THE EXAMINER | Karl Dickey | September 4, 2012
Election watchdog group Open Debates has called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to make public the secret debate contract negotiated by the Obama and
Romney campaigns. Many want to see the details of what candidates have agreed to and to see how exclusionary the document is toward other candidates.
Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson sent the Commission a letter officially requesting his inclusion in the upcoming October presidential debates and is waiting to hear their decision. Johnson makes the case, those who are expected to be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia should be included to debate.
Robert F. Bauer of the Obama campaign and Benjamin L. Ginsberg of the Romney campaign negotiated a detailed contract that dictates many of the terms of the 2012 presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a private corporation created by the Republican and Democratic parties to serve their interests, has agreed to implement the debate contract. In order to shield the major party candidates from criticism, the Commission on Presidential Debates is concealing the contract from the public and the press.
“In denying voters access to critical information about our most important electoral events, the Commission on Presidential Debates is more concerned with the partisan interests of the two major party candidates than the democratic interests of the voting public,” said George Farah, Executive Director of Open Debates.
Previous debate contracts negotiated by the major party campaigns have contained anti-democratic provisions that weakened debate formats, excluded third-party candidates and prohibited additional debates from being held. For example, the 2004 debate contract negotiated by the Kerry and Bush campaigns contained the following provisions:
“The parties agree that they will not (1) issue any challenges for additional debates, (2) appear at any other debate or adversarial forum with any other presidential or vice presidential candidate, or (3) accept any television or radio air time offers that involve a debate format or otherwise involve the simultaneous appearance of more than one candidate.”
For all four debates: “The candidates may not ask each other direct questions, but may ask rhetorical questions.”
For the town-hall debate: “Prior to the start of the debate, audience members will be asked to submit their questions in writing to the moderator. … The moderator shall approve and select all questions to be posed by the audience members to the candidates.”
For the town-hall debate: Audience members shall not ask follow-up questions or otherwise participate in the extended discussion, and the audience member's microphone shall be turned off after he or she completes asking the question.”
Every four years, the Commission on Presidential Debates implements and conceals the debate contract jointly drafted by the Republican and Democratic campaigns. Despite claiming to "have no relationship with any political party or candidate," the Commission was created by, and for, the Republican and Democratic parties. In 1986, the two parties actually ratified an agreement “to take over the presidential debates,” and the Commission has sponsored every debate since 1988. The Commission is co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Mike McCurry, former Press Secretary to Democratic President Bill Clinton.