invited to debate

Commission on Presidential Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties to establish the way that debates are run between candidates for President of the United States who garner at least 15 percent support across five national polls. The Commission is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) entity as defined by Federal US tax laws, whose debates are sponsored by private contributions from foundations and corporations.

The Commission sponsors and produces debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and undertakes research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, bi-partisan corporation, has sponsored each of the presidential debates held since 1988. The Commission has moderated the 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 debates. Prior to this, the League of Women Voters moderated the 1976, 1980, 1984 debates.

The Commission is headed by Frank Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee, and Paul Kirk, a former head of the Democratic National Committee.


In 1988, the League of Women Voters withdrew its sponsorship of the presidential debates after the George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis campaigns secretly agreed to a "memorandum of understanding" that would decide which candidates could participate in the debates, which individuals would be panelists (and therefore able to ask questions), and the height of the podiums. The League rejected the demands and released a statement saying that they were withdrawing support for the debates because "the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.

At a press conference announcing the commission's creation, Fahrenkopf said that the commission was not likely to include third-party candidates in debates, and Kirk said he personally believed they should be excluded from the debates.

During the 2000 election, the CPD stipulated that candidates would only be invited to debate if they had a 15 percent support level across five national polls. Ralph Nader, a presidential candidate who was not allowed to debate because of this rule, believed that the regulation was created to stifle the views of third party candidates by keeping them off the televised debates. Nader brought a lawsuit against them in a federal court, on the basis that corporate contributions violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.

In 2004, citing the CPD's 32 page debate contract, Connie Rice on NPR's The Tavis Smiley Show called the CPD debates "news conferences," and "a reckless endangerment of democracy.

In 2008 the CPD asked Gwen Ifill to moderate the Vice Presidential debate. Ifill is due to release a book about black politicians, including Barack Obama. This has led some to question the bipartisan nature of the CPD. All terms for the debates (including the moderator) are agreed to ahead of time and are subject to negotiation. Ifill also moderated the 2004 Vice Presidential Debate.

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