified prior to the primary elections.
Doyle and McCallum are the only candidates meeting the criteria.
“All the candidates were notified,” Laabs said. “To change the rules for one of the six candidates I think would be unfair.”
A press release stated Thompson received the notification five days prior to the primaries and felt it was unfair because he had no primary opponent.
“I only had five days to get out the word that it is important to vote for me in the primary so I can participate in the WBA debate,” Thompson said.
“How can a respected Wisconsin media organization try to keep me out of the debate by using the political trick the Republicrats have been using for years to deny matching funds for third-party candidates?” Thompson asked.
Laabs said the state Elections Board cannot rule on whether the Wisconsin Broadcasters Foundation should or should not include Thompson in the debate.
“They don’t have jurisdiction over our group,” Laabs said.
The state Elections Board announced Wednesday that Thompson’s case will be on the agenda in today’s meeting, Morby said. The board will discuss Morby’s allegations.
Laabs said these types of cases have been rejected in the past in other federal courts.
Morby hopes McCallum and Doyle will not participate in the WBA debate since Thompson is not invited.
“We still think we may have a chance [to participate],” Morby said. “My hope is Governor McCallum and Democrat Jim Doyle will make it a prerequisite for Ed to participate in the debate.”
Jessica Erickson, press secretary for Doyle for Governor, said the rules of the debate should be determined by the sponsor.
“It’s up to the sponsors to decide for Thompson to be in the debate,” Erickson said.
Debbie Monterrey-Millet, communications director for the McCallum campaign, said McCallum has notified the public that the debates should include all the candidates in the race. McCallum has said to WBA that he wanted candidates Jim Young and Thompson to participate.
“McCallum has made his feelings clear,” Monterrey-Millet said. “Governor McCallum has said early-on that this was his wish to include all candidates in the debates.”
Monterrey-Millet said that McCallum has voiced his opinion; however, he cannot change the host’s decision and will still be in tonight’s debate.
“He plans to honor his commitment,” Monterrey-Millet said. “We only accept invitations; we can’t control the rules of the debate.”
The debate will be aired live tonight on 13 television and 15 radio stations throughout Wisconsin.