FACT CHECK: Did The FEC Say That CNN Excluding RFK Jr. From Its June 27 Would Violate Federal Law?

Anna Mock | Fact Check Reporter

The Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. campaign in a statement claims that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) said CNN would violate federal law if it excluded Kennedy in the upcoming presidential debate on June 27. 

Verdict: Misleading

An FEC spokesperson told Check Your Fact that the commission has not issued a statement about the CNN debate. A CNN spokesperson refuted the claim, while an expert said CNN might have violated federal law.

Fact Check:

Kennedy has restated that he is against a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, according to The Hill. During an interview with Piers Morgan, Kennedy said Hamas needs to be “disarmed” and suggested Hamas members are in refugee camps.

A press release from the Kennedy campaign claims the FEC made a statement saying CNN’s exclusion of Kennedy in the upcoming debate would be a violation of federal law.

“The Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) recent public statement regarding CNN’s presidential debate makes clear CNN will violate federal law absent the inclusion of Robert F. Kennedy Jr,” it reads, in part.

This claim is misleading, however. The “statement” the press release hyperlinks to is actually an article from KITV, a television station in Hawaii. The FEC confirmed with the outlet that “the designation given by CNN to Presidents Biden and Trump to appear exclusively in a June televised debate is not officially recognized.” The FEC also confirmed that the phrase “presumptive nominee” often used by CNN to refer to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump is not used by the FEC.

There is no mention that CNN will violate federal law if , as claimed by the Kennedy statement.

“The FEC has not issued any statement regarding the CNN debate,” an FEC spokesperson told Check Your Fact in an email. The spokesperson also referenced guidelines from The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations on candidate debates, which state, in part, “staging organization(s) must use pre-established objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate in a debate.” A summary article from the FEC was also referenced. (RELATED: Did RFK Jr. Meet With Then-President Trump To Lead A Vaccine Safety Commission)

The statement claims CNN violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by not using “‘pre-established’ and ‘objective’ criteria to determine candidate participation.” A CNN spokesperson pushed back against the claim in an email to Check Your Fact. 

“The law in virtually every state provides that the nominee of a state-recognized political party will be allowed ballot access without petitioning. As the presumptive nominees of their parties both Biden and Trump will satisfy this requirement,” the spokesperson said.

“As an independent candidate, under applicable laws RFK, Jr. currently does not. The mere application for ballot access does not guarantee that he will appear on the ballot in any state. In addition, RFK, Jr. does not currently meet our polling criteria, which, like the other objective criteria, were set before issuing invitations to the debate,” the spokesperson continued. 

CNN outlined its criteria in a May 15 press release. These requirements to qualify for the debate are:

“file a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission; a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidency prior to the eligibility deadline; agree to accept the rules and format of the debate; and receive at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters that meet CNN’s standards for reporting.”

The polling window closes seven days before the June 27 debate, the press release states. (RELATED: Did Robert Kennedy Jr. Win A Supreme Court Case Declaring Covid-19 Vaccines Were Not Vaccines?)

Derek T. Muller, professor at Notre Dame Law School, told Check Your Fact via email that it appears that CNN is using different criteria for Trump and Biden when compared with Kennedy, but acknowledged that Kennedy may not meet polling criteria. He cited two articles from Election Law Blog.

“It certainly looks like CNN is using different criteria for Trump and Biden than for any other candidates. The criteria is supposed to be objective, but CNN appears to be modifying its criteria to apply to the Republican and Democratic presumptive nominees,” Muller said. “That in turn appears to violate federal campaign guidelines. Of course, Kennedy may not meet the polling criteria, in which case at least his eligibility to appear on stage would be moot as to this issue.”

Kennedy Jr.’s campaign has filed a complaint with the FEC about the debate’s criteria. As of publishing time, the FEC has not made a decision. A Kennedy campaign spokesperson directed Check Your Fact via email to a June 18 press release reporting that the FEC has said it will not dismiss the complaint. 

Anna Mock

Fact Check Reporter