Socialist Candidate Loses Debate Exclusion Case

     WASHINGTON, D.C. (CN) – An Ohio Socialist excluded from televised candidate debates when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 has no standing to bring claims against the Federal Election Commission, a federal judge ruled.
     Dan La Botz filed an administrative complaint with the FEC shortly after the announcement of a series of televised debates between Democratic and Republican Senate candidates.
     La Botz claimed he was not notified of the debates and was never given the opportunity to meet the objective criteria for candidates established by ONO, a consortium of Ohio newspapers that sponsored the events.
     The FEC dismissed La Botz’s complaint after determining ONO had not violated the Federal Election Campaign Act – which ensures corporations remain nonpartisan in federal elections – in excluding the Socialist candidate from its debates.
     La Botz sued the agency in the federal court in Washington, D.C., and U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras denied an FEC motion to dismiss, ruling that “dismissal of La Botz’s complaint was contrary to law, because its determination that the ONO used pre-existing criteria to select debate participants was not based on ‘substantial evidence.'”
     Judge Contreras remanded the case back to the agency, where it was determined that an investigation into the ONO’s selection process “would be an inefficient use of the Commission’s limited resources,” and so the FEC “exercised its prosecutorial discretion and dismissed the matter.”
     La Botz filed a second suit against the agency in the federal court in Washington, D.C., but this time, Contreras granted the FEC’s motion for dismissal.
     The FEC argued La Botz lacks standing to bring his case, following his relocation to New York. The move, agency said, now prevents the court from redressing his alleged injury. Judge Contreras agreed.
     “Here, La Botz did not have standing when he filed his complaint in 2013; though he satisfies the injury and causation requirements of standing, his injury is no longer redressable,” Contreras wrote. ” … La Botz’s 2013 statements that ‘[i]t is likely’ that he will run for office, do not suffice to establish a redressable injury for purposes of standing, because La Botz will no longer be running for office in Ohio, as he has relocated to New York.”
     Contreras also agreed with the FEC’s argument that La Botz’s claims are moot and dismissed the Socialist’s claim that he falls under the exception used by courts to rule against electoral practices that are “capable of repetition, yet evading review.”
     “La Botz has now relocated to New York ‘for the immediate future’ … and although he remains committed to running for federal office again in the future … it is no longer likely that he will run for Senate again in Ohio,” the judge wrote. “Thus, La Botz has failed to carry his burden of showing that there is a ‘reasonable expectation’ that he will be subject to the ONO’s alleged unfair debate practices again in the future.”
     Contreras went on to note that even if La Botz had standing to bring his claims, the FEC was well within its rights to dismiss the case on its merits under the agency’s power of prosecutorial discretion.
     “La Botz fails to meet the substantial burden of showing that the Commission’s dismissal of his complaint under its prosecutorial discretion was ‘contrary to law’ or an abuse of discretion. On remand, the Commission determined that there was insufficient evidence in the record to conclusively establish whether the ONO had in fact employed pre-existing objective criteria in selecting debate participants,” the judge wrote.
     He continued, “The Commission then noted that ascertaining precisely the ‘nature and timing of the criteria employed by the ONO would require an extensive examination of the ONO’s debate planning process.’ Additionally, it determined that further investigation would require a labor intensive review of the ONO’s internal communications, including those of all eight constituent media entities. Finally, given that only a single item in the record supported La Botz’s allegation, the Commission concluded his claim did not ‘warrant undertaking such a resource-intensive review and would be an inefficient use of the Commission’s limited resources.'”
     Contreras concluded that “it seems very unlikely that La Botz would have benefitted from the ONO’s use of any objective criteria, given that he received less than 1% support in previous polls … Thus, it seems entirely reasonable for the FEC to opt not to pursue La Botz’s claim, but rather to expend its resources on more salient and potentially fruitful matters.”

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