Presidential debates update

Dear Open Debates Supporters,

It’s 2008, and we’re back!

1. Twenty-six primary debates have been held this election season, and they have shown that presidential debates can be enhanced by allowing multiple candidates to participate. They have also shown that the exclusion of viable candidates before a single vote has been cast is fundamentally undemocratic. Read our press release condemning the exclusion of Dennis Kucinich from a primary debate that he was actually invited to:

2. Unremarkably, in November 2007, the CPD announced that it will sponsor four presidential debates in September. However, two things were remarkable about that announcement. First, in response to our criticism of previously restrictive formats, the CPD declared that -- for the first time ever -- participants would ask each other questions during the debates. This improvement should be applauded. Second, in response to our criticism, the CPD announced that it will no longer allow the major party candidates to dictate how the debates will be structured. This one is hard to believe. The CPD exists for the exclusive purpose of sponsoring presidential debates that are controlled by the Republican and Democratic campaigns – that is why the CPD seized control of the debates from the League of Women Voters in 1988; that is why the CPD has implemented secret contracts jointly drafted by the major party campaigns; and that is why the CPD has been run by former chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties for the last 20 years.

3. We are already seeing evidence that the CPD will continue to do the Republican and Democratic parties’ bidding in 2008. First and foremost, the CPD re-issued candidate selection criteria that no third-party candidate has ever met; a candidate must reach 15 percent in national polls to qualify for any of the debates. This antidemocratic criterion could prevent the inclusion of candidates that most Americans want to see, and it is three times higher than the threshold candidates must reach to qualify for taxpayers’ funds. In other words, taxpayers can subsidize candidates that they can’t watch debate.

Moreover, the CPD rejected New Orleans as a presidential debate site, despite overwhelming evidence that the city has adequate facilities. Unconfirmed allegations abound that the CPD struck a deal with the RNC, in which the CPD agreed not to host a debate in New Orleans, a symbol of President Bush’s incompetence, and the RNC agreed to a debate in New York City. Read the New York Times editorial criticizing the CPD for its rejection of New Orleans: Meanwhile, for the fourth consecutive year, the CPD selected Washington University in St. Louis as a debate site, in large part because Anheuser Busch will foot the bill and because the chairman of the university’s board of trustees is the brother of CPD board member John Danforth...

Though the debates are more than nine months away, it is already clear that the nation is in need of a new, genuinely nonpartisan presidential debate sponsor that will ensure our most sacred public forums serve the public interest.

Thank you for your support!

George Farah
Executive Director
Open Debates