WASHINGTON – A third-party candidate for Montgomery County’s 8th District congressional seat filed suit Tuesday against Maryland Public Television, demanding a spot in an upcoming forum featuring the Democrat and Republican nominees in the race.
Constitution Party nominee Brian D. Saunders claimed that MPT used an unrealistic standard to judge whether or not he should be included in the debate scheduled for later this month.
Officials at Maryland Public Television said they have offered Saunders a chance for separate airtime, but could not comment specifically on his suit.
“We’ve received no notice of any lawsuit in this matter,” said Jeff Hankin, a vice president of marketing for Maryland Public Television.
Saunders’ suit said the station required that participants in the debate be listed on the ballot, be running an active campaign and have “measurable support” of at least 15 percent of voters in an independent poll.
Saunders, who is the only third-party congressional candidate on the ballot in Maryland, meets the first two requirements, Hankin said Tuesday. He said MPT sent a letter earlier this month asking Saunders’ campaign to provide an independent poll showing that he carried at least 15 percent of the district’s vote.
If he can prove that, Saunders will qualify for the forum featuring Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, and her Democratic challenger Terry Lierman. If he doesn’t qualify, Saunders will still have the opportunity for a one-on-one with an anchor of MPT, Hankin said.
The only difference between the debate and the one-on-one interview, Hankin said, is fewer interruptions.
“We are not denying him access to share his message with the voters of the 8th District,” said Hankin.
Saunders’ campaign disagrees.
Bill White, Saunders’ campaign manager, described the separate forums as “political segregation.”
“This is really unjust,” said White, adding that MPT’s 15 percent standard is unrealistic because there have not been any independent polls conducted for the 8th District race. The suit said that MPT was acting in bad faith when it set the standard, which is aimed at excluding Saunders based on his party and political views.
Lierman’s campaign manager, Derek Walker, said decisions on how the debate should be conducted should be left to the sponsoring organization.
“We are blessed to have so many organizations that are working so hard to sponsor the debates,” Walker said.
Officials with Morella’s campaign could not be reached for comment.
Hankin said MPT is using criteria that it set up in cooperation with the League of Women Voters, and that it has been using these criteria for a few years.
A worker at the Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk’s office said it would be two or three days before the office could confirm that Saunders’ suit had been filed.