Tag Archives: Commission on Presidential Debates

Commission on Presidential Debates Preps for Possible Third-Party in 2016 Debates

Officials in charge of the Commission on Presidential Debates say that due to the mood of the electorate, they are preparing for the possibility that a third-party candidate will emerge who obtains sufficient support to qualify for the 2016 general election presidential debates.

According to The Washington Post, in an interview that will appear on a Jan. 24 episode of The Open Mind, Commission on Presidential Debates co-chair Michael McCurry reportedly told host Alexander Heffner, “The dynamic in the electorate right now and the dissatisfaction with the two major political parties could very conceivably allow an independent or a third-party candidate to emerge, and we are very clear that they would be welcome in these debates.

CPD co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., who said that he thinks “it would be great” if a third-party candidate were to qualify, said that the commission spent months considering a change to the rule that requires independent candidates to obtain at least 15 percent support in national polls in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 general election debates, but that it ultimately decided to keep it in place.

[RELATED: DONEGAN: If GOP Debate Stage Can Fit 11, Let Third Parties In General Election Debates]

Critics of the rule say that it has prevented any third-party candidates from qualifying for the general election debates since 1992, when Ross Perot took on former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

However, despite having chosen to keep that rule in place, the co-chairs of the CPD reportedly believe that, depending on who wins the Republican and Democratic primaries, 2016 might be a year in which a prominent third-party candidate responds to voter demand, enters the race, and qualifies for the general election debates.

Characterizing the CPD co-chairs’ views in the wake of his interview, Open Mind host Heffner told The Washington Post, “I think they’re aware of the Trump revolution, or whatever you want to call it — the microphone that the media has provided for Trump. The two-party system, to many Americans, has disillusioned them to the point of questioning whether this is a democracy. And these men have a role to play in determining who is on that stage.

[RELATED: Pollsters Criticize Use of Polling Minimums to Exclude Candidates from Debates]

Some pundits theorize that Donald Trump might defy his pledge to the GOP and run as an independent if he loses the Republican primary. A Trump primary win on the other hand might leave an opening for another right-leaning third-party candidate. A Bernie Sanders loss in the Democratic primary could leave a significant number of disaffected progressives up for grabs for a high-profile independent.

Meanwhile, the bench of apparent 2016 third-party candidates is already loaded with higher-profile candidates than in previous elections. Former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb quit the Democratic primary last year and is considering an independent run, and a University of Mary Washington poll found him at double digit support in Virginia as an independent in several match-ups against various combinations of possible Republican and Democratic nominees. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently hired pollsters to test how he might fare as an independent alternative to a Trump vs. Clinton general election match-up.

The Libertarian Party has gone from running lesser known activists as candidates, such as Michael Badnarik in 2004, to having serious candidates with executive experience, like former two-term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, in its stable. According to CBS Minnesota, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is considering a run for the Libertarian Party’s nomination, meaning the party’s 2016 primary debates might involve a showdown between a group of candidates including more than one former governor.

In July of last year, the Truth in Media project released a Consider This video pointing out the fact that independent voters now outnumber Republicans and Democrats. For context, watch it in the below-embedded video player.


Conflict of Interest? Bill Clinton Serves on Presidential Debate Commission

As the 2016 presidential election draws nearer, questions are being raised about Bill Clinton’s role as an honorary co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, a Republican-and-Democrat controlled board that determines the rules and particulars of U.S. general election presidential debates.

According to The Daily Caller, Bill Clinton serves as an honorary co-chair for the organization along with former President Jimmy Carter. The CPD also lists deceased former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford as honorary co-chairs.

It is unclear, however, how Carter and Clinton function in these roles,” wrote reporter Kerry Picket. “Additionally, considering Jeb Bush’s run for the presidency, if it is an issue of simply lending one’s name to a board and not participating in any process, it is unknown why both former presidents George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush are not included as honorary chairs,” she added.

Hot Air notes that CPD chairman Michael D. McCurry served as press secretary during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

[RELATED: DONEGAN: If GOP Debate Stage Can Fit 11, Let Third Parties In General Election Debates]

If current Democratic Party presidential primary frontrunner Hillary Clinton ends up winning her party’s nomination, Bill Clinton and Michael McCurry’s roles on the board governing U.S. general election presidential debates could potentially pose a conflict of interest.

The Commission on Presidential Debates recently sparked controversy when it announced that despite the rise of independent voters as a leading portion of the U.S. electorate, it would not change the 15 percent minimum polling rule that effectively blocks most serious third-party candidates who appear on enough ballots to win the presidency from participating in general election presidential debates.

[RELATED: Pollsters Criticize Use of Polling Minimums to Exclude Candidates from Debates]

The Truth in Media Project recently released a Consider This video highlighting the fact that independent voters now outnumber Republicans and Democrats. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.


Debate Commission: No Change to 15 Percent Third-Party Polling Rule

The Commission on Presidential Debates, a Republican and Democrat controlled group that establishes criteria and rules for U.S. general election presidential debates, announced last week that it will not change its controversial 15 percent polling requirement for independent candidates.

