Daniel Fishman, the libertarian, first-time politician from Beverly running for Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District seat held by Democratic incumbent John Tierney, is filing an official complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) after being barred from Thursday's televised debate with Tierney and Republican challenger Richard Tisei held by WCVB-TV.
Fishman is arguing that the station's criteria for participants to join the debate - specifically that participants must have $50,000 in campaign contributions - violate FEC rules governing candidate debates.
The section of the commission's rules governing federal elections regarding debates reads: "For all debates, staging organization(s) must use pre-established objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate in a debate."
In his complaint, Fishman argues that the two weeks notice he was given by WCVB - he received an email from the station outlining its criteria on October 11, exactly 14 days before the debate - does not constitute pre-established criteria, and that "the requirements seem tailor made to exclude my campaign, which makes them not objective."
Fishman has staunchly refused to accept any corporate money throughout his campaign, and falls well short of the $50,000 requirement.
"The idea that you have to raise $50,000 is, that might make sense business-wise, but it's not what we want government to be," Fishman said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "That's the one that's probably the most glaring and not objective...everything else [criteria-wise] there is probably some debate about, but the $50,000 one is really unreasonable.
"The idea that a person wanting to run a grassroots campaign would deliberately be excluded, that's not very objective."
WCVB also requires that candidates have a campaign staff of at least three, a daily campaign schedule, regular communication with news media, and at least a 10 percent showing in the two latest independent polls.
"At the time of WCVB's [email], there had not been two independent polls indicating my support at less than 10 percent, so the criteria was impossible to achieve," Fishman writes in his complaint. "To this date there still have not been two polls indicating my support is less than 10 percent, only polls which did not include me."
He also argues that "regular communication" with the news media is a vague term that "lends itself to being used in a discriminatory manner."
A spokesperson for WCVB declined to say whether the station will concede to include Fishman, or file a response to the FEC defending its position, but did issue a comment regarding the complaint.
"We believe that the complaint is factually and legally unfounded," WCVB said in a statement. "In the fullness of time we believe the FEC will resolve the complaint in favor of WCVB."
But Fishman's complaint mostly hangs on the $50,000 requirement. In a phone interview, he accused the station of trying to preserve its advertising base with candidates by requiring them to at least have the means to advertise with them, under the assumption that those who do will.
Fishman says that setting the precedent that someone can win an election without spending the kind of money that Tierney and Tisei are spending on their campaigns - well more than $1 million each - would be bad business for T.V. stations.
He acknowledged that the station has never said anything to base his claims on, but alludes to it in a not-so-subtle way in his complaint.
"I appreciate that WCVB charges a great deal for advertizing (sic) and is concerned that candidates who have not raised $50,000 cannot afford to by ads from them," he wrote to the FEC. "My campaign is not less legitimate for not reaching their criteria however.
"With modern citizen based journalism, Social Media and Youtube (sic), the opinion that a campaign MUST raise cash like that is arbitrary."
With Election Day less than two weeks away, the next 6th District Representative will be decided long before anything comes of Fishman's complaint unless WCVB lets him participate, or he withdraws the complaint. Based on FEC timeframe guidelines for complaints, WCVB is not even required to respond until after the election.
If the FEC finds that there is reason to believe the station has violated its rules, an investigation can be launched, and the entire process from start to finish could take months.
A spokesperson for the FEC said that the station could face fines if found to be violating FEC rules.
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.