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article imageOp-Ed: Why are there only two presidential candidates in the debates?

By Ken Hanly     Oct 4, 2012 in Politics
Washington - There are two other candidates running for president who run in enough states that they could theoretically be elected president. Neither of these two candidates can take part in the presidential debates. Why?
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian party is on the ballot in a total of 48 states. Dr Jill Stein, the nominee of the Green party, is running in 39 states. Since either could win one would think that they should be able to debate the issues with Romney and Obama.
But these debates are not run according to rules set out by the government. The rules are set by a non-profit organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). This group was created by the Democratic and Republican parties in 1987 as a bipartisan effort. An effort it would seem, to help keep presidential candidates other than those for the two main parties out of debates. At a 1987 press conference announcing the commission's creation, Republican Frank Fahrenkopf said that the commission was not likely to include third-party candidates in debates. Paul G. Kirk, then Democratic national chairman, said he personally believed they should be excluded from the debates. The rules were rigged to ensure the two parties kept the debates open only to their own nominees.
The present co-chairmen of the CPD represent each party. Frank Fahrenkopf is a former chair of the Republican National Committee. Michael D. McCurry the other co-chair was Bill Clinton's press secretary. The rules require that to take part in the debates a presidential candidate must have received the support of at least 15% of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations.
However, without access to regular television, or to the debates, or to the huge sums of money necessary to obtain public awareness of a candidate, this level of support is difficult if not impossible to obtain. That is probably the whole idea!
The debates have the following sponsors:Anheuser-Busch, The Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Sheldon S. Cohen, Crowell & Moring, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), The Kovler Fund and Southwest Airlines. Three former sponsors, the YWCA, Philips Electronics and BBH New York have withdrawn over the third party nominee access issue.
On Sept 21st of this year, the Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson filed an anti-trust suit against the CPD, the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee in the District of Columbia Circuit Court. The suit cites the Sherman Act and claims being excluded from the debates is a "restraint of trade" denying competition. For example, it prevents competition to potentially receive the presidential $400,000 annual salary. In a country that always emphasizes how important free choice is, it is a bit strange that free choice must be between the two chosen by the two main parties and no one else.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Presidential debates, two party system, Gary Johnson, Election 2012
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