The CPD requires that candidates poll at least 15% nationally, as measured by the average of five corporate media polls. In contrast, the League of Women Voters (LWV), who sponsored the debates of three Presidential cycles (1976, 1980, 1984) employed a 5% rule as measured by independent polls.
The LWV ceased to sponsor the debates in 1988, after the George Bush and Michael Dukakis campaigns drafted the first secret debate contract, a “Memorandum of Understanding” that dictated who got to participate and who would ask the questions. On October 3, The LWV 14 trustees voted unanimously to drop out of the debates, and issued a press release:
The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates … because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.
The organization Open Debates has criticized the CPD for awarding control of the debates to Democratic and Republican campaigns. It notes that the CPD’s Executive Directors are gaming lobbyist Frank Fahrenkopf and pharmaceutical lobbyist Paul Kirk. The debates are sponsored by multi-national corporations and their presence is quite visible during the televised debates.
Strict control of the poll threshold, particularly in conjunction with ballot access regulations, also instituted by the two major parties, assures that the Democrats and Republicans need not fear the invasion of dissident voices on the debate stage. However, dissident voices do resonate with the public when provided the opportunity. Consider Governor Jesse Ventura who explains his surprising win thusly, “I was allowed to debate. I proved that you could go from 10 percent to 37 percent and win if you’re allowed to debate. Rest assured these two parties don’t want to ever see that happen again.”
Earlier this year, an organization called Science Debate 2008 had tried to convene a debate between then Democratic contenders Clinton and Obama and Republican McCain. No takers. Science Debate orgnizers then hoped that they might get to host an event in the fall. Obama has agreed to just three debates as controlled by the CPD. Perhaps the Science Debate 2008, Google and Open debates could get together and present a debate which allows for the 5 per cent threshold candidates. If Obama and McCain choose not to come, they must have their reasons, but at least we’d hear from the likes of Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin – maybe we can have some spontaneous dialogue that way. A novel approach to debate, spontaneity.
If you are interested in opening up the debates, you can e-sign this petition. If not for this election, than for the next.