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Leaked Documents Reveal "Monopoly-Like" Control of Presidential Debates

Two party agreement stultifies debates and encroaches on open democracy, say critics

Common Dreams staff

The Commission on Presidential Debates, according to critics, has "a de facto monopoly over our most important election forums." (FOX News Videos)

Following the release of the official 'memorandum of understanding'—the agreement signed by both the Romney and Obama campaigns that governs the presidential and vice presidential debates—critics say the document reveals the contrived nature of the nationally televised forums and highlights how the Commission on Presidential Debates has come to gain 'monopoly-like' control over what should be a more open and democratic process.

Time magazine's political correspondent Mark Halperin obtained the document (see below) and released it Monday, making it the fourth time that a version of the otherwise secretly negotiated document has been leaked to a member of the press during an election season.

Among many revealing points, the agreement specifically says—as Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola also points out—that during a townhall style debate (like the one hosted by CNN's Candy Crowley Tuesday night), "the moderator will [review all audience] questions and eliminate any questions that the moderator deems inappropriate." Additionally, the document stipulates:

If any audience member poses a question or makes a statement that is in any material way different than the question that the audience member earlier submitted to the moderator for review, the moderator will cut off the questioner and advise the audience that such non-reviewed questions are not permitted. Moreover the Commission shall take appropriate steps to cut off the microphone of any such audience member who attempts to pose any question or statement differently than that previously posed to the moderator for review.

The agreement is adhered to by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which, as Gosztola says, "wrested control of the debates from the League of Women Voters back in the 1980s."

Speaking on Democracy Now!, George Farah, author of No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates, points out that this year's agreement, like all others previous, was hidden from public view, and only came to light (like the others in debate history) after being leaked to the press.

Arguing the document gives the CPD "a de facto monopoly over our most important election forums," Farrah said:

First and foremost, the contract actually says that the candidates cannot participate in any other debate with any other candidate and the other sponsor. We had 27 Republican primary debates. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in 1858, but we’re only having three presidential debates, precisely because the candidates have contractually prohibited themselves from participating in any other forum.[...]

Instead of allowing other organizations, like the League of Women Voters, to host exciting debates that might include some possible third-party voices, the commission is in total control of this process and allows the Republican and Democratic nominees to negotiate these very kinds of detailed contracts that eliminate spontaneity from some of the formats and exclude all viable third-party voices.

Watch the full Democracy Now! segment here:

Here's the full agreement:

The 2012 Debates - Memorandum of Understanding Between the Obama and Romney Campaigns

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