Act Now To Open The Debates!

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Note: Debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will not do much to enlighten the political discourse in the United States. The US public deserves more and 2016 is the year for the public to insist on more!

The phony “Commission” on Presidential Debates is really a Democratic Party-Republican Party corporation funded by big business. They are not a “Commission” in any sense of the word, they are a corporation using the word commission as a disguise. The two parties and big business should not be deciding who is included in the presidential debates.

The standard that does justice to real democracy is that any candidate who is on enough ballots to achieve 270 electoral college votes should be included in the debates. If voters have candidates on the ballot, then a real debate commission would include all of them so voters can learn their views.


There are very few independent parties or candidates who are on enough ballots to achieve the potential of 270 electoral college votes.  This year their are four campaigns who have done so. See Stein-Baraka Campaign Urge Trump and Clinton to Participate in Four-Way, Open Debates.

In the letter Stein-Baraka urge Trump to be like Reagan in 1980 when he supported including John Anderson in the debates with Jimmy Carter. Carter refused so Reagan and Anderson debated without Carter. Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka write:

“We hope that Donald Trump will agree with President Ronald Reagan who insisted that third party candidate John Anderson be included in the debates in 1980. His steadfast belief in open debates meant that when President Jimmy Carter refused, Reagan defended democracy by debating Anderson without Carter. Reagan understood that real democracy requires letting voters know the views of everyone on the ballots.”

Stein-Baraka appeal to Clinton’s better angels writing:

“We also hope that Secretary Clinton will stand with the public’s right to know who they can vote for and what all candidates believe. She should reject two parties manipulating the debate process for their own purposes. Democracy is not about partisan manipulation but about an informed public selecting their representatives in government.”

Please tweet their open letter to @realDonaldTrump and urge him to stand up for inclusive debates just as Reagan did in 1980. If he takes this position, then we have an excellent chance at seeing four-way debates. Also tweet the letter to @HillaryIn2016 and urge her to stand up for democracy and to end debate manipulation by the phony debate commission. Jeff Cohen’s article below links to a Roots Action petition to the media. Sign the petition and urge others to do so.


Popular Resistance is planning a Campaign for Open Debates which will include a social media campaign and on-the-ground protests at the falsely named ‘Commission’ on Presidential Debates as well as other places around the country. This campaign is to support the principle of open, inclusive debates as well as to educate people on the fraud of the phony debate commission. To support the Open Debates Campaign donate here.

Sign up to join the campaign to open the debates. We’ll let you know what you can do to create democracy:

Urge everyone to tweet @realDonaldTrump urging 4-person debates, And @Hillary2016 with the same message. Either one of them is in a position to make open, inclusive debates a reality in 2016. Let’s hope one of the is a democracy hero.

Above photo from Roots Action.

Above photo from Roots Action.

How To Ensure Inclusive Four-Person Debates In Presidential Race

TV Networks Should Open Up the Presidential Debates

If ten major TV networks got together and decided to nationally televise a presidential debate restricted to Republican nominee Donald Trump and right-leaning Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, while barring other candidates including Democrat Hillary Clinton, it would be recognized as an act of media bias or exclusion.

But what if the televised debates this fall are restricted to just Trump and Clinton? That, too, needs to be recognized as an intentional act of media exclusion.

In the coming weeks, we need to generate a debate about the debates – who controls them and which candidates are included. That’s the goal of a new petition launched by, a group I co-founded.

Beginning in 1988, major TV networks granted journalistic control over the debates to a private organization with no official status: the Commission on Presidential Debates. The CPD is often called “nonpartisan.” That’s absurdly inaccurate. “Bipartisan” is the right adjective, as it has always carried out the joint will of the Republican and Democratic parties. (See George Farah’s meticulously reported book, “No Debate.”)

The commission grew out of a deal cut in the 1980s by GOP and Democratic leaders. Today, even though the US public largely distrusts the presidential candidates of the two major parties, TV networks seem willing to allow them to again dictate the terms of debate, including who gets to participate.

Here’s a brief history of how the CPD took over:

• League of Women Voters:  From 1976 through 1984, presidential and vice-presidential debates were sponsored and run by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. (In 1980, the League had insisted on allowing independent candidate John Anderson to debate.)

