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Open Debates, National Press Building, 529 14th Street. NW, Suite 1201

Washington DC, 20045

August 16, 2004

Contact: Chris Shaw (202) 628-9195

Washington, DC – Today, civic leaders and elected officials across the country called on President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry to participate in the presidential debates proposed by the genuinely nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission and to reject the presidential debates proposed by the unsuitable Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), after a Federal Court on Thursday ordered the Federal Election Commission to open a full investigation into whether the CPD acted in a “partisan manner” when sponsoring the 2000 presidential debates.

On Thursday, August 12, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., found that the FEC acted “contrary to law” in dismissing a complaint claiming that the CPD is a partisan organization and, therefore, ineligible under federal election law to sponsor presidential debates. (A copy of the decision can be found at ) “This ruling casts a dark cloud over the legitimacy of the CPD to sponsor the upcoming 2004 debates,” said Jason Adkins, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “It is time for the CPD to step aside and allow a truly non-partisan organization sponsor the national presidential debates in accordance with federal law.”

Today, the truly nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission sent official invitations to the Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards campaigns for the nominees to participate in five legally sound presidential debates and one legally sound vice-presidential debate at colleges and universities around the country. The invitations – available at – were signed by dozens of civic leaders, including former FEC General Counsel Larry Noble, Ambassador Alan Keyes, Tom Gerety of the Brennan Center for Justice, Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, former television talk show host Phil Donahue, Jehmu Greene of Rock the Vote, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), Bay Buchanan of the American Cause, former Senator Eugene McCarthy, executive producer of the 1996 presidential debates Bob Asman, TransAfrica Forum founder Randall Robinson, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, Stuart Comstock-Gay of the National Voting Rights Institute, Joan Mandle of Democracy Matters, Norman Dean of Friends of the Earth, former Congressman and chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy John B. Anderson, Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, and Harvard Law professor Jon Hanson. 

“For the sake of democracy and voter education, the nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission must replace the bipartisan CPD, which fails to comply with federal law and fails to serve voters' interests,” said George Farah, executive director of Open Debates and a member of the Citizens Debate Commission.

Since 1988, negotiators for the Republican and Democratic nominees have jointly drafted secret debate contracts that dictated precisely how the debates would be run – from selecting who would ask the questions, to decreeing who would participate. Co-chaired by the former heads of the Republican and Democratic parties, the CPD implemented and concealed those contracts, shielding the major party candidates from public criticism. As a result, the presidential debates have been reduced to glorified bipartisan news conferences, and viewership has plummeted, with twenty-five million fewer Americans watching the 2000 presidential debates than watching the 1992 presidential debates.

Aspiring to reverse the decline in debate viewership, the Citizens' Debate Commission has invited the major party candidates to participate in debates that would feature engaging formats, address a variety of pressing national issues, and include third-party challengers that a majority of eligible voters want included, if any meet such criteria. The nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission, which has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers, is comprised of seventeen national civic leaders from the left, center and right of political spectrum, and sixