Have you ever wondered why only two candidates wind up in the final Presidential Debates? Do you wish there were more candidates? Have you ever wished there was more give-and-take in the debates instead of a lengthy infomercial for the front-runners?
If you are satisfied with the candidate choices offered this year by the Democratic and Republican Parties, read no further. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has served its purpose. If not, read on.
The CPD was created in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties to control the way that presidential election debates are run. The Commission is a private non-profit corporation sponsored by private contributions from foundations and corporations. The CPD has no public offices and no public mailing address, although it does have a public email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The League of Women Voters (LWV) moderated the 1976, 1980, 1984 debates, and set all the rules for participation by the candidates. In 1988 the George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis campaigns secretly agreed to a "memorandum of understanding" that would decide which candidates could participate in the debates, which individuals would be panelists (and therefore able to ask questions), and the height of the podiums. In short, the two major political parties decided that the risks involved in a live unedited television debate were simply too great to trust to chance. Subsequent debates have employed similar rules to limit chances that the debate will go "off-script".
The League of Women Voters rejected the candidate’s demands and withdrew as debate moderator, saying in a public statement: "the demands of the two campaign organizations [i.e., the Democratic and Republican Parties] would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter." The result is a hermetically sealed debate structure that virtually guarantees that you, the voter, only see and hear what the two major political parties want you to see and hear.
The Commission is headed by former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic National Committees, Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, respectively. At a press conference announcing the commission's creation the Fahrenkopf said that the commission was not likely to include third-party candidates in debates, and Kirk said he personally believed they should be excluded from the debates. Under their leadership the CPD has established several rules for a candidate to be included in the national debates, the most controversial rule being a requirement that the candidate must garner at least 15% support across five national polls.
The catch-22 aspect of the 15% requirement is obvious. An emerging presidential candidate does not get public exposure because he doesn’t have public support; and he does not have public support because he doesn’t have public exposure. This is happening now in the cases of Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party candidate for President and Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President.
During the 2000 election Ralph Nader, a presidential candidate who was not allowed to debate sued the CPD in federal court, alleging that corporate contributions violate the Federal Election Campaign Act. The court ultimately affirmed the FEC's determinations that "the third-party challengers had failed to provide 'evidence that the CPD is controlled by the DNC or the RNC.'"
Since then there have been various attempts by various grass roots organizations to get the CPD to relax the 15% rule, but without success. One such attempt is currently taking place through the change.org website, “Open up the 2012 Presidential Debates!”
Please let the Commission on Presidential Debates know what your opinion is, by signing the change.org petition, or be sending the CPD an email.