On May 26, the three Democrats sitting on the non-partisan Federal Election Commission, which is comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats, attempted to charge Fox News with violating the U.S. Code because the network featured a second undercard debate with seven candidates prior to the main event with ten candidates.
The code in question, 52 U.S.C. § 30118, reads:
It is unlawful for any national bank, or any corporation organized by authority of any law of Congress, to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, or for any corporation whatever, or any labor organization, to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any election at which presidential and vice presidential electors or a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, Congress are to be voted for, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any of the foregoing offices, or for any candidate, political committee, or other person knowingly to accept or receive any contribution prohibited by this section, or any officer or any director of any corporation or any national bank or any officer of any labor organization to consent to any contribution or expenditure by the corporation, national bank, or labor organization, as the case may be, prohibited by this section.
As Fox News explained:
The vote concerned changes made to the criteria for the Fox News-hosted GOP primary debate on Aug. 6, 2015 in Cleveland. For that debate, Fox News decided to alter the format – hosting two debates instead of one and expanding the first debate for lower-polling candidates to include any candidate identified as such in national polls. Seven candidates ultimately participated in the first debate, and 10 participated in the prime-time event. A complaint subsequently was filed with the FEC claiming those changes were tantamount to an illegal corporate contribution to the candidates on stage.
This was the first time ever that members of the FEC voted to punish a media outlet’s debate sponsorship; but the vote wound up in a 3-3 tie, so no action was taken. The three Democrats are Ann Ravel, Steven Walther and Ellen Weintraub. One of the Republican FEC commissioners, Lee E. Goodman, revealed that the vote had been taken.
According to HotAir: “Someone who didn’t make the cutoff filed a complaint, claiming that the inclusion of seven candidates in the undercard constituted an illegal corporate contribution by Fox News to the candidates who participated in the debate.”