You may have noticed there was no mention of the Talk About Poverty (#TalkPoverty) campaign at Wednesday’s presidential debate. Since the debate, many people have commented on the poor job done by moderator Jim Lehrer, not only because he omitted the questions submitted by Talk About Poverty, but because of his all-around dismal showing. However, it seems there is more to the story. It seems the Romney and Obama campaigns secretly negotiated a detailed contract that dictated many of the terms of the 2012 presidential debates. This contract covers who gets to participate as well as the topics raised by the moderator, and one of the main goals was to assure there would be no hard questions. Obviously, the moderator would have had to be hand-picked and approved by both parties to assure he would obey the terms of the contract. If you want to see an expanded debate with answers from more candidates, you can go to Democracynow.org, where the original debate is presented with answers from the Green Party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein; and the Justice Party candidate, Rocky Anderson. Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson was not able to attend. Dr. Stein will be included on 37 ballets in November; Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson is ballot-qualified in 48 states; and Rocky Anderson is ballot-qualified in 15 states. If your candidate is not on your ballot you can write in his or her name. Additional candidates are listed here. Please see the debate here..[ref name=”Expanding the Debate Exclusive: Third Party Candidates Break the Sound Barrier as Obama-Romney Spar”] Third Party Candidates Break the Sound Barrier as Obama-Romney Spar. DemocracyNow.org. Oct. 4, 2012. Available: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/4/expanding_the_debate_exclusive_third_party[/ref]
The sabotage of the debates process was explained in a Democracy Now interview with George Farah, founder and Executive Director of Open Debates, and the author of “No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates.” Below are some of the high points, but you can read the entire interview here.[ref name=”As Obama-Romney Hold First Debate, Behind the Secret GOP-Dem Effort to Shut Out Third Parties”]As Obama-Romney Hold First Debate, Behind the Secret GOP-Dem Effort to Shut Out Third Parties. DemocracyNow.org. Oct. 3, 2012. Available: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/3/ahead_of_first_obama_romney_debate[/ref]
Political debates used to be sponsored by a non-partisan organization, the League of Women Voters. Beginning in 1980, the League found itself fighting attempts by the Republicans and Democrats to change the format of the debates. The parties’ maneuvering was in flagrant disregard of the will of the voters, but it took place every four years until the League was shut out of the process in 1988…one year after the two parties ratified an agreement “to take over the presidential debates.” The current sponsor, the Commission on Presidential Debates, is a partisan, private corporation financed by Anheuser-Busch and other major companies. The current co-chairs of the Commission are lobbyists; one represents the gaming industry and the other represents the telecommunications industry.
The Commission on Presidential Debates gets most of its funding from major businesses, Anheuser-Busch being the biggest contributor. Compared to what the League of Women voters had to go through to raise funds for the debates, it is now quite easy to solicit these contributions, because the companies perceive them as soft money donations and a way to influence the political process. There is some good news, however. Farah’s organization has mounted a campaign of its own, in which supporters have written letters and emails demanding that the sponsors withdraw their support of the commission. This year, with the help of other organizations and third parties, they have had some success. Three of the ten sponsors have withdrawn their support. These are BBH, a British advertising agency; YWCA, a nonprofit; and Philips Electronics, a tech giant.
The seven remaining sponsors include three companies: Anheuser-Busch, Southwest Airlines, and the International Bottled Water Association. There are two foundations: The Howard Buffett Foundation (Howard Buffett is on the board of the commission); and the Marjorie Kovler Fund, affiliated with the Kennedy Library. Finally, there are two law firms: Korman, a firm that focuses on specific issues in Washington; and a national security lawyer, Sheldon Cohen.
“This is not the way these ought to be run,” said Farah. “These should be supported by civic groups, nonpartisan organizations with a real focus on the democratic process, and instead they’re subcontracting out our presidential debate process to Anheuser-Busch.”