News Release

Presidential Debates: Who Controls Them?


“The general election presidential debates are the ‘Superbowl of Politics,'” said George Farah, founder and executive director of Open Debates. “And if history is any guide, Senator John Kerry and President George W. Bush will participate in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which claims to have ‘no relationship with any political party or candidate.’ But the CPD substantially undermines voter education by deceptively awarding control of the presidential debates to the Republican and Democratic nominees.”

Farah is author of the new book No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Candidates Secretly Control the Presidential Debates and a member of the newly-formed Citizens’ Debate Commission. Tuesday the Christian Science Monitor published an oped by Farah entitled “Save ‘Genuine’ Presidential Debates” [see:]. Today, he noted the following:

* “The CPD was created by the Republican and Democratic parties for the Republican and Democratic parties. In 1986, the two parties’ national committees ratified an agreement ‘to take over the presidential debates.’ Eighteen months later, then-Republican Party chair Frank Fahrenkopf and then-Democratic Party chair Paul Kirk incorporated the CPD, which immediately seized control of the debates from the League of Women Voters. Mr. Kirk and Mr. Fahrenkopf — now the nation’s leading gambling lobbyist — are still co-chairs of the debate commission.”

* “Every four years, the CPD submits to the demands of the Democratic and Republican candidates. Behind closed-doors, negotiators for the major party nominees jointly draft secret debate contracts that dictate precisely how the debates will be run — from who gets to participate, to who will ask the questions, to the temperature in the auditoriums. Masquerading as a nonpartisan sponsor, the CPD obediently implements and conceals the debate contracts, shielding the candidates from public criticism.”

* “Such deceptive major party control severely harms our democracy. Candidates that voters want to see are often excluded; issues the American people want to hear about are often ignored; the debates have been reduced to a series of glorified bipartisan news conferences, in which the candidates merely exchange memorized soundbites; and debate viewership has plummeted, with 25 million fewer people watching the 2000 presidential debates than watching the 1992 presidential debates.”

* “A Citizens’ Debate Commission has been created to improve the presidential debates. Seventeen national civic leaders from the left, center and right of the political spectrum formed the Citizens’ Debate Commission, including former Ambassador to the United Nations Alan Keyes, former independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson, Chellie Pingree of Common Cause, former U.S. Treasurer Bay Buchanan, TransAfrica Forum founder Randall Robinson, Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, and Jehmu Green of Rock the Vote. The Citizens’ Debate Commission, which has been backed by major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, aspires to host future presidential debates that serve the American people first, not political parties.”

Further information:
Watch video of George Farah on C-Span’s “Washington Journal”
PDF copy of the 1996 Memorandum of Understanding
Los Angeles Times editorial in support of the Citizens’ Debate Commission

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 332-5055; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167