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Advocates file lawsuit challenging presidential debate rules

A group of advocates for third parties filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Monday, in the next phase of their efforts to open up the general election presidential debates to candidates other than Republicans and Democrats.

"The level of discontent among U.S. voters is higher than at any time since World War II," the complaint stated. "The political system is rigged to favor Democrats and Republicans. The two major parties have created a series of anti-democratic rules that prevent Americans from learning about candidates that they might prefer to the candidates of the two major parties."

The lawsuit calls for stricter rules placed on the Commission on Presidential Debates. The case argues the group is violating FEC rules stating debates must be staged in a nonpartisan manner and candidates selected based on objective standards.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is also looking for permission to sue the commission directly if need be.

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The campaign called "Change the Rule" is composed of more than three dozen high-profile Americans attempting to pressure the Commission for Presidential Debates to change the general election debate rules.

The group Level the Playing Field is also involved and is calling on the FEC to revise its current rules in place.

"The objective of the lawsuit is to get a legal ruling that will force the CPD to change its rules of access, so a person who is neither a Democrat or a Republican has a realistic chance of participating in the fall general election debates," said Alexandra Shapiro, the lead attorney in the case, the Associated Press reports.

The current set of rules "serves only the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties in maintaining their duopoly," the group wrote in a letter to the CPD. "We urge you to change the rule now in order to have a new, more democratic 2016 that breaks free of our current tired and failing politics."

The CPD, formed by the Democratic and Republican parties in 1987, is obligated to follow rules set by the FEC. The commission is required to be nonpartisan and to employ objective criteria to determine who gets to participate in the debates. The "Change the Rule" group is skeptical the CPD is following that second requirement, pointing to the rule requiring a presidential candidate to have at least 15 percent support in national polls before stepping on the debate stage. The rule has been in place since the 2000 elections, and the CPD's practices have been challenged since then by third-party candidates like Ralph Nader and Gary Johnson.

Monday's complaint listed several ways in which the FEC's regulations and the Federal Election Campaign Act were violated. Specifically, it charges that for the past four elections, the CPD has "employed selection criteria that are specifically designed to include Democratic and Republican nominees and to exclude independent and third-party candidates."

Additionally, it charges the CPD violated FECA by using millions of dollars to promote traditional party candidates through providing free TV campaign ads for presidential and vice presidential candidates.

This lawsuit comes after an administrative complaint filed with the FEC by Level the Playing Field in September 2014.

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