Ahead of Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine’s first vice presidential debate, the Campaign for Open Debates is accusing the Commission on Presidential Debates of partisanship, long-standing financial ties to the top candidates and parties and holding rigged debates that have kept Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein off the national stage.
In a press release issued Tuesday morning just hours before Kaine and Pence meet, the Campaign for Open Debates, or COD, cited a report published on Medium from last month that found several members of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) had donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and to other previous Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.
The report calls out CPD co-chairmen Michael McMurray — who reportedly made a donation to Clinton’s campaign on the day she announced last year — and Frank Fahrenkopf for his donations to the Republican National Committee and to candidates John McCain and George W. Bush.
Others like chairman Emeritus Paul G. Kirk, Jr. donated heavily to 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and current president Barack Obama for his 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
Since the report was published Sept. 16, the CPD hasn’t released a statement about the donations or ties to the parties. But after announcing the first debate lineup, it did say it would review poll numbers and reconsider.
While polls have shown American voters would like at least one more candidate in the debates, that possibility is unlikely to come to fruition this election cycle. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed 76 percent of voters want a third-party candidate like a Johnson or Stein on the debate stage.
The COD, started in August by alternative candidate reform group Popular Resistance.Org, is in the middle of a grassroots campaign to open the debates for candidates who are on ballots across the country and can contend for the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency.
It also accuses the CPD of being run by corporate interests and the Democrat and Republican parties in order to keep any other challengers out of the election.
However, the CPD, which has run presidential debates since 1988’s general election, does allow third-party or other candidates to participate if they meet specific requirements. The commission calls for a candidate to receive no less than 15 percent in national polls (a number neither Johnson nor Stein have reached throughout their campaigns), be on the ballot in enough states to reach the 270 electoral vote total and to be constitutionally eligible to be president.
After the CPD invited both Clinton and Republican Donald Trump to the first presidential debate, it said Johnson and Stein had met the ballot and constitutional eligibility requirements and that it was drawing poll numbers from five specific polls that showed Johnson and Stein didn’t meet the 15 percent minimum. The polls analyzed are the joint ventures of ABC-Washington Post, CBS-New York Times, CNN-Opinion Research Corporation, NBC-Wall Street Journal, and Fox News’s sole venture.
While most polls show Clinton has gained a lead over Trump, it’s still possible Stein and Johnson can eat into both major party candidates’ hold on the poll figures and make the next presidential debates next Monday and Oct. 19.
But after the former New Mexico governor learned he wasn’t invited to the first debate, Johnson fired away at the CPD.
"I would say I am surprised that the CPD has chosen to exclude me from the first debate, but I’m not," Johnson said in a statement. "After all, the Commission is a private organization created 30 years ago by the Republican and Democratic parties for the clear purpose of taking control of the only nationally-televised presidential debates voters will see. At the time of its creation, the leaders of those two parties made no effort to hide the fact that they didn’t want any third party intrusions into their shows."