Ad Cites Conflicts of Interest Plaguing Group That Decides Who Will Be on Debate Stage
Level the Playing Field's Full-page Wall Street Journal ad notes party connections of commission members who are denying independents access to debates; commission supposed to be 'non-partisan'
Jun 11, 2015, 01:30 ET
WASHINGTON, June 11, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At a time when overwhelming numbers of Americans think the political system is broken and their government is dysfunctional, just two men and their friends have the power to break the two-party stranglehold by allowing an independent on the presidential debate stage.
But they refuse to do so. Why? Start by looking at their close connections to the Democratic and Republican parties.
That is the message in a new, full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, paid for by the non-profit group Level the Playing Field.
The advertisement shines a bright light on the 17 directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) for "exercis[ing] unchecked power over our democracy while overlooking their potential conflicts of interest."
The ad states: "Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations require the CPD to be non-partisan and not 'endorse, support, or oppose political candidates or political parties.' Yet a majority of CPD leaders have publicly endorsed or contributed to Democratic and Republican candidates and their parties."
In reality, the CPD is anything but non-partisan. Its co-chairmen are Frank Fahrenkopf, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Mike McCurry, a Democratic Party stalwart and former press secretary to President Bill Clinton. Other members include former elected officials of the two major parties, and an examination of campaign contributions and public statements shows that a majority of the commissioners are staunch partisans.
One member of the CPD, former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, told an interviewer:
"It is a two-party country…. I do not believe in independent party status. People who often are independent are people who are disgruntled. Many of them are quite zealous in their causes and I think those people sometimes are a bit turbulent in the political waters…The purpose of the commission, it seems to me, is to try to preserve the two-party system that works very well, and if you like the multi-party system, then go to Sri Lanka and India and Indonesia and get picking around it instead of all this ethereal crap."
But the truth, according to Cara Brown McCormick, president and CEO of Level the Playing Field, is that "62 percent of Americans are prepared to vote for an independent candidate for President in 2016. Unfortunately, the CPD is a creature of the two-party system and for two decades its directors have blocked access to the debate stage to anyone other than the Democratic and Republican nominees. The co-chairs and a majority of the CPD directors have glaring political and partisan conflicts of interest. Is it any wonder they use a rule that crushes an independent presidential candidate's ability to compete on a level playing field?"
This is Level the Playing Field's third full-page ad shining light on the members of the Commission for refusing to give Americans greater choice and competition by opening up the 2016 Presidential debates. The first ad was published last month and is discussed at length in this Bloomberg Politics piece by Emily Greenhouse. The second ad was published on June 1.
Level the Playing Field is the same group that filed an Administrative Complaint and a Petition for Rulemaking with the FEC eight months ago, but have yet to receive a response.
Here are just a few examples of the political and partisan conflicts of CPD members:
Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., co-chair
- Former Chairman of Republican National Committee for two presidential campaign cycles; served as Chairman longer than any other Republican in the 20th Century
- Said, "I am a believer…that the two major political parties should do everything in their power to strengthen their own position. We're party builders."
- On April 1, 2015 told Sky News, "That's why in the general election debate, we have a system and we, we, as you know, we primarily go with the two leading candidates, it's been the two political party candidates, save an exception from 1992 when Ross Perot participated in the debates."
- Founder of the International Republican Institute
- White House aide to Ronald Reagan; Nevada co-chairman of Richard Nixon's re-election campaign
- Framed on his office wall is the December 1983 issue of American Politics, and the cover article about him is titled, 'Managing and Building the Two-Party System.'
- Donated over $90,000 to Republican candidates and causes in last 25 years
Michael D. McCurry, co-chair
- Former Press Secretary to Bill Clinton
- Former Democratic National Committee Communications Director
- Said that he "would be among the first to applaud" Hillary Clinton's decision to run for president in 2016 "because she would make a good chief executive."
- Donated over $140,000 to Democratic candidates and causes,
- Including $7,500 to Hillary Clinton, a potential candidate in 2016
John C. Danforth
- Former Republican Attorney General, Senator, and Governor of Missouri
- Honorary host of Jeb Bush fundraiser for the Right to Rise PAC, January 2015
- Donated over $140,000 to Republican candidates and causes
Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr.
- Former Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, White House Political Director, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Republican Governor of Indiana
- Former Democratic Member of Congress from California
- Donated over $90,000 to Democratic candidates and causes in last 25 years
- Endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2007: "Hillary's strength and experience make her uniquely qualified to be Commander in Chief and deliver the change Americans want."
- Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton
- CIA Director, and Secretary of Defense under President Obama
- Democratic member of Congress for 16 years
- Endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2015, saying he would "absolutely" support Hillary Clinton if she ran for president, adding, "What the hell else do you want?"
- Donated nearly $30,000 to Democratic candidates and causes
Alan K. Simpson
- Former Republican Senator from Wyoming
- Campaigned for George W. Bush; was appointed by President Bush to the board of directors of the Federal National Mortgage Association;
- Said, 'You have a lot of thoughtful Democrats and Republicans on the Commission that are interested in the American people finding out more about the two major candidates—not about independent candidates, who just mess things up.'" (Interview with George Farah, March 18, 2002)
- Said, "It is a two-party country. It seems to work better when you have the embracing of the two-party system. I'd like to preserve that. I have seen enough in my time, in my lifetime, with three very capable people – Anderson, Perot, and Nader – who have messed things up, who have ruined the cake mix… The purpose of the commission, it seems to me, is to try to preserve the two-party system that works very well, and if you like the multiparty system, then go to Sri Lanka and India and Indonesia and get picking around it instead of all this ethereal crap." (Interview with George Farah, March 18, 2002)
- Donated over $35,000 to Republican candidates and causes
Level the Playing Field is a nonpartisan, nonprofit corporation not affiliated with any candidate or candidate committee. Its purpose is to promote reforms that allow for greater competition and choice in elections. For more information, visit www.ChangeTheRule.org.
CONTACT: Elizabeth Heaton, 202-725-8785, [email protected]
SOURCE Level the Playing Field
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