To the Commission on Public Debates:
We feel certain that the people who launched the idea for this organization had the best of intentions; that the CPD was launched with a goal to promote voter education and protect the election process.
Unfortunately, the CPD’s reputation has suffered in recent years. Somewhere along the way, the organization lost sight of its mission and forgot who the American political process belongs to.
Consider, if you will, the CPD’s history.
- Following the 1984 election cycle, the bipartisan National Commission on Elections recommended that the Republican and Democratic parties should mutually control future presidential debates.
- From 1985-1987, the League of Women Voters, who had previously overseen the presidential debates, argued that allowing the two parties to control the debates would prevent the public from truly learning about future candidates, because the parties would have total control over the debate environments.
- In 1987, the Commission on Presidential Debates was announced, and the League of Women Voters was scheduled to oversee its final debates for the 1988 election. In response to the two campaigns’ demands to control the composition of the audience, the height of debate podiums, the identities of the questioners, and the access of the media, the league removed itself from the process. The president of the League of Women Voters stated that she had “no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
- In a 1987 press conference, the CPD announced its leaders as the chairman of the Republican party and the chairman of the Democratic party. The CPD’s stated mission is the education of the American voter, but the two chairmen announced in the press conference that they were not likely to include third-party candidates in future debates.
- One of the chairman called this commission the “single most effective voter education project,” while the other said that this would be the best possible option for everyone, but “most importantly for the voters of this nation.”
- In 1992, when Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were scheduled to debate, the CPD fought against Ross Perot’s inclusion in the debate but conceded when the other two candidates insisted on his inclusion (in hopes that it would hurt the other.) He would be the last third-party candidate to qualify for a presidential debate.
- In 1996, Perot wanted in again, but the two major party candidates excluded him. Clinton strategist George Stephanopolous later explained that Clinton’s campaign prevented Perot’s participation as part of its negotiations.
- In 2000, the CPD announced a new requirement that candidates who wished to participate in the debates must register at least 15 percent support across a total of five national polls. The CPD failed to disclose that many of those national polls wouldn’t even mention the third-party candidates as an option, so there was no real way for the voters to indicate support for those candidates.
- In the 2012 debate season alone, more than 17 organizations joined forces to protest against your handling of the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, requesting publication of the secret debate negotiations.
- On the positive side, a 2016 article quoted one of the CPD chairmen as saying that Gary Johnson’s exclusion from the national polls created a legitimate concern, and he went on to say that he believed Johnson’s name should be included.
Loss of Faith
Our loss of faith is nothing personal. We’re certain that each of you has an entire tribe of people who would vouch for your character and your virtue. Our complaint isn’t against the individual members of the CPD, but rather against the group-think that seems to permeate its work.
As a body acting on behalf of the American voters, you’ve lost our trust. You’ve failed to hold each other accountable and you’ve been allowed to operate unfettered for quite a long time. It happens within organizations sometimes, and the good ones address it without being forced to do so.
On the heels of one of the most divisive political campaigns in this nation’s history, you have a unique opportunity to change your priorities, and to serve the people instead of the parties.
We’re hoping to find that you’re one of the good ones.