The Citizens’ Presidential Debate Commission

The nationally televised presidential debates are the single most influential forum for most Americans in deciding whether they should vote and for whom to vote. They offer a rare opportunity to hear candidates’ ideas unedited and in context.

Since 1988, these debates have been controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a private corporation created and controlled by individuals directly affiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties. The CPD operates with no public oversight, and its ability to serve democracy is compromised by its bipartisan control.

The two major harms perpetuated by the CPD are the exclusion of serious and popular candidates from outside of the two dominant parties and the exclusion of many vital issues from questions asked of the candidates.

Citizens’ Debate Commission Objectives:

Previous attempts to open the CPD events to deserving candidates and excluded issues repeatedly have failed. Therefore, we reject attempts to persuade the CPD to serve democracy and instead have helped initiate the Citizens’ Debate Commission (CDC) in order to create substantive, fair and non-partisan debates.

The CDC is a truly non-partisan coalition, representing a broad spectrum of views and issues, that will present a series of four debates among candidates in the 2004 general election for President of the United States. The Commission also will host one debate among candidates running for Vice-President.

Presidential Debate Criteria

The Citizens’ Debate Commission employs the criteria proposed by the Appleseed Citizens’ Task Force on Fair Debates

The first debate shall be open to all contenders who:

  1. Meet constitutional requirements to hold the office;
  2. Have qualified on enough state ballots to potentially win 270 electoral votes outright;
  3. Possess a substantial level of popular support. To gauge support, the CDC will independently commission polls of the general public or work with established polling organizations that are willing to construct unbiased polls (and ones not limited to habitual voters) 7-14 days prior to the first debate. Candidates must meet one of the following two measures of support:
    1. The declared support of 5% or more of respondents; or
    2. 50% or more of respondents say they want to hear the candidate debate.

Candidates meeting either one of these criteria in the first poll will be invited to participate in the first and second debates, after which a new poll will be executed. Those who meet the same criteria in the second poll will be invited to participate in the third and fourth debates.

Vice-Presidential Debate

The vice-presidential candidates on tickets meeting the criteria to participate in the third and fourth presidential debates will be invited to one debate among the candidates for vice-president. This debate will occur after the second debate, but before the third.

CDC Aims and Strategy

CDC will offer the opportunity for debates presenting a wider range of views than has occurred in any prior televised debates in general presidential elections. An expanded range of discussion will be facilitated regardless of whether or not more than two candidates qualify for any debates. Empowering and encouraging moderators to ask challenging follow-up questions, and allowing opportunities for genuine citizen participation are examples of how this will be accomplished.

The CDC will:

  • present the most widely viewed, covered and respected presidential debates;
  • have all CDC debates televised by the major broadcast networks and independent media;
  • attract all candidates for the presidency who meet participation criteria;
  • further democracy through debates that will include a wider range of participants and ideas and structured to challenge and engage candidates and the audience to a degree not reached by CPD events.

CDC Structure and Governance

The CDC is a new non-profit organization separate from ReclaimDemocracy.org and includes organizational representatives from across the ideological spectrum. Decisions will be made by a board of directors representing a variety of non-partisan organizations with broad constituencies.

The CDC is not a forum for furthering specific political parties or agendas, but to promote and present a debate series with democracy at its core and facilitate the discussion of a broad range of issues that have been ignored in CPD debates.

Because the public deserves televised presidential debates that operate unmistakably in the public interest, the CDC only will accept organizational funding from entities that are non-partisan and non-profit.

The Inaugural CDC Board of Directors is:

  • John B. Anderson, former U.S. Congressman and Chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy;
  • Angela ‘Bay’ Buchanan, president of The American Cause;
  • Veronica de la Garza, executive director of the Youth Vote Coalition;
  • Norman Dean, director of Friends of the Earth;
  • George Farah, director of Open Debates and author of “No Debate”;
  • Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch;
  • Tom Gerety, director, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law;
  • Jehmu Greene, director of Rock the Vote;
  • Alan Keyes, U.S. Ambassador;
  • Jeff Milchen, director of ReclaimDemocracy.org;
  • Larry Noble, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission;
  • Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council;
  • Chellie Pingree, president and CEO of Common Cause;
  • Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica Forum;
  • Dan Stein, director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform;
  • Mark Weisbrot, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Research;
  • Paul Weyrich, chair and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (since deceased)

Editor’s note: Our work to build the CDC is unrelated to any presidential candidate or party.