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Presidential Debates Already Rigged

James P. Tucker Jr. | September 27 2004

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 bites.”

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.

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