WASHINGTON Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader lost his court fight Monday to bar corporate underwriting of presidential and vice presidential debates.
The Supreme Court did not comment in turning down an appeal from Nader, celebrity supporters Susan Sarandon and Phil Donahue and other Green Party candidates.
Two lower federal courts also considered the case, which arose from Nader's more general complaint that the national debates are unfair to candidates outside the two major political parties.
Nader sued the Federal Election Commission to change the way the elections agency governs debate funding. The FEC rules allow corporate donations to help fund nationally televised debates so long as the debates themselves are organized and staged by a nonprofit organization.
That "opened the spigot of impermissible corporate influence," that Congress created the FEC to address, Nader argued.
"The FEC's illegal regulations have permitted major corporations that have deep financial interests in federal legislative and regulatory affairs to sponsor presidential and vice presidential debates," Nader's lawyers argued.
Nader claimed the debate system denied him a fair shot at the presidency.
Acting Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, writing for the federal government, urged the high court to stay out of the Nader case.
"Although the Supreme Court has upheld some restrictions on corporate campaign spending, the FEC has latitude and is not required "to adopt the most restrictive interpretation possible regarding corporate financial assistance to nonprofit, nonpartisan debate-sponsoring organizations," the government wrote.
Nader sued ahead of the October debates last year. A federal judge in Boston turned him down in September, and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him in November.
AT&T, Anheuser-Busch and Sun Microsystems were among companies that made tax-deductible contributions to the nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates last year.
Nader, a longtime consumer advocate, carried about 3 percent of the vote nationally, and said his main aim was to establish the Green party as a national force.
The case is Nader v. Federal Election Commission, 00-1244.
On the Net: Supreme Court site: http://www.supremecourtus.gov
For the appeals court ruling in Nader v. Federal Election Commission: http://www.uscourts.gov/links.html and click on 1st Circuit.
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