News Release

Debating the Debates: Who to Include?

JAMIN RASKIN
Law professor at American University, Raskin represented Ross Perot in 1996, chairs the Appleseed Citizens’ Task Force on Fair Debates and has also advised the Nader campaign on the debate issue. Raskin said today: “While the two major parties are squabbling over details of what kind of debates they want, the full breadth of America is not being represented. The Commission on Presidential Debates has arbitrarily set 15 percent in several national polls as the threshold for appearing in the debates, thus effectively excluding third-party candidates. It’s critical that there be lawful, democratic standards for debate participation, whether the debates are conducted by the CPD or the TV networks. The Appleseed Citizens’ Task Force on Fair Debates proposed inclusion of any electable candidate who had 5 percent support in national polls (the statutory threshold for public financing) or at least 50 percent of the American public favoring that candidate’s inclusion. In 1996, upwards of 70 percent of the public favored Perot’s inclusion, and this time polls show a majority wants Nader included as well. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) has introduced a resolution that would institute the 5 percent/50 percent proposal.”

JEFF COHEN
Founder of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting and head of Open Debates 2000, Cohen said today: “Neither the two major parties nor a commission they set up should be allowed to decide whether third party candidates participate in nationally-televised debates. These decisions should be made by journalists and civic groups, acting independently, using inclusive criteria. Recent history shows that third-party candidates bring new issues, voters and viewers to the debates. Gov. Jesse Ventura (who had 10 percent support in polls prior to the debates) proves that open debates can affect election outcomes. A 15 percent barrier also would have excluded Ross Perot in 1992. Those presidential debates were watched on average by 90 million viewers, with the audience growing for each successive debate. The 1996 debates, limited to Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, had shrinking audiences that averaged 41 million viewers.”
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JEFF MILCHEN
Director of ReclaimDemocracy.org, Milchen said today: “The CPD is duopoly-by-design. Democrats and Republicans consolidated control over the debates in 1987, replacing the League of Women Voters with the CPD, thus replacing real debates with — in the CPD’s own words — ‘nationally televised joint appearances between nominees of the two major political parties.’ The CPD calls itself non-partisan, but it is controlled by the former heads of the Democratic and Republican parties (both now corporate lobbyists) and is funded by major corporations that give money to the two major political parties. This year Anheuser-Busch alone is paying over $500,000 for a contract that includes exclusive sponsorship of the St. Louis joint appearance. A host of issues, many of which revolve around corporate power, will likely be excluded if the joint appearances are not opened up.”
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Protests are scheduled at the CPD (1200 New Hampshire Ave., NW [21st and M Streets] in Washington, D.C.) every Thursday at noon in September. Further information: George Ripley of the Alliance for Democracy at www.thealliancefordemocracy.org, grassrootsunity@juno.com. The CPD can be reached at (202) 872-1020.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020