Posted 5 years ago on Oct. 4, 2012, 6:51 a.m. EST by flip
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GEORGE FARAH: The best part of the history starts in 1980. In 1980, John B. Anderson, an independent candidate for president, runs against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. President Jimmy Carter absolutely opposed independent candidate John Anderson’s participation in the presidential debates, and The League had a choice; do they support the independent candidate’s participation and defy the wishes of the President of the United States or do they capitulate to the demands of President Jimmy Carter? The league did the right thing, it stood to the President of the United States, invited John B. Anderson. The President refused to show up. The League went forward anyway and had a presidential debate that was watched by 55 million Americans. You fast forward four years later, Amy, and the Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan campaigns vetoed 80 of the moderators that The League of Women Voters had proposed for the debates. The were simply trying to get rid of...
AMY GOODMAN: Eighty?
GEORGE FARAH: Eighty. They were trying to get rid of difficult questions.
AMY GOODMAN: Eight-zero?
GEORGE FARAH: Eight-zero. Eighty. And The League didn’t just say, OK that’s fine we’ll allow you to select a moderator that’s going to ask softball questions, The League held a press conference and lambasted the campaigns for trying to get rid of the difficult questions. Of course there was a public outcry. So The League marshaled public support to criticize when they attempted to defy our democratic process and the result was fantastic. For the next debate, the campaigns were required to accept The League’s proposed moderators for fear of an additional public outcry. And you fast forward four more years later and you have the Michael Dukakis and the George Bush campaign’s drafting the first ever 12-page secret debate contract. They gave it to The League of Women Voters and said please implement this. The League said, are you kidding me? We are not going to implement a secret contract that dictates the terms of the format. Instead, they release the contract to the public and they held a press conference accusing the candidates of "perpetrating a fraud on the American people" and refusing to be "an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people."
Well, Amy, conveniently, just a year earlier, the Republican and Democratic parties had ratified an agreement "to take over the presidential debates, and they created this artifice, this commission, and the commission was waiting in the wings and stepped right in and implemented the very same 12-page contract that The League had so effectively denounced, and ever since we’ve had a contract.
AMY GOODMAN: Since The League did release it — The League of Women Voters at the time — what was in this 12-page contract, at least then?
GEORGE FARAH: The 12-page contract then said very specific provisions that the candidates cannot actually ask each other any questions during the debates, that no third party candidates would be permitted to participate in those events, that there would be a certain number of audience members that would be supportive of the various candidates. Actually, it is quite tame compared to the contracts we have seen in recent years. That contract was 12 pages. The 2004 contract that we’ve managed to obtain a a copy of, was 32 pages. So, over time, the candidates have made even greater efforts to control various components of the debates to eliminate both third party candidates, unpredictable questions, and any threat to their dominance in our political process.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this Commission, talk about the heads of the commission and who they are, who they were when it started, Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, and who they are today, and who they represent?
GEORGE FARAH: Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk were the original co-chairs on the Commission on Presidential Debates. Frank Fahrenkopf is the former hair of the Republican party, and Paul Kirk is the former chair of the Democratic party. When they created the commission, for 15 months, they simultaneously served as co-chairs of their respective parties and the commission, so, it was of course by definition an entity that was absolutely loyal to the two parties. Well, guess what, Frank Fahrenkopf still is co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, decades later. And he has one other job, his day job; he is the director of the American Gaming Association. In other words, he is the nation’s leading gambling lobbyist. When I asked Frank, do you feel comfortable having a beer and tobacco companies paying for our most important election events, our presidential debates? He said, boy, you’re talking to the wrong guy, I represent the gambling industry. The other co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates now is Mike McCurry, former Press Secretary to Bill Clinton and also a lobbyist.