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Libertarians threaten legal action to get into governor debates

The Libertarian Party of Ohio is threatening to take legal action against organizers of gubernatorial debates that exclude Libertarian Travis Irvine and Green Party candidate Constance Gadell-Newton.

Related: Dayton to host first governor debate at UD

Attorneys for the LPO sent complaints this week to the University of Dayton, Cleveland State University, Marietta College, the Ohio Debate Commission and the campaigns for Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray.

LPO Counsel Mark Brown and Libertarian National Committee counsel Oliver Hall said that excluding Irvine and Gadell-Newton and inviting only DeWine and Cordray could be seen as an unlawful political contribution from organizations hosting the debates.

“There are four candidates on the ballot. If we have a debate, all four candidates should be there,” said Aaron Keith Harris, spokesman for Travis Irvine’s campaign.

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Related: Who is moderating UD’s first governor debate

In a letter to debate organizers sent this week attorneys for the Libertarian Party state that plans for a debate scheduled for Oct. 8 at Cleveland State University, organized by the Ohio Debate Commission, appeared to include only candidates whose parties received 20 percent of the vote in the last general election for governor. Debate participation may be limited, the letter states, but past legal challenges have found rules like the 20 percent vote requirement to be improper.

For the University of Dayton debate, scheduled for Sept. 19, the threshold is candidates who earned at least 10 percent support in recent statewide polls. The Libertarian Party letter states that debate organizers can limit participation based on polling.

“It is to be expected that Democrats and Republicans don’t want to hear from challenger parties. They have a nice little duopoly going and there is really no incentive for them to let voters in on the fact that they have alternatives, whether it is Libertarian or Green,” Harris said.

Cilla Shindell, spokesperson for the University of Dayton, “They have communicated their positions to us and we are considering their comments.”

The Ohio Debate Commission is a coalition of media, academic and civic organizations, including the City Club of Cleveland, a non-profit organization.

Brown and Hall argue that the City Club’s sponsorship of the Cleveland debate violates state and federal tax laws as well as Ohio’s ban on corporate contributions to candidate campaigns.

Dan Moulthrop, chief executive of the City Club and a founding member of the Ohio Debate Commission, said conversations are underway to hold a forum featuring the Libertarian and Green candidates in October. “I’m optimistic. I think we can put something together that will give every voter in Ohio an opportunity to find out what the third party candidates stand for,” he said.

He declined comment on the allegation that hosting a two-candidate debate would violate the City Club’s non-profit status.

Related: What is State Issue 1 on the ballot?

Generally, arranging political debates among major party candidates involves extensive negotiations with their campaigns over format, venue and other details. Questions to be asked are not revealed ahead of time.

The University of Dayton is hosting the first debate between Cordray and DeWine on Wednesday Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. Cox Media Group Ohio will broadcast it live on WHIO-TV and WHIO Radio and stream it live on its websites, WHIO.com and DaytonDailyNews.com, as well as social media platforms. UD is sponsoring this first debate and Cox Media Group Ohio is the media partner.

Responses from all four candidates are included in the Dayton Daily News Voters Guide and they are all being invited to participate in WHIO Reports programs this election season.

The University of Dayton set the participation rules for its debate as any candidate who had received at least 10 percent in statewide polling by the time of the debate announcement last week. Only Cordray and DeWine have met that threshold.

Cordray and DeWine have also agreed to debate Oct. 1 at a town-hall forum held at Marietta College.

Dayton hosting first governor debate

Questions: What questions do you have for the governor candidates? Send them to us on our Ohio Politics Facebook page or email them to votersguide@coxinc.com

How to watch: You can watch the Sept. 19 debate with Mike DeWine and Richard Cordray live at 7 p.m. on WHIO-TV Channel 7. You can also stream it on our newspaper web site.

Listen live: Listen to the debate on AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO then stick around for a live post-debate show starting at 8 p.m.

Post debate recap: Watch a special debate post-show on WHIO.com and DaytonDailyNews.com Sept. 19 starting at 8 p.m.

In the paper: Each day this week we will take a look at where DeWine and Cordray stand on the issues that matter to you.

Stay informed: Sign up for our Ohio Politics newsletter.

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