WTF?!! Why is there no way to contact the Commission on Presidential Debates?!

As you probably know, the Naderites are agitating to get Nader included in the presidential debates this year. (See

Now, I’m not voting for Nader this year, I’m voting for Kerry, because our voting system is what it is, for now, and I don’t want to risk another four years of Bush. Anything but that.

On the other hand, I am generally in favor of opening up our political system to third parties. (See my current GD thread, "A multiparty system is better than a two-party system! – And letting the third-party and independent candidates join in the presidential debates, if nothing else, would remind the public that there are more than two parties out there, and would give them a wider range of viewpoints to think about.

So, I conceived of a compromise solution. The Commission on Presidential Debates, which is in charge of all this, has scheduled four debates:

First presidential debate:
Thursday, September 30
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL

Vice presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 5
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH

Second presidential debate:
Friday, October 8
Washington University
in St. Louis

Third presidential debate:
Wednesday, October 13
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ

Why not let Nader, as well as the presidential candidates of the Green Party, Socialist Party, Libertarian Party and Constitution Party (I think those are the only third parties running presidential candidates this year) participate in the first debate only? And then let the remaining three be strictly Kerry-Bush, Edwards-Cheney. That gives the minor candidates a chance to be heard and speak their piece to a national audience, without throwing too much third-party distraction into this campaign season.

Reasonable idea, right? Something the CPD should at least consider if a civic-minded citizen suggests it.

So I went to the CPD’s website at, intending to send them an e-mail . . .

And there’s no way to contact them!

No e-mail webform, no e-mail address, no snail-mail address!

The site doesn’t even say who are the members of this Commission!

There is a phone number for people who want to set up a local debate or a debate-watching party – (202) 872-1020. But it’s answered only by a machine. I called last week and left a message (explaining carefully that I was looking for contact information – which might have been my mistake), and nobody’s gotten back to me.

There is a “Media” button – click on it and it takes you to a page where you have to log in with a password. “If you are a media representative and wish to obtain a user name and password, please notify your CPD media contact.” Apparently the CPD is willing to communicate with accredited journalists, but not with ordinary citizens.

I did a search through and found the following listing:

Commission On Presidental Debates
1200 New Hampshire Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20036
(202) 872-1020

Same phone number I already had. I sent an e-mail – no response. Under the circumstances I don’t think I’ll waste time on a snail-mail letter.

I called the LetNaderDebate people (212-609-2800) – I got a live person there, but, would you believe it? Even they don’t know how to contact the CPD! They’ve sued them several times in the past but the papers always had to pass through lawyers.

What the fuck is going on here? Who do these people think they’re working for?

Oh dear me.

Personally, I’d invite Cobb, Peroutka, and Badnarik, but no one else.

Why only them?

Look at this list.

Oops, I hit “submit” when I meant to hit “preview”.

Anyway, we can’t admit every candidate with ballot access, so I’d limit it to those with access in at least 30 or so states, limiting it to those three candidates.

It says that, here:

Thanx, Captain, I thought I’d looked through the whole site but somehow I missed that page.

Let’s see:


Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr.
Paul G. Kirk, Jr.

Honorary Co-Chairmen

Gerald R. Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
William J. Clinton

Board of Directors

Howard Buffett
Rep. Jennifer Dunn
Antonia Hernandez
Caroline Kennedy
Newton N. Minow
Dorothy Ridings
H. Patrick Swygert

Executive Director

Janet H. Brown

Apart from the ex-presidents, does any Doper know who any of these people are? And, more importantly, how to contact them?

Frank Fahrenkopf is a former Republican National Chairman. I don’t know how you’d contact him.

Jennifer Dunn is a (retiring) Congresswoman from Washington.

This is her web address:

Newton Minow is the guy who gave the “vast wasteland” speech about television. Again, I don’t know how to contact him.

As for the others: No clue.

I just sent Dunn an e-mail. Let’s see what happens.

Paul Kirk is a former DNC chairman. I believe Howard Buffett is Warren Buffet’s son. He’s on the Board of Directors of Coca Cola. Antonia Hernandez is president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Caroline Kennedy is JFK’s daughter. Dorothy Ridings is the former President of the League of Women Voters and current President and CEO of the Council on Foundations. H. Patrick Swygert is the President of Howard University, and also on the Board of Directors of Fannie Mae and the Hartford Group.

I am strongly opposed to letting Nader into the debates. The debates should be focused on John Kerry, John Edwards, George Bush and Dick Cheney: The four candidates who have a chance to be the President and Vice President of the United States.

Nader won ZERO states in 2000. He won 2.74% of the popular vote in 2000. He’s not likely to be on the ballot in more than 15 or so this year. He’s polling under 2% in every poll taken.

There are plenty of ways Nader can get his “ideas” out. There are hundreds of hours of C-span programming which show almost every political point of view in the United States. The internet allows anyone to get their point of view out there.
There are three 24 per day cable news networks.

Nader in the 2004 debates? I say no and if he shows up and tries to force his way into the debate, take him into custody. Nader can give his speech to the inmates at the county jail.

Here’s a bit of interesting info: When I talked to the guy at LetNaderDebate, he said they’d run into a brick wall with the CPD but they were getting some encouragement from the Bush team! And I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about conservative organizations trying to get Nader on some state ballots – hoping Nader will draw votes away from Kerry (personally I think Nader might actually draw some votes away from Bush).

So – what if Bush gets on Nader’s side here, and insists on including him in the debates? Would Kerry be in a position to object?

But if they do that – on what grounds do they exclude the candidates who are actual party nominees and who have gotten on more state ballots than Nader has?

I thought I recognized this name, and a quick search confirmed it: Dr. Swygert is the President of Howard University in Washington, DC.