• “Televised Joint Appearances”:  In 1985, the national chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties, Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, signed a remarkable agreement that referred to future debates as “nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the two major political parties . . . It is our conclusion that future joint appearances should be principally and jointly sponsored and conducted by the Republican and Democratic Committees.”

• “Exclude Third-Party Candidates”: In February 1987, Democratic Party chair Kirk and GOP chair Fahrenkopf together issued a press release and held a DC news conference to announce the formation of the Commission on Presidential Debates (“Commission on Joint Appearances” apparently didn’t sound right) – with themselves as co-chairs. The press release called the new group “bipartisan.” According to the New York Times, Fahrenkopf indicated at the news conference that the CPD was “not likely to look with favor on including third-party candidates in the debates.” The Times reported: “Mr. Kirk was less equivocal, saying he personally believed the panel should exclude third party candidates from the debates.” The newspaper quoted Kirk: “As a party chairman, it’s my responsibility to strengthen the two-party system.”

“Perpetrate a Fraud”:  In 1988, with the CPD taking control of the debates on behalf of the two major parties, the League of Women Voters announced its withdrawal from any debate sponsorship “because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

During the last seven presidential elections, TV networks have allowed the self-appointed CPD and the major-party campaigns to control the debates (format, who gets to ask questions, which candidates get to participate) – abandoning any role as journalistic decision-makers. Of those seven elections, only in 1992 did the CPD allow a candidate on stage who was not a Democrat or Republican: billionaire Ross Perot. That fluke happened because both parties thought Perot’s inclusion would benefit them in some way; interestingly, as you’ll see below, Perot was at only 7 to 9 percent in pre-debate polls.

After nearly three decades, the creators of the commission are still behind it: Republican Fahrenkopf remains CPD’s co-chair, Democrat Kirk is co-chair emeritus. Both have been longtime, high-powered corporate lobbyists; the commission has been funded by powerful, politically-engaged corporations, including oil and gas, insurance, pharmaceutical and Wall Street firms.

Public pressure and petitioning are needed to get the TV networks to recognize that they are at a crossroads regarding the upcoming debates: Will they act journalistically and independently in the interests of democracy – or will they continue to be dictated to by a commission whose unabashed mission since 1987 has been to protect a two-party duopoly?

Hopefully, the TV networks will recognize how much is different today compared to the 1980s when the CPD and the two major parties were allowed to seize control of debates.

1) According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans identifying as political independents has been at record highs for five years, and stood at 42 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans identifying with the two parties that control the debates has sunk. Democrats are at their lowest point in the history of Gallup polling, just 29 percent; Republicans are very near their low point at 26 percent.

2) Both major parties have nominated individuals who break records for unfavorability, leading many voters to consider alternative candidates. Hillary Clinton is at 53 percent unfavorable (vs. 42 percent favorable) in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average. Donald Trump is off the charts with 61 percent unfavorable (vs. 33 percent favorable).

3) Mainstream TV networks are fully aware of the dissatisfaction with the major party candidates and their preference polls now often include two other candidates. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll ending on August 3 had Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson at 10 percent and left-leaning Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 5 percent. The latest CNN poll had Johnson at 9 percent and Stein at 5 percent. ABC News had Johnson at 8 percent, Stein at 4 percent. Among registered voters under 30, a recent McClatchy-Marist poll had both Johnson (at 23 percent) and Stein (at 16 percent) ahead of Trump (9 percent).

An obvious option presents itself to the networks: Tell the CPD and major-party campaigns that they no longer control the debate process and that the networks intend to present debates – controlled by journalists – that include all four candidates: Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. If Trump or Clinton balk, let them know you’re happy to leave their podium empty.

Johnson is a former governor of New Mexico. Stein is a physician and healthcare activist from Massachusetts. Both are articulate and informed on the issues. Both offer stark policy alternatives to Clinton and Trump, especially on issues of foreign policy and civil liberties. Both are expected to be on the ballot in almost every state.

The last time there were two such strong “third-party” candidates was in 2000 when columnist Patrick Buchanan ran on the right and consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran on the left. Polls showed solid majorities of the voting public (64 percent vs. 25 percent in one poll) wanted to see Buchanan and Nader included in a four-way presidential debate. But the CPD had erected a new barrier: these well-known candidates could not join the debates unless they were polling at 15 percent.

It was an arbitrary barrier – aimed at exclusion. It was not aimed at eliminating “nonviable candidates,” but to prevent an outsider from becoming viable. How do we know? Less than 18 months earlier, Minnesota Public Radio and the Minnesota League of Women Voters chapter had included third-party candidate Jesse Ventura in a series of gubernatorial debates alongside the Democratic and Republican candidates, though he was at only 10 percent in polls before the debates began. Ventura, a mayor and talk-radio host, ended up becoming governor with 37 percent of the vote, thanks largely to his inclusion in debates.

This fall, TV networks would be wise to follow a recommendation made 16 years ago by the Appleseed Citizens’ Task Force on Fair Debates connected to American University’s law school: Include presidential candidates who are on enough state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning, if they either “register at 5 percent in national public opinion polls OR register a majority in national public opinion polls asking eligible voters which candidates they would like to see included in the presidential debates.”

In the economic realm, if Coke and Pepsi publicly and proudly announced that they were combining forces to exclude and silence any competition, one might expect anti-trust action . . . even from usually lethargic federal regulators.

In the political realm, after Ds and Rs unabashedly announced that they formed a commission for the purpose of maintaining their duopoly of power, one might expect a reaction from TV news executives – especially in an election year when the D and R nominees are so widely disliked and mistrusted.

Here’s an appropriate reaction from TV news decision-makers: “Sorry, CPD, we don’t need you to tell us who should be excluded from this fall’s debates. In the interests of democracy, we’ll be televising four-person debates.”

Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media – and a cofounder of the online action group,

  • rwscid

    This is an excellent overview and should be studied carefully by everyone.

    One correction I believe is important. The CPD is not in any way funded by for-profit corporations, which is just a long standing CPD smoke screen to obfuscate reality. In fact the ‘National Sponsors’ of the debates have never given the CPD any money at all. How do we know this?

    In 2012 I did a financial analysis of the CPD’s Form 990 tax returns from 2002 through 2010. Because of the nature of 501(c)3 tax reporting it is provable with simple arithmetic that their ‘National Sponsors’ gave them nothing. Confronted with this evidence, CPD Executive Director Janet Brown confessed the same.

    The CPD had a back-up smoke screen, however. They claim the colleges where the debates are held each pay $1.5 million for the privilege. The same 990s show this was not the case in the past; it is unlikely to be the case in the present, either.

    Confronted with my findings three of the ten ‘National Sponsors’ withdrew their ‘sponsorship’ before the first 2012 debate was even held. The other seven stayed the course, the debates occurred, we know the results.

    As Mr. Cohen states above – the true culpability for this fiasco lies with the media, which has played the role of lap dog, not attack dog, for the CPD.

    In these kinds of situations public outrage needs to be expressed loudly and clearly, possibly in the streets.

    We want honest debates. We don’t care what Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump do when they collude together to cheat democracy. We want to see all the candidates with a chance of winning, on a debate stage that belongs to the public, not the pathetic old Republican and Democratic Parties.

  • mwildfire

    Come on. The chance that Trump or Clinton will insist on a four-way debate is zero. Why would they? The chance that corporate media will insist on it is the same–zero. Do you really think it makes any difference how many petition signatures you garner? The system was set up to maintain the status quo–why would they allow articulate challengers to get mass media airtime? I think Stein and Johnson should have their own debate, in which they answer all the questions Clinton and Trump answered, and a couple more that should have been asked. The results should be aired on The Real News, RT, in Commondreams, and every other alternative media channel including Youtube and Facebook, so that even marginally interested people hear about it somewhere and can easily access the “rest of the debate” that includes the “suppressed candidates.”

  • kevinzeese

    I agree on Clinton, but for Trump four way debates would be a godsend. He needs stronger independent party candidates in order to reduce Clinton’s lead. He also needs Clinton to be criticized by more than him, and as she is on the road to a landslide victory, everyone will be focused on her. And, Trump also needs people to take up space in the debate so he does not have to talk and make lots of mistakes over three two hour debates. He just cannot handle that and I think he knows it. In the end, Clinton will still win but four-person debates would be very good for the political dialogue in the US and world. There would be a lot of important political education, especially if the Greens are included (Johnson is just another corporate, Republican, he just happens to smoke pot.)

