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U.S. Senate Candidates Savage, Linn File FEC Complaint Over WMTW Debate Exclusion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Sunday October 25, 2020

For more info: 

  • Sam Pfeifle, 207-749-0298,
  • Matt McDonald, 
  • John Doyle, attorney, Marcus | Clegg, 207-828-8000,

It sounds surreal, but this week the Lisa Savage and Max Linn campaigns for U.S. Senate in Maine found out they’re being excluded from a debate this coming Wednesday, for which host TV station WMTW has yet to do any promotion or publicity. Regardless, without knowing the time or location of the debate, Savage and Linn have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, naming this upcoming debate as an illegal corporate contribution to the campaigns of the Republican and Democratic candidates in the race unless their independent voices are included.

Election law is clear: “For all debates, staging organization(s) must use pre-established objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate in a debate. For general election debates, staging organizations(s) shall not use nomination by a particular political party as the sole objective criterion to determine whether to include a candidate in a debate.” 

WMTW did not distribute its criteria to the independent candidates, or ask for any data to evaluate. When the campaigns were made aware of the criteria by WMTW, after contact by the Savage campaign, it became clear that the criteria was anything but “objective.” 

Further, applying the WMTW criteria to even the last Senate debate the station hosted -- which featured Democrat Zak Ringelstein, Republican Eric Brakey, and Independent Angus King in 2018 -- reveals that Ringelstein would have been excluded. 

Given the ranked-choice voting nature of the race, established by two resounding votes by the Maine people, it’s clear WMTW is not operating in the best interests of Maine’s voters. Mainers have demonstrated they want to hear from more than simply two corporate-party voices, and the four previous debates in this race -- hosted by news organizations that included the Portland Press Herald, Bangor Daily News, Maine Public Broadcasting, WCSH, WABI, WAGM, and the Maine Chamber of Commerce -- have all included all four candidates. 

Further, rather than discuss the matter with either the Savage or Linn campaigns, representatives of the station declined to speak and referred the Savage campaign directly to a North Carolina-based law firm. When contacted, the firm’s lawyer was unable to justify the station’s actions, became flustered during the conversation, told the Savage campaign it was welcome to sue but would regret it, and ended the call by hanging up on the Savage staffer. 

The Savage and Linn campaigns call on WMTW to immediately invite them to participate in Wednesday’s debate. Otherwise, they will continue to pursue their complaint with the FEC. Penalties for FEC violations can equal as much as twice the value of the illegal campaign contribution. 

Mainers are tired of the media picking and choosing who has a ‘chance to win’ and who doesn't,” said Savage. “With ranked-choice voting, voters in Maine have an opportunity to rank candidates in accordance with their values. How can they do that if the media withholds from them vital information about the candidates?”

"By choosing to keep fifty percent of the candidates out of the fifth U.S. Senate debate, WMTW is showing why voters across the nation are losing trust in corporate news,” said Linn. “I am happy to partner with Lisa Savage in this effort and look forward to joining her, Senator Collins and Speaker Gideon on the debate stage on Wednesday."

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