FRANKFORT — Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate David Patterson wants a federal judge to order Kentucky Educational Television to let him participate in the network's Oct. 13 debate for U.S. Senate candidates.
Patterson, a Harrodsburg police officer, also is seeking speedy action by the court in his 22-page lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Frankfort.
Joining Patterson in the lawsuit are the Libertarian National Committee and The Libertarian Party of Kentucky.
KET spokesman Tim Bischoff said the network does not comment on potential or pending lawsuits.
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Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes have agreed to participate in the debate. It is expected to be the only televised debate in the race before voters go to the polls on Nov. 4.
Neither campaign had any immediate comment on the Patterson lawsuit.
In his lawsuit, Patterson claims Libertarian candidates have typically been invited to KET debates, provided they were on the ballot after obtaining 5,000 signatures.
He claims KET, however, changed the criteria this summer for the specific purpose of prohibiting him from participating in the debate.
The lawsuit lists several emails sent by KET staffers as they developed the new criteria for the general election debate.
In the spring primary election, candidates had to meet one of four criteria: raise at least $10,000, get support from at least 5 percent of voters in public polls, maintain an active campaign website or make public statements on political issues.
Under the new rules, candidates must get at least 10 percent of the vote in a public poll and meet a higher fundraising threshold: $100,000 for U.S. Senate candidates and $50,000 for U.S. House candidates.
In August, various polls showed Patterson getting at least 5 percent of the vote, the lawsuit said, but he has not reached the 10 percent threshold.
His lawsuit said an email on May 22 from Mike Brower, KET's senior director, to KET executive director Shae Hopkins, stressed that KET staff was "most concerned" about coming up with new qualifying criteria for candidates to "eliminate the write in and other candidate from the forum."
There are three write-in candidates in the race, including Robert Edward Ransdell of Northern Kentucky, who is running on an anti-Jewish platform.
The lawsuit said KET changed its qualifying criteria to participate in the debate several times from May to August "for the express and admitted purpose of excluding Mr. Patterson and his viewpoints from the debate."
Patterson claims his First Amendment right to freedom of speech has been violated, along with his procedural due process rights.
"I firmly believe that there is something wrong here," Patterson said of the new debate criteria. "An Open Records Request showed that KET modified the criteria multiple times during the campaign season. The suspicious timing and ever-increasing thresholds seem to be created to ensure I didn't get to participate. They knew what the ramifications of those changes would be, and chose to act anyway."
Under the last version of the criteria, only Democrats and Republicans would have ever previously qualified to participate in KET's debates, he said.
Patterson noted that the ACLU has called on KET to use the original criteria, under which Grimes and McConnell were invited and under which Patterson said he qualifies for the debate.
Patterson's attorney, Christopher Wiest of Crestview Hills, said no hearing has yet been scheduled in the lawsuit but he expects the court to take action soon.
"Certainly public broadcasters like KET are entitled to impose objective criteria for debate participation, but what they cannot do and what KET internal email indicated they did, is impose such criteria to engage in viewpoint discrimination with the purpose to exclude particular candidates in contravention of the First Amendment," Wiest said in a statement.
Ken Moellman, state chairman of the Libertarian Party of Kentucky, said KET "acted to mute the voices of a growing political movement."
"As a taxpayer funded organization, they have a great responsibility to act impartially and to reject pressure — whether implicit or explicit, internal or external — to squelch alternate political viewpoints," Moellman said.