Citizens’ Debate Commission

You have heard, no doubt, about Michael Jackson’s troubles, but have you heard about a new Presidential Citizens’ Debate Commission being established that could give Americans more choices and voices when they watch these debates later this autumn?

Probably not. This is the trouble with the media’s sense of what is news and what is important to their readers and audiences. But is it an accurate sense? One story deals with allegations against an entertainer. The other deals with the major way that voters get to see, hear and evaluate candidates vying for the top political position in our country with immense power to affect their lives.

I know a little about the present Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). It is a private corporation created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic Parties to replace the League of Women Voters as debate sponsor and seize complete control over the Presidential Debate process. Its principal objectives are to exclude competitors from 3rd parties or independent candidacies, control the number of debates, their format and questioner(s).

Since 1980 only Ross Perot has gotten on these debates (actually they are parallel interviews). After gaining 19 million votes in 1992, he was kept off the debates in 1996 by his two major competitors.

Unless you are like Perot — a billionaire–you can campaign in all the states and before large arena audiences and still speak to less than 2 percent of the voters that you would reach by being on just one debate.

These Presidential debates, with the involvement of the major tv networks, become the only way to reach tens of millions of Americans for a non-rich candidate. And the gateway is controlled by a private corporation controlled by the two major parties. Pretty neat cabal, aye, and one that is authorized by no law or regulation. It is a private corporate government.

The new Citizens Debate Commission was launched on January 12, 2004 at the national Press Club in Washington by “national civic leaders from the left, right and center of the political spectrum,” says the news release. John Anderson, independent Presidential candidate in 1980, Angela “Bay” Buchanan, president of The American Cause, Mark Weisbrot, co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research spoke at the news conference about their common concern that debates “put voter education first,” in Anderson’s words.

The present CPD is grossly partisan for the two major parties. The new Commission is totally non-partisan and is controlled by no Party and no candidate. On its board is Chellie Pingree of Common Cause, Alan Keyes, Paul Weyrich, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Veronica de la Garza of the Youth Vote Coalition and the Brennan Center. You can see how broadly representative it is. (For much more information, see OpenDebates.org)

The new Commission has criteria for who can come onto the debates, as well as much more fluid and candidate-interactive procedures. If a Presidential candidate is on enough state ballots to gain an electoral college majority and registers at five percent in the polls or registers a majority in national polls asking eligible voters which candidates they would like to see in the debates, then it is a green light no matter what party or independent ticket the candidate hails from.

Walter Cronkite called the CPD’s presidential debates an “unconscionable fraud” because the debate format “defies meaningful discourse.”

To the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal,the three networks and cable news shows, news about this “unconscionable fraud” and a prestigious potential replacement was blacked out.

In a few weeks, George Farah, who worked on my last campaign, will publish his expose of the CPD in a book titled “No Debate” (Seven Stories Press, NY). Mr. Farah, now ably assisted by Chris Shaw, are attracting public support nationwide.

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