INSTITUTE INDEX: Pressure grows to open presidential debates to third parties

Over the past week, number of the 10 sponsors of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) that have terminated their support because of pressure from advocates who want the debates opened to third parties: 3*

Year in which the Republican and Democratic parties created the CPD to take over from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters in part because of opposition to third-party inclusion: 1987

Number of pro-democracy groups currently calling on the CPD to reveal the secret agreement negotiated by the Democratic and Republican parties setting the terms for the debates: 18

Date on which former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party's current presidential candidate, filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the CPD over his exclusion: 9/21/2012

Year in which President Jimmy Carter refused to participate in a debate because of the League's inclusion of Independent John B. Anderson: 1980

Number of League-proposed debate moderators vetoed by the campaigns of Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic challenger Walter Mondale in 1984 in an attempt to squelch difficult questions, prompting public outcry: 68

Year in which the CPD took over the debates, structuring them according to a secret contract between the Republican and Democratic parties that excluded third-party candidates: 1988

Year in which Reform Party candidate Ross Perot was included in the debates because Republican President George H.W. Bush thought he would take votes from Democrat Bill Clinton: 1992

Year in which Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole successfully demanded Perot's exclusion from the debates, even though Perot's campaign had qualified for $29 million in taxpayer financing: 1996

Rank of the 1996 presidential debates for the smallest audience in presidential debate history: 1

Following widespread criticism of the 1992 and 1996 debates, polling threshold percentage CPD was forced to adopt to determine when third-party candidates would be allowed to participate: 15

Number of third-party candidates in the past century who got close to 15 percent in polls prior to a presidential debate: 0

Percentage polling threshold at which presidential candidates qualify for taxpayer funds: 5

Year in which former CPD director Alan Simpson defended the two-party control of debates, saying, "[I]f you like the multiparty system, then go to Sri Lanka and India and Indonesia": 2002

Rank of beer giant Anheuser-Busch among the most generous sponsors of the debate: 1

Amount Anheuser-Busch contributed to the 2000 debates, where it set up information booths distributing glossy pamphlets denouncing "unfair" beer taxes and calling on the government to "avoid interfering" with beer drinking: $550,000

Amount CPD co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf, former chair of the Republican National Committee, earns as the chief lobbyist for the U.S. gambling industry: $900,000

Amount CPD co-chair Paul Kirk, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, has collected for lobbying on behalf of German pharmaceutical firm Hoechst Marion Roussel: $120,000

Year in which 17 civic leaders from across the political spectrum created the Citizens' Debate Commission to try to break CPD's monopoly: 2004

Number of civic groups backing that effort: 60

Number of newspapers that have editorialized in support of it: 23

* Advertising agency BBH New York, nonprofit YWCA and tech giant Philips North America withdrew. The remaining sponsors, in addition to Anheuser-Busch, are The Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Crowell & Moring LLP, International Bottled Water Association, The Kovler Fund, Southwest Airlines and Sheldon S. Cohen, Esq.

(Click on figure to go to source. Photo of John McCain and Barack Obama debating at the University of Mississippi on Sept. 26, 2008 from the Commission on Presidential Debates.)