Commission on Presidential Debates


Commission on Presidential Debates
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The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) began in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties to establish the way that presidential election debates are run between candidates for President of the United States. The Commission is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation as defined by Federal US tax laws,[1] whose debates are sponsored by private contributions from foundations and corporations.[2]

The Commission sponsors and produces debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and undertakes research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit corporation controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties, has run each of the presidential debates held since 1988. The Commission has moderated the 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 debates. Prior to this, the League of Women Voters moderated the 1976, 1980, 1984 debates before it withdrew from the position as debate moderator with this statement after the 1988 Presidential debates: "the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter." The Commission was then taken over by the Democratic and Republican parties forming today's version of the CPD.

The Commission is headed by Frank Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee, and former Massachusetts Senator Paul Kirk, a former head of the Democratic National Committee. Under the leadership of these two former heads of party, the CPD established a rule that for a party to be included in the national debates it must garner at least 15% support across five national polls. This rule is considered controversial as most Americans tune in to the televised national debates and hear only the opinions of two parties instead of the 10 or so parties that are actually running for President of the United States.

Washington University in St. Louis has been selected by the Commission to host more Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates than any institution in history.[3]

Criticism

In 1988, the League of Women Voters withdrew its sponsorship of the presidential debates after 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. The League rejected the demands and released a statement saying that they were withdrawing support for the debates because "the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter."[4]

Christopher Hitchens speaking at a September, 2000 third party protest at the Commission's headquarters.

At a press conference announcing the commission's creation, 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.[5]

During the 2000 election, the CPD stipulated that candidates would only be invited to debate if they had a 15% support level across five national polls. Ralph Nader, a presidential candidate who was not allowed to debate because of this rule, believed that the regulation was created to stifle the views of third party candidates by keeping them off the televised debates. Nader brought a lawsuit against them in a federal court, on the basis that corporate contributions violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.

In 2004, citing the CPD's 32 page debate contract, Connie Rice on NPR's The Tavis Smiley Show called the CPD debates "news conferences," and "a reckless endangerment of democracy."[6] On October 8, 2004, Green Party candidate David Cobb was arrested in an act of civil disobedience, breaking a police line while protesting the Commission on Presidential Debates for excluding third-party candidates from the nationally televised debates in St. Louis, Missouri. Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik also was arrested in the protest.

References

External links


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