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Perot Asks For Ruling On Debate Exclusion

(from USA Today, Thursday, Oct. 30)

By John Hanchette
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON - Ross Perot sent lawyers into federal court Wednesday to press
for a ruling on the legality of excluding him from televised presidential
debates a year ago.
        Perot '96 Inc. - the legal entity for his failed third party try
for the presidency - asked for an injunction against the Federal Election
Commission, which by law was supposed to decide on Perot's origional
complaint within 120 days.
        It has been a year and the FEC - which reffused comment - has done
nothing. An injunction would force it to rule on Perot's contention he was
excluded - and to do it within 30 days.
        Its failure to act, said Perot, "contributes to the perception
rules promulgated by the FEC are underenforced, thereby encouraging
violations and deepening the nation's cynicism about government."
        Perot won 19% of the vote in 1992, and 8% in 1996. He was included
in nationally televised debates in 1992, but not last year.
        Perot lawyer Sam Lanham, without commenting on Perot's plans,
conceded the court action is aimed toward the next presidential election.
He said it is designed to protect all third parties.
        Economist Pat Choate, Perot's running-mate last year, said "half
of all voters make up their minds on the basis of TV debates - if you're
not in the debates, you're not in the campaign." Choate believes Perot
would have exceeded his 1992 popular vote had he been included.
        Voter support is the lifeblood of third parties - it helps
determine federal funds and ballot access. In 1996, Perot got $29 million
in federal election money, and has automatic access to ballots in 31
states for Reform Party candidates.
        Lanham contends the Commission on Presidential Debates - which
determines who gets in - is violating the law requiring it to act in
nonpartisan fashion. Choate and Russell Verney - Perot's 1996 national
coordinator and head of his Reform Party - laced into the FEC. "The FEC
has been running the clock on us," said Choate. "What you have is a sham
agency, one which is supposed to protect electoral fairness and is not
performing it's duty."
        When Perot complained without success before the 1996 election
about being excluded from the debates, the court said he could "come back
to this court to cure any defects in the criteria they allege the Debate
Commission has used so that the next cycle would not have these defects."