Oregon Public Broadcasting is a tax-exempt, partially government funded corporation that receives tax-deductible donations. In return for these government benefits it must serve a public purpose, which can include voter education.
Tax laws require that any such voter education must be done in a non-partisan manner. Not bi-partisan, mind you, which generally means treating Republican and Democratic candidates equally. NON-partisan, which means treating all candidates from all parties equally.
The plain meaning of the law is that OPB should not exclude any candidates when it does a program on the candidates running for an office.
I and several of my supporters objected to OPB when it excluded me from a show with the Democratic and Republican candidates for Oregon Secretary of State. OPB gave this reason:
There are often many candidates that run for office in a particular race so we need to set some parameters to decide who to include.
They gave no reasons for why they “need” to set parameters for exclusion. There are no legitimate reasons. Consider:
1. Other forums have invited all of the candidates for this office and things went fine.
There are six candidates on the ballot for Oregon Secretary of State. When all candidates have been invited to other forums, only four of us, at most, have ever shown up. (Always the same four candidates.) In these forums there was time for candidate opening statements, questions from the audience, and candidate closing statements. It always went perfectly smoothly.
They were hour-long forums, but there was lots of “dead time” in them: candidates leaving the podium to sit down followed by another candidate standing up to go to the podium; pauses between questions as people came to a microphone; questioners giving mini-speeches or asking long rambling questions; and so on.
Given this, why couldn’t a professional interviewer manage a half hour program with four candidates?
2. There were alternatives to excluding candidates.
If their interviewer was not up to the task of questioning multiple candidates in a half-hour program, they could have split the program into two half-hour shows.
Or if OPB did not want to do this, they could have not done the show at all. They are under no obligation to do a program on every election race, just to treat all candidates equally if they do.
Now let us look at the parameters they used for illegally excluding some candidates. Were these parameters fair to all candidates? The parameters OPB offered were these:
- Legally qualified to hold office under state/federal laws and on ballot.
- Poll 5% in a nonpartisan independent survey from a neutral party sponsor, such as a newspaper.
- Provide evidence that a formal campaign is being waged: presence of a headquarters, campaign staff and volunteers, issuance of position papers or campaign speeches, campaign appearances, significant campaign fund raising and spending, a campaign website, social media presence and followers, endorsements, etc.
The first is irrelevant, as all six candidates are legally qualified and on the ballot. On the others, note these points:
3. OPB’s parameters for exclusion are not neutral, because they are based on a model of how Republican and Democratic candidates run their campaigns.
What OPB has done is made up a category of “formal campaign” and based it on what Republican and Democratic candidates typically do. OPB has given no definition or explanation of what a “formal” versus a presumably informal campaign is, nor why this distinction absolves them from their responsibility to treat all candidates equally.
The parameters are based on the fiction that other parties can or should run campaigns like Democrats and Republicans do. This premise is absurd, given the well-known bias of election laws against alternative parties winning elections.
Because of the “spoiler” dynamic in our election system, voters are reluctant to vote for alternative party candidates, even if they would prefer one of them to win. Because it is harder for an alternative candidate to win, endorsements, media attention, donations, speech invitations, and all the trappings of a Democratic or Republican campaign are harder to get.
Candidates from alternative parties have to run their campaigns differently. They typically prioritize goals other than winning the election. They may choose to focus on raising issues, challenging the Republican and Democratic candidates’ views and positions, offering a different political analysis or philosophy, or giving a voice to voters who feel left out.
These are all legitimate, serious goals, aimed primarily at voter education. Voter education is also supposed to be OPB’s goal, so excluding candidates who are working to do this contradicts OPB’s reason for having a candidate program in the first place.
4. OPB does not explain how they apply these parameters.
Which parameters have how much weight? How does OPB determine the overall application of them?
For example, my campaign has a headquarters, volunteers, a website, and a social media presence and followers. I’ve made campaign appearances, done interviews on community cable TV, participated in candidate forums, and taken positions on issues. People will be voting for me, and others might if they had a chance to learn about me.
Have I been excluded simply because I do not show up in polls or have not spent time in a futile effort to raise “significant” amounts of money or gain endorsements? These parameters alone would exclude the vast majority of campaigns run by candidates who are not Republicans or Democrats. (See point #3 above.)
So far I have shown that candidate exclusion is unnecessary, arbitrary, and biased. It is also a sign of peculiar blindness for a news reporting organization.
5. Voters want to know about the alternatives to Democrats and Republicans.
Over the last several decades fewer and fewer voters have registered as Democrats or Republicans, and more and more voters have shown interest in candidates who are independents, “outsiders,” or from alternative parties.
This is spectacularly apparent during this Presidential election in the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns, as well as the historically high levels of voter dissatisfaction with being limited to the Democratic and Republican nominees as their only “realistic” choices.
You would think a news organization would recognize this and, in service to the voters, inform them of the other choices that they have. OPB has apparently become brainwashed by the perpetuation of a two-party system into accepting the system as legitimate and normal, and regarding dissent from this unjust system as a marginal phenomenon. This blindness is disturbing.
But what is even more disturbing is that the Democratic and Republican candidates either did not recognize how wrong the OPB exclusion of other candidates is, or ignored it for the sake of free media attention for their campaigns.
The Secretary of State is the supervisor of elections in the state, and as such is expected to treat all candidates and parties fairly. I confronted both Mr. Avakian, the Democratic candidate, and Mr. Richardson, the Republican candidate, before their participation in the OPB program and reminded them of this.
Apparently neither of them insisted that all candidates be included when they were first invited. Nor did they make an issue of it with OPB after I confronted them. For these reasons, I cannot trust either of them to treat my party and its candidates fairly if one of them becomes Secretary of State. I recommend that voters consider this as well.
–Dr. Alan Zundel, Pacific Green Party candidate for Oregon Secretary of State