The Libertarian candidate in Kentucky's tight U.S. Senate race will not be part of a debate Monday night on Kentucky Educational Television.
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove denied David Patterson's request to force KET to include him in the hourlong debate between Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Patterson, a Harrodsburg police officer, said Sunday in a news release announcing the judge's ruling that "regular Kentuckians" were the losers as a result of the decision.
Referring to the millions of dollars that Grimes and McConnell have received from special interest groups, Patterson said the ruling "means you must be rich or have rich friends to even stand a chance. Kentuckians now have their hard-earned tax dollars being used to deprive them of knowing their options when they walk into the ballot box."
KET, which receives state funding to operate, said in a release that the ruling "unequivocally finds that no candidate was excluded from Kentucky Tonight because of their viewpoint."
Monday's debate, airing at 8 p.m., will be the only televised side-by-side comparison of the candidates before the Nov. 4 general election.
Neither McConnell's nor the Grimes' campaign had any immediate comment on the court ruling.
Ken Moellman, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Kentucky, said he was not happy with the decision but his party did not have enough money to appeal the ruling.
In his 18-page decision, filed Saturday, Van Tatenhove said KET tried to "do the right thing" in deciding what candidates should be on the show and did not ban Patterson because of his political views. Public broadcasters are not allowed to exclude candidates because of their political views.
Patterson had argued that his First Amendment rights of free speech were being violated.
But, Van Tatenhove said, "The First Amendment is not a rule of quantity at any cost. Voters may actually benefit by a forum or debate that includes only those candidates that have a realistic chance of winning rather than many voices competing for very limited time."
In the most recent Bluegrass Poll conducted by the Lexington Herald-Leader and other media, Patterson had support from 3 percent of voters, compared to 46 percent for Grimes and 44 percent for McConnell.
Patterson also had criticized KET for requiring a candidate's campaign to raise at least $100,000 in order for the candidate to qualify to appear in the debate.
Van Tatenhove said the $100,000 threshold was not at issue. But he noted that the late U.S. Rep. William Natcher of Bowling Green did not accept campaign contributions, a practice that would have disqualified him from appearing on Kentucky Tonight under the network's current rules.
Patterson argued that KET had discriminated against him, pointing to emails in which KET officials discussed ways to change the debate criteria to exclude non-serious candidates.
But Van Tatenhove noted other KET emails in which officials tried to be fair to all and follow the law.
"Maybe the language of these electronic conversations was at times unartful. Maybe the private thoughts of KET executives, now made public, have the feel of prejudging viewpoints," Van Tatenhove said.
"But it cannot be said that these conversations, many early in a process that included careful consultation with legal counsel, constitute viewpoint discrimination."
KET executive director Shae Hopkins said, "We believe that all journalists have the right to decide for themselves who to interview and what issues to cover.
"In service to our viewers, KET will forever be committed to presenting a diverse array of viewpoints, fairly and objectively."
There also are three write-in candidates on the ballot for the Nov. 4 race, none of whom was invited to take part in the debate.