The rule is widely seen as protecting the two-party duopoly by having the effect of preventing third-party candidates from exposing their views to voters in televised presidential debates. Only the wealthiest candidates or highest-profile celebrities could afford to purchase the type of nationwide ad campaign that would produce a 15 percent reading in national polls without first having the exposure of the debates themselves, creating a Catch-22 situation for the one or two serious third-party candidates that obtain ballot access in enough states to win the presidency each election cycle.

[RELATED: DONEGAN: If GOP Debate Stage Can Fit 11, Let Third Parties In General Election Debates]

In its announcement of the criteria for the 2016 general election debates, the Commission on Presidential Debates wrote:

[pull_quote_center]CPD Co-Chairs Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and Michael D. McCurry noted that, ‘We are mindful of the changes in the electorate and the large number of voters who now self-identify as independents. We believe our candidate selection criteria appropriately address this dynamic. The CPD’s criteria make participation open to any candidate, regardless of the candidate’s party affiliation or status as an independent, in whom the public has demonstrated significant interest and support… It is appropriate for a debate sponsor to take the campaign as it finds it in the final weeks leading up to Election Day. The CPD’s debates are not intended to serve as a springboard for a candidate with only very modest support. Participation in the debates is determined by the level of public support a candidate enjoys as Election Day approaches.'[/pull_quote_center]

Though the Commission’s claim that the rules are evenly applied to independents and major parties is technically true, it neglects critics who say that the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries- which are funded by all taxpayers, including independent voters- serve as an extraordinarily valuable promotional opportunity for major parties in obtaining the minimum 15 percent support needed to qualify for the debates.

[RELATED: Pollsters Criticize Use of Polling Minimums to Exclude Candidates from Debates]

Election law expert Richard Winger of Ballot Access News pointed out the fact that the 15 percent rule is currently being challenged in court: “Two lawsuits are pending against the 15% rule, both in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. They are Level the Playing Field v Federal Election Commission, and [Gary] Johnson v Commission on Presidential Debates. The first one depends on campaign finance law and the second on antitrust law.

According to the Libertarian Party, a senior adviser to Gary Johnson’s Our America Initiative called the CPD’s decision to continue employing the 15 percent rule “disappointing but certainly not shocking.”

Meanwhile, WFPL notes that questions are being raised this week about the accuracy of telephone polls after Kentucky Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin overwhelmingly won in a stunning upset despite trailing his Democratic opponent Jack Conway in pre-election polls.

In related news, Public Policy Polling included former Senator from Virginia Jim Webb as an independent candidate against Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton in its Nov. 4 general election polling for Iowa and found Clinton at 41 percent support, Trump at 40 percent, and Webb trailing with 9 percent.

The Truth in Media Project recently released a Consider This video highlighting the fact that independent voters now outnumber Republicans and Democrats. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.


Historic: FEC Chair Calls for Change to Debate Qualifications to Include Indie Candidates

During the Federal Election Commission’s July 16 hearing on presidential debate qualifications, FEC chair Ann Ravel called for the agency to consider instructing the Commission on Presidential Debates to change its rule requiring that indie candidates obtain 15 percent support in an average of prominent nationwide polls in order to qualify for televised general election presidential debates. However, the FEC concluded the hearing by voting 4-2 against considering the change.

Ballot Access News’ Richard Winger wrote, “The two commissioners who voted in favor of considering a better rule are Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub, both Democrats. It is believed this is the first time any FEC Commissioner has voted to do something about the problem that the Commission on Presidential Debates excludes candidates who are not Republican or Democratic nominees.

According to Presidential Debate News, Ravel argued at the hearing, “Polling thresholds in 2009 were once a valid, fair, and unbiased way to determine eligibility for debates to ensure that there was no unfair corporate promotion. We know now that things have changed in the last couple of years.

She continued,”Our obligation, when it comes before us, is to make a decision about whether it is fair and whether clearly the need to have representation from third-party candidates and those who might not actually make it to the polls for whatever reason, but may actually be viable candidates. I think it is something that is within our purview and something that we should try to ensure, and so for those reasons… I think we should initiate a rulemaking.

Independent candidates have so far consistently failed to obtain the 15% support in nationwide polls needed seven weeks in advance to qualify for general election debates. Without a platform like the debates or billions in advertising to seek wider exposure, indie candidates do not have an opportunity to gain traction in the polls and get their messages out to voters.

FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who also voted in favor of considering a change to the agency’s rulemaking on debate qualifications, said, “If we open up a rulemaking process, we could get comments and see whether there is a way that the rules could be tweaked in a way they could be more inclusive and encouraging of greater political participation which I think is a really important goal. I know everyone at the table talks about their desire to strengthen party organizations and I — I do think party organizations are important for our democracy, but the reality is — and I think my source here is a Pew poll, Pew Research Center, based on 2014 data, 39% identify as independents, 32% as Democrats, and 23% as Republicans.

Weintraub argued, “[Millennials] register as independents if they register. [They] identify themselves as independents, and may not feel like a debate between a Republican and Democrat is something that they are particularly engaged in or is going to encourage them to tune in and get involved and to get out and vote, and I think those are all important concerns for us…. With all due respect to counsel, I think we ought to open a rulemaking.”

