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Ann Brown, (301) 951-8018
Beth Falk, (202) 255-8833
DATE: August 21, 2000
FOR RELEASE: Immediate


Plaintiffs Include Susan Sarandon, Phil Donahue and Other Voter-Supporters of Nader Candidacy
Lawsuit Claims Illegal Corporate Contributions Flowing to Debate Participants Court Hearing Scheduled in Boston for Wednesday, August 23, 2 PM

BOSTON - A federal judge here has scheduled a hearing for this Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and voters challenging the corporate financing of the upcoming presidential debates. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Boston in June, seeks to strike down Federal Election Commission regulations which have allowed a small handful of U.S. corporations to contribute millions of dollars to help stage the debates. If successful, the case could have a dramatic impact on the structure of the presidential debates this October.

Nader and the voters have asked the court for an immediate injunction to prevent the FEC from continuing to allow corporations to finance the debates.

"Corporate money has no place in presidential debates," says Scott Lewis, a partner at the Boston law firm of Palmer & Dodge, which is co-lead counsel with the National Voting Rights Institute on behalf of the plaintiffs.

"Under current corporate financing, the debates this fall look like the Bud Bowl. Federal law requires an overhaul of this process."

The Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit corporation which organizes the presidential debates, announced in January that Anheuser-Busch will serve as one of the national financial sponsors this year, as well as the sole national sponsor of its October 17, 2000 debate in St. Louis, Missouri. The company will pay $550,000 to underwrite the St. Louis debate. Other corporate sponsors in prior presidential election years have included IBM, J.P. Morgan & Co., and the Philip Morris Companies. The lawsuit alleges that the CPD is continuing to raise and solicit additional corporate contributions for its debates, the first of which is scheduled for Boston on October 3.

Since 1907, federal law has barred corporations from making contributions or expenditures in connection with political campaigns for federal office. The law allows only three exceptions to this prohibition, covering internal corporate communications, internal voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns, and the administration of a corporate political action committee. The law does not create an exception for the financing of debates.

"By definition, debates are partisan events which showcase the positions of those candidates selected to participate," says Greg Luke, an attorney with the National Voting Rights Institute. "FEC regulations which allow corporate money to finance such events directly violate federal law."

The lawsuit asks for a court order invalidating the FEC regulations. Such an order could result in a potential FEC enforcement action against the Commission on Presidential Debates for financing its debates with illegal corporate money and could re-open the question how the presidential debates this fall will be organized.

In addition to Nader, the plaintiffs include actress Susan Sarandon, former television talk-show host Phil Donahue, NYS Green Party Assembly candidate Mark Dunlea, and other voter-supporters of the Nader candidacy. The Association of State Green Parties and Green Party USA also serve as plaintiffs. The lead plaintiff in the case is Heidi Becker, an undecided voter and a student at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, the site of the first scheduled presidential debate.

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