Senate challenger Jonathan Tasini is complaining that NY1 has set too high an ante to get into a game with Hillary Clinton by requiring that candidates not only poll at greater than 5 percent, but also raise and spend $500,000 in order to participate in televised debates. While Tasini gets 13 percent in the latest Marist Poll, he’s only raised about $130,000 in his quest to unseat his pro-war rival.
“NY1 is effectively acting as a censor,” Tasini told a press conference Wednesday, mercifully moved from the steps of City Hall to a deliciously cool nearby bar. “NY1’s position is that the people should not hear me.”
Tasini’s campaign is peeved that while New York’s GOP Senate hopefuls, K.T. McFarland and John Spencer, will debate on NY1, Tasini and Clinton will not. Tasini has also been barred from a Senate Candidates’ Town Hall that the two Republicans and Clinton will attend. Boo! Tasini supporter and author Barbara Ehrenreich told the crowd, “When you have to have half a million dollars to tell people what you stand for, then we’re not talking about democracy anymore, we’re talking about plutocracy.”
But NY1 isn’t Tasini’s only problem; the extent of media indifference to his campaign was on display in the audience, where the print media was well represented but the only camera was from the intrepid Religious News Network. And if Hillary actually said “yes” to any of the four debates he’s proposed, some television station would carry it; the Clinton campaign did not return a call placed late in the day to elicit comment.
Everyone—even Tasini—agrees that you need some criteria for deciding who gets to debate in order to balance the desire for inclusion with the need to get detailed answers from the candidates within the limited timeframe imposed by TV scheduling. Otherwise you end up, say, with a governor being able to dodge his chief rival by letting a marijuana advocate suck up precious airtime. The question is whether money is an appropriate measure. Polling alone can’t do the trick because some famous name could float a candidacy, get a big poll number, but have no organization. So some measure of organizational proficiency is sought. And usually, that measure is money.
Tasini isn’t the first candidate to suffer the consequences. In municipal debates under the campaign finance law, entry is limited to candidates who’ve raised and/or spent 20 percent of the threshold for the relevant office; last year, that translated to an entry fee of about $50,000 in the mayor’s race. While $500,000 is not exactly spare change, a lot of pretty shabby campaigns have spent that in 2006. Ed Cox’s abandoned candidacy spent $1.6 million, and Jeanine Pirro’s ill-fated senatorial venture dished out $1.8 million. Spencer has spent more than $2 million and even McFarland has raised three quarters of a mil. Tom Suozzi’s kamikaze run expended $6.2 million, and Charlie King’s long-shot bid for attorney general has spent $1.4 million.
In a statement, NY1 said:
“NY1 News is producing the most ambitious series of political debates and town hall meetings this election season. As part of the staging of these events, NY1 established criteria to identify which candidates would be invited to participate in these events. The criteria are that a candidate must poll at least five percent (including margin of error) in a recognized independent poll and would need to have spent and/or raised $500,000. All candidates who have met these criteria have been invited to participate.”
But money needn’t be the only measure of organizational efficiency. Tasini is glad to point out that he collected 40,000 signatures—well over the minimum of 15,000—to get on the ballot. As Sean Sweeney of Downtown Independent Democrats pointed out, because she was the convention pick and didn’t need to petition, “Hillary Clinton has not had one grassroots Democratic voter sign to put her on the ballot.”