Fighting Exclusion From Televised Presidential Debates: Minor-Party Candidates’ Standing To Challenge Sponsoring Organizations’ Tax-Exempt Status

This Note argues that courts should recognize minor-party presidential candidates’ standing to challenge the section 50l(c)(3) tax-exempt status of organizations sponsoring televised debates that exclude minor-party candidates. Part I situates the issue within the context of the Supreme Court’s standing jurisprudence and concludes that the validity of a third-party tax-status challenge by an aggrieved minor-party presidential candidate remains an open question. Part II analyzes the Second and District of Columbia Circuits’ decisions and concludes that the Second Circuit’s approach properly interprets the Supreme Court’s standing doctrine and correctly resolves the particular arguments which both courts consider. Part III first demonstrates that the Supreme Court’s standing doctrine permits an inquiry into the public interests which granting standing in this context may advance. It then examines political scientists’ conclusions about minor parties in U.S. politics and argues that the inherent inequities of our political structure, the importance of media exposure in elections, and the social value of minor-party candidacies support granting standing for minor-party candidates. Part IV explores some of the questions which the U.S. political system will need to address if courts grant standing for minor-party candidates and the plaintiffs eventually win their challenges to debate sponsors’ tax exemptions. This Note concludes that courts should grant standing for minor-party presidential candidates to challenge the tax-exempt status of organizations that exclude them from televised debates.