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ACLU of Kentucky Wants More Inclusive KET Senate Debate

David Patterson
David Patterson
David Patterson
David Patterson

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky is calling on Kentucky Educational Television to hold a more inclusive U.S. Senate debate next month.

KET is set to hold a debate featuring Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes on Oct. 13.

Libertarians have taken KET to task, however, for creating new debate criteria that party leaders argue was aimed at excluding their candidate, David Patterson, from participating.

In a letter delivered to KET executives Friday, the ACLU suggests the publicly funded broadcaster could be violating federal law after crafting stricter rules ahead of the highly anticipated Senate debate.

"And although the newly-adopted requirements may not be inherently suspect, the timing of their adoption and their anticipated impact upon candidates' ability to participate do raise questions about the motivation behind their implementation," said ACLU legal director William Sharp.

"Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that KET's apparent interest in some candidates, but not others, may have contributed to the manner in which the requirements were selected.”

Previous KET debate rules had a low threshold for candidates to participate. In Kentucky’s Senate race four years ago, for instance, the only candidate criteria was qualifying to be on the ballot.

In other debates candidates were required to raise a minimum of $10,000 or receive 5 percent support in independent polls.

KET announced in July it was adopting new standards that would require candidates to have at least $100,000 in their campaign coffers and have 10 percent or more support in polling.

Credit Kentucky Secretary of State/U.S. Senate
Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell

In a released statement, KET spokesman Tim Bischoff gave no indication they are changing their programming rules to include more candidates for the upcoming debate.   

“We reject the notion that criteria were developed or modified to include or exclude any individual candidate,” Bischoff said the released statement. “Our process was deliberate, considered, and in consultation with our attorney, ensuring KET is following federal law and regulation, and in order to provide the best possible election coverage to our viewers.”

The KET debate is the only one featuring McConnell and Grimes thus far.

Copyright 2014 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

Phillip M. Bailey became WFPL's political editor in 2011, covering city, state and regional campaigns and elected officials. He also covers Metro Government, including the mayor's office and Metro Council. Before coming to WFPL, Phillip worked for three years as a staff writer at LEO Weekly and was a fellow at the Academy of Alternative Journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.