WASHINGTON - June 17 - Faced with mounting criticism from a public campaign led by Open Debates (www.opendebates.org) and its 60 civic group supporters, the Commission on Presidential Debates has adopted some of Open Debates' format proposals for the 2004 general election presidential debates. These fig-leaf format proposals are unlikely to be implemented because the CPD is a compromised organization that deceptively privileges the interests of the Republican and Democratic parties over the interests of the American people.
"Co-chaired by the former heads of the Republican and Democratic parties, the CPD submits to the demands of the Republican and Democratic candidates. Negotiators for the major party nominees draft secret debate contracts called Memoranda of Understanding that dictate precisely how the debates will be run -- from who gets to participate, to who will ask the questions, to the heights of the podiums. Masquerading as a nonpartisan organization, the CPD merely implements the directives of the contracts, and shields the major party candidates from public criticism. As a result, the presidential debates have been reduced to glorified bipartisan news conferences, in which the Republican and Democratic candidates merely recite prepackaged sound bites and avoid discussing many important issues. Not surprisingly, viewership has plummeted under the CPD's tenure; twenty-five million fewer Americans watched the 2000 presidential debates than watched the 1992 presidential debates," said George Farah, Open Debates' executive director and author of the newly released book No Debate.
"If past election cycles are any guide, and the CPD sponsors the 2004 debates, this fall President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry will draft a Memorandum of Understanding that dictates the debate formats, and the CPD will implement and conceal it," said Chris Shaw, Open Debates' organizing director.
Open Debates has filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service against the CPD, accusing the CPD of illegally accepting corporate contributions in order to facilitate presidential campaigns.
A genuinely nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission was formed in January to host future presidential debates because the bipartisan CPD fails to adequately serve voters' interests. The Citizens' Debate Commission consists of seventeen national civic leaders from the left, center and right of the political spectrum, including Chellie Pingree of Common Cause, Alan Keyes, Tom Gerety of the Brennan Center for Justice, Bay Buchanan, Larry Noble, Paul Weyrich, Randall Robinson, John B. Anderson, Norman Dean of Friends of the Earth, and Jehmu Green of Rock the Vote. The nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission aspires to sponsor future presidential debates that address pressing national issues, feature innovative formats, and include the candidates that the American people want to see.