Major Parties Have Stranglehold Over Presidential Debate Forum
By James P.
The Republican and Democratic parties, fearful of
issues promoted by third parties, have rigged the so-called presidential
debates, experts told a Washington press conference Sept. 7.
“For the last 16 years, the general election
presidential debates have been controlled by a private, tax-exempt
corporation—the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)—that has deceptively
served the interests of the Republican and Democratic parties at the expense of
the American people,” their report said.
The report was a project of 11 voter advocacy
groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Judicial Watch
and the Center for Voting and Democracy.
In 1986, the Republican and Democratic National
Committees agreed for the “parties to take over the presidential debates” and
subsequently created the CPD, headed by each party’s national chairman, the
report said. They “seized control of the debates from the genuinely nonpartisan
League of Women Voters,” it said.
“Behind closed doors, negotiators for the national
parties jointly draft debate contracts,” it said. They “dictate precisely how
the debates will be run—from decreeing who can participate, to selecting who
will ask the questions, to ordaining the temperature in the auditorium.”
Candidates who “voters want to see are often
excluded, such as Ross Perot,” the report said. “Issues the American people
want to hear about are often ignored, such as free trade and child poverty. The
debates have been reduced to a series of glorified bipartisan news conferences,
in which the Republican and Democratic candidates exchange memorized sound
Because of this, “debate viewership has plummeted;
25 million fewer people watched the 2000 presidential debates than watched the
1992 presidential debates,” the report said. “Walter Cronkite called the
CPD-sponsored debates an ‘unconscionable fraud’ and accused the major party
candidates of ‘sabotaging the electoral process.’ ”
In 1996, Republican Bob Dole got Democrat Bill
Clinton to agree to keep Perot out of the debates, believing Perot would take
more votes from him, the report said. Dole, in exchange, agreed to cancel one
debate and to hold the other two opposite the baseball World Series, because
Clinton wanted the smallest audience possible.