Though the FEC voted against considering the rule change, the issue is not yet settled, as the debate reform group Level the Playing Field has an active lawsuit pending against the FEC alleging that it is violating federal election law by slanting the presidential debate system against independent candidates to the benefit of Democratic and Republican nominees. Also, the Commission on Presidential Debates, the group empowered by the FEC to control debate qualifications, is considering changing the 15 percent polling rule.

The Truth in Media Project recently released a Consider This video highlighting the fact that independent voters now outnumber Republicans and Democrats. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.


For more 2016 election coverage, click here.

Commission on Presidential Debates Considers Ditching 15% Rule for Third Party Candidates

BenSwann.com recently brought news of efforts by a coalition of high-profile civic leaders and current and former elected officials called Change the Rule to pressure the Commission on Presidential Debates to adjust its rule regarding the inclusion of third-party candidates in US presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a private Republican-and-Democrat-run group which effectively controls the US presidential debate circuit, currently requires third-party candidates to obtain 15% support in 5 major public opinion polls before the presidential debate in question in order to be included, a feat considered impossible for a candidate lacking millions of dollars at the beginning of the campaign. As a result, third-party candidates that appear on enough ballots to potentially win the presidency, a challenging and expensive feat on its own, often do not appear in televised debates, giving them no chance to connect with voters. Change the Rule is working to encourage the CPD to adjust its rule such that any candidate that obtains ballot access in enough states to achieve 270 electoral votes and win the presidency would be included.

However, according to Ballot Access News, Change the Rule appears to be having some success. Ballot Access News‘ Richard Winger noticed some below-the-headlines quotes by Commission on Presidential Debates co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr. in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed by Michael Smerconish that seem to suggest that CPD is considering, at a minimum, ditching the 15% rule.

Said CPD co-chair Fahrenkopf, who also once served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, “We’ll look hard at [Change the Rule’s recommendation], but we also have three or four other proposals as to whether or not to do away with the 15 percent rule… We’ve got a special committee of the board that will review it.”

However, Fahrenkopf raised his own reservations that Change the Rule’s specific recommendation to base inclusion on ballot access could also unfairly benefit the wealthiest candidates. “We also have to realize that’s expensive to do this. Each state has different rules as to how many petition signatures you have to receive to get on the ballot. So it’s ready-made here for someone who’s a millionaire or billionaire who can spend the money to hire the people to go out and get the signatures. These are the kind of things that we’re plowing through before we make any decision one way or the other. So there are some issues that we’ve got to resolve,” he said.

Bipartisan Political Heavyweights Push for Third Party Inclusion in Presidential Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates, a private group run by the Democratic and Republican parties, has controlled the US presidential debates since 1988. Given the fact that the major party duopoly runs the debate process, the CPD has effectively silenced third party candidates by setting an extremely strict rule for their inclusion which requires independent candidates to achieve 15% in 5 major public opinion polls prior to the debate, a feat requiring untold millions of dollars worth of advertising.

However, a group of elected officials and civic leaders, many of them card-carrying members of the Republican and Democratic parties, have launched a campaign called Change the Rule aimed at pressuring the CPD to adjust its rule to allow the top independent candidate who manages to attain ballot access in a sufficient number of states to achieve 270 electoral votes to participate in the presidential debates. This would allow voters to see the best-organized third party candidate who is on enough ballots to win the presidential election, which does effectively limit the number of candidates in the debate such that it would feature a Democrat, a Republican, and the third party candidate who attained the most signatures during the ballot access petition process.

Former prosecutor Alexandra Shapiro and Dr. Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, are spearheading Change the Rule, which includes a long list of political heavyweights. The group originally made its intentions known by sending a private letter to the CPD, but the organization’s dismissive response led them to go public with their initiative in an effort to turn on the heat.

Ex-FBI director Michael Hayden has signed on with Change the Rule, as has former Defense Secretary William Cohen and The Atlantic and National Journal publisher David Bradley. Jonathan Easley at The Hill wrote, “The list [of signatories] also includes former Govs. Bruce Babbitt (D-Ariz.), Jon Huntsman (R-Utah), Thomas Keane (R-N.J.), and Christine Todd Whitman (R-N.J.), former Sens. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and former Reps. John Anderson (R-Ill.), Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), and Vin Weber (R-Minn.).”

Change the Rule’s private letter to the CPD read, “Because the current rule affords independent candidates no chance to get into the debates, it dissuades men and women with extraordinary records of service to this country from running for President… As a director of the CPD, you could ignore this complaint and wait for the ensuing legal process to play out. We think that would be a missed opportunity and an unfortunate mistake.” The legal process mentioned by Change the Rule may be a reference to a separate FCC complaint that has reportedly been filed against CPD.

The CPD responded to the controversy in comments to The Hill and said, “The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates reviews its candidate selection criteria every election cycle… The CPD will review its 2012 criteria in 2015 and appreciates the interest in these important voter education events.”