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Billionaire Cuban: System stacked against third-party candidates

Tom Fontaine
| Sunday, June 5, 2016, 10:40 p.m.
Mark Cuban arrives at the 2015 DIRECTV Super Saturday Night in Glendale, Ariz.
Scott Roth/Invision/AP
Mark Cuban arrives at the 2015 DIRECTV Super Saturday Night in Glendale, Ariz.

Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban has emerged as one of the nation's most politically outspoken billionaires not running for president.

Cuban, 57, created a stir last month when he said Republican operatives approached him about mounting a third-party bid for president and that he'd consider being a running mate for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump if they asked. Neither candidate has publicly dismissed the latter idea — not even Trump, who has been the target of blistering criticism from Cuban.

In an email interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cuban, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and stars on ABC's “Shark Tank” reality show, said his business background and political independence would be an asset in Washington.

Cuban also called on Pennsylvania to reform its election laws to make it easier for independent and third-party candidates to run for office.

“I look at each issue and try to determine what the best solution is and the most direct way to get there,” Cuban, a registered independent, said when asked to describe his politics.

Cuban, an Indiana University Bloomington graduate who worked briefly at Pittsburgh's former Mellon Bank after college, has taken a similar approach in business for more than three decades.

At 25, Cuban started his first company after being fired from a personal computer software retailer in Dallas. He hasn't worked for anyone else since. His brokered his biggest business deal in 1999 when he sold an Internet radio startup that he co-founded for $5.7 billion. The following year, he bought a majority stake in the Mavericks for $285 million. Forbes now estimates the team's value at $1.4 billion.

Forbes puts Cuban's net worth at $3.2 billion.

Regarding the presidential front-runners, Cuban said, “Technology is a shortcoming for them both. … It's shocking it's not being addressed even minimally” in the campaign.

“Technology is going to eat a lot of jobs and change the nature of work. Income inequality will become greater because technology will drive greater fortunes using fewer people, and it will be difficult for many to adjust and adapt in real time,” Cuban said. “These things will certainly begin happening within the next four years, and they aren't even being discussed by the candidates. Maybe I can help drive these conversations.”

Neither Clinton's nor Trump's campaigns returned messages.

Cuban — who has no political experience, unless you count his role as gun-toting President Marcus Robbins in “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” — said he quickly dismissed the idea of running a third-party campaign for president this year after being approached by anti-Trump Republicans.

“The system is stacked against any third-party or independent efforts. It's something that needs to change,” Cuban said.

Cuban pointed to Pennsylvania, which he said “does everything possible to prevent an independent from running for president,” noting that laws require independent or third-party candidates to collect many times more signatures than Republicans or Democrats just to get on a ballot.

A U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals opinion issued Thursday could provide greater ballot access for third-party candidates and independents. It affirmed a U.S. District Court decision that said two provisions in Pennsylvania's election laws, when used together, violated the constitutional rights of the state's Green, Constitution and Libertarian parties and their respective candidates in statewide elections. The parties sued Pennsylvania's secretary of state and elections chief in 2012.

Republican and Democratic candidates are required to collect at least 2,000 signatures on nomination petitions to get on their parties' primary ballots, and the validity of a candidate's signatures can only be challenged by someone in the same party. The primary winner is automatically placed on the November ballot.

Independent or third-party candidates can't get on primary ballots. To get on the November ballot, they need to collect far more signatures — in the past three presidential election years, the number ranged between 20,601 and 25,697, court documents show. Any registered voter, regardless of party, can challenge the validity of an independent or third-party candidate's signatures — and often Republicans and Democrats do.

Pennsylvania is the only state where such challenges are handled by the courts, and the challenges can be costly for would-be candidates, court documents show. Defending a petition challenge can cost as much as $50,000 and, for the first time in 2004, the court ordered a candidate whose defense was unsuccessful to pay for the challenger's costs. The latter costs have amounted to more than $80,000 on at least two occasions.

Pennsylvania's minor parties have struggled to field statewide candidates since, said Oliver Hall, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Competitive Democracy and an attorney in the Pennsylvania lawsuit.

“The state cannot require candidates, voters or political parties to assume a financial burden for participating in the process. ... The state cannot both require candidates to submit nominating petitions with a specified number of signatures and then also require them to pay the cost of verifying them,” Hall said, noting he sought clarification Friday from the State Department on what minor-party candidates will need to do to get on this November's ballot. The filing deadline for nominating petitions is Aug. 1.

Officials at Pennsylvania's State Department declined to comment, with spokeswoman Wanda Murren saying the agency's legal department was reviewing the Third Circuit's opinion.

Cuban said increasing ballot access is important.

“If the residents of Pennsylvania want to see better candidates for president in the future, whether it's me or anyone else, the first step is to demand change of the ballot laws in the state. Otherwise, we will never get anything other than traditional two-party politics,” Cuban said.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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