  • mwildfire

    But all this assumes Trump wants to win and I’m not at all sure he does. I do think Stein’s presence would be a very direct threat to Clinton–not only because Stein is also a woman but because she is articulate and would speak strongly about issues people care about, not just utter carefully crafted soundbites. For Trump both these things would likely turn OFF his base, who apparently prefer mindless, simple, white-is-nice slogans. Perhaps Johnson would gain in relation to him, though.

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  • protestfolk

    What perhaps should also be mentioned is that the first televised u.s. presidential debate is scheduled to be held in 41 days on September 26, 2016 on the campus of Hofstra University in the Village of Hempstead and is being hosted by Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz’s Hofstra Administration. Coincidentally, 4 years ago, in October 2012, Hofstra University President Rabinowitz’s administration apparently ordered its campus security guards to arrest Green Party’s 2012 presidential candidate, Jill Stein, when, at that time, the Green Party presidential candidate attempted to participate in the 2012 Hofstra University debate. Ironically, U.S. university administrators and faculty members often claim that U.S. university campuses are “free marketplaces for all ideas and viewpoints.” Yet it still looks like Hofstra University’s administration won’t allow the ideas and viewpoints of all the 2016 u.s. presidential candidates who are on the New York State election ballot in November 2016 to express their ideas and viewpoints within a Hofstra University campus building in a September 26, 2016 on-campus debate (just like it blocked the Green Party candidate from participating in the previous 2012 tv presidential debate that was held on Hofstra University’s campus). For some financial info about Hofstra “Presidential Debate” University, Popular Resistance readers who might be interested in “occupying” Hofstra Universit’s campus on Sept. 26, 2016 to demand an open debate, can check out the following where’s the change? blog link:

  • kevinzeese

    Or, it assumes he wants to disrupt the elites in DC. Challenging the fake debate commission, who he is already fighting, would be a major disruption of the system and a very populist position.

  • mwildfire

    Mostly I see Trump as a pure narcissist–he’s running because it’s fun for him to be in the spotlight, saying outrageous things and getting away with it. BEING President would be a lot of less glamorous work. In this view, I can see him wanting to bust things up with the debate commission…I doubt he worries about trying to sound rational and intelligent “over three two-hour debates”–that has never been a requirement for him, in his own mind or for his followers, and even the media are likely to apply standards like they did in Bush v Gore–for Gore, winning meant not sounding like a pointy-headed intellectual, and for W he had to not drop his drawers and shit on the floor, that was about it. Some said W won, since he kept his clothes on and spoke in intelligible English sentences throughout, while Gore uttered some wonky statements.
    But my other view of Trump is that he has been put up to this run so that Clinton could have a rival so scary that people would vote for the least popular candidate in half a century. The families are apparently pretty good friends–I don’t rule out this scenario.

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  • Aquifer

    And yet that Root Action petition requires a poll % showing that might well wind up including Johnson and eliminating Stein …

  • Patrick_Walker

    I totally support this campaign, because I believe that under control of the fraudulent Commission on Presidential Debates, the debates have become a DANGEROUS propaganda exercise. Why? Because they provide cover for BOTH major parties on issues where BOTH are deeply irresponsible.

    Consider two that were treated in the most irresponsible way by Obama and Romney in 2012 and will be treated at least as irresponsibly by Clinton and Trump in 2016: climate change and militarism. In what should be an ENORMOUS scandal, Obama and Romney didn’t mention climate change AT AT; they also rivaled each other in rattling sabers at Iran, which our own foreign-policy experts did NOT consider a serious military threat. In 2016–if we leave Clinton and Trump to their own devices–Clinton will use Trump’s climate-change denial to cover her own tight ties to the fossil fuel industry and irresponsible footdragging on climate action. And neither will offer any SERIOUS reservations about knee-jerk U.S. militarism and interventions that violate international law. Adding Stein and Johnson will break up this DANGEROUS bipartisan propaganda, which provides cover for AWFUL policy.

    I hope, in addition to convincing Trump of his advantage in letting Stein and Johnson debate, we’ll CONFRONT progressive opinion leaders on supporting open debates. No one who fails to support open debates deserves a public reputation as a REAL progressive.

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  • collectivist