This page should lead you to his contact details.

They’d have a tough time getting all the candidates into the debates. Leonard Peltier doesn’t get out much.

Simple. Ross Perot was invited to participate in the 1992 debates as he consistantly had shown in polling that he would win 15-25% of the popular vote. Perot won no states, but won about 18% of the popular vote.

Perot was NOT invited to the 1996 debates as he never did well in any 1996 poll. He won 8% of the popular vote.

Nader only won 2 percent of the entire US electorate in 2000.

I don’t think it is entirely about how many states you get on the ballot. Nader has no chance to win the election. He doesn’t belong in the debates.

My point was: Assuming, hypothetically, that the Bushies do try to get Nader on the stage just to muddy the waters – how do they justify excluding the others?

Perot never had a chance of winning either, but I don’t question the propriety of including him in the 1992 debates and I do question the propriety of excluding him in 1996.

We’ve got competing considerations in play here:

On the side of limiting the debate to two: It’s obvious that, for now and the foreseeable future, every presidential election will be a two-way contest. That may change one day – I hope very much it will – but for now, that’s how it is. So adding more candidates to the debates is a needless distraction and confusion.

On the side of being more inclusive: The debates do not exist only to help the public choose between the candidates, they also play an important political educational role. Letting minor-party candidates participate gives the people more to think about, reminds them that there really are more than two important points of view. And letting them debate now, while they’re no-hopers, gives them advertising and publicity, helps them put their ideas out their, and hastens the day when we really will have truly competitive multi-party elections.

That’s why I proposed my compromise: Let the minor candidates join in the first debate, get that out of the way, and then get down to the real business of deciding whether Bush or Kerry is going to be our president from 2005-2009.

More importantly – what we really need to do is turn the whole thing back over to the League of Women Voters. They’re better suited to balance the competing considerations here – because they’re a genuinely nonpartisan, civic-minded group. This Commission on Presidential Debates, by contrast – is bipartisan – Co-Chairman Fahrenkopf is a former RNC Chairman, Co-Chairman Kirk is a former DNC Chairman. The Board of Directors members are not so obviously partisan, and Dorothy Ridings is a former LWV President – but I think it would probably turn out that the co-chairs call the shots. And they wouldn’t even want to admit publicly that other parties exist.

Does anybody know anything about the Executive Director, Janet H. Brown?

Circular Argument: See “Argument, Circular”

Well, I can’t find it on Michael Badnarik’s web site (shameless plug for Libertarian presidential candidate) any more, but he had a ‘cite’ on there before claiming that 65% of Americans feel that the 3rd parties should be represented in the Presidential debates (gods know how accurate that claim was…I notice its not on there anymore). And I agree…I’d love to see at least the top 10 candidates in a 4 hour debate…maybe the first debate at least, so they can at least be heard.

I think if you let Nader in you have to let at least the other top parties have their shot too.

I wish I had more time to get into this, as its a debate near and dear to my heart.


Janet Brown is the Executive Director, and I have two phone numbers for her: 202 872-1020, or at her full time job with the Making a Difference in Communities foundation in NC at 919 968-4531.

But in general, let me say that sending emails to government offices or quasi-governmental organizations is a complete waste of time. Folks like me who work in such places know that it only takes a moment to send an email, but generally speaking, some thought has to go into a letter (if for no other reason than you have to buy a stamp and go to a mailbox). Responses to inquries are prioritized accordingly. If someone doesn’t think their opinion is worth a quarter, a dime, and some other random change, why should someone else take it seriously?

That being said, it is rude for them not to return a phone call.

Getting back to the point at hand, you’ll get the blow-off anyway. The commission has already made their recommendations, and those recommendations are only worth something if the major party candidates agree to them. If you want to make the suggestion for the 2008 election, you should probably get in contact with them in the summer of 2007.

(And if I were a major party candidate, there’s no way in hell you’d get me on a stage with five or seven other candidates who have no chance at all to even get 5 percent of the vote. I expect Bush and Kerry would make the same decision. Let the minor parties hold their own debate, I’m sure someone would cover it with the appropriate level of media resources for a non-event. CSPAN would certainly be there! :))

But if the LWV, which is beholden to neither party (as opposed to the CPD which is beholden to both) were still in charge of this, and the LWV were to announce, we will hold the debates at the following dates and times under the following conditions and all candidates who meet the following conditions (e.g., qualifications for X number of state ballots, or a certain level of support in a designated poll) will be invited to participate – what could the major-party candidates do then? Not showing up would look cowardly.

Getting the Commission on Presidential Debates to see that their exlusionary policy is unfair is an exercise in futility. The Commission exists to be unfair.
Check out the Disinfopedia entry.

I strongly agree. The two major party candidates know that they will have to remain “Presidential” when on stage for the debate. Of course, both candidates will have prepared one liners and attacks on the opponent’s record. However, both have much to lose in going too far in these attacks.

A third party candidate, who will pull in less than 2% of the vote, does not have such a fear. I could easily see attacks which go far and above the accepted standard for Presidential conduct. Plus, many of the third party candidates tend to be a one trick pony. Does anyone really want to listen to Nader griping about corporate influence in his response to every question?

This site gives information about all of the third parties running in the election. You’ll note that Nader could not win the endorsement of the Peace and Freedom Party in California because they decided to nominate a candidate who is serving consecutive life sentences for murder. The Prohibition party, which won only about 200 votes in 2000, decided to split into 2 parties. The Socialist Worker’s party nominated two candidates who are constitutionally unable to serve as President as some sort of “protest.”

Either Bush/Cheney or Kerry/Edwards will be elected in November. I believe they should be the only participants in this most crucial election.