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An Open Letter to the Commission on Public Debates

We feel certain that the people who launched the idea for this organization had the best of intentions; that the CPD was launched with a goal to promote voter education and protect the election process. 

Unfortunately, the CPD’s reputation has suffered in recent years. Somewhere along the way, the organization lost sight of its mission and forgot who the American political process belongs to. 

For eight years between 1976 and 1984, the LWV had served as a neutral sponsor of the presidential and vice-presidential debates. The nonpartisan organization worked to “inform people about the issues at stake…”, and to “…open lines of communication between the electorate and candidates for public office.”

In its effort to remain nonpartisan, the group ran afoul of then-President Jimmy Carter, who refused to participate in the 1980 Presidential debate because the LWV allowed Independent John Anderson, who had met its predetermined criteria, to appear on stage. 

Then, in 1984, the group drew fire again after it called out the campaigns of Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democrat Walter Mondale for rejecting 100 potential moderators who had been proposed to oversee the debate. 

In the wake of those events, the two parties joined forces in an effort to take control away from the LWV, and in 1987, the bipartisan National Commission on Elections recommended that the Republican and Democratic parties should mutually control future presidential debates. 

When the Commission on Presidential Debates was launched, Neuman recognized the move as a dangerous idea.

“…[I]t became clear that the idea of debates sponsored by the political parties had appeal with people who routinely squeeze all risk out of their candidates’ appearances. They prefer instead to leave the American public at risk.” 
Nancy Neuman, in a 1988 statement

Consider the history of the CPD:

As a body acting on behalf of the American voters, you’ve lost our trust. You’ve failed to hold each other accountable and you’ve been allowed to operate unfettered for quite a long time. It happens within organizations sometimes, and the good ones address it without being forced to do so.

On the heels of one of the most divisive political campaigns in this nation’s history, you have a unique opportunity to change your priorities, and to serve the people instead of the parties.

Your willingness to change has the power to communicate to American voters who you’re really serving. Your refusal will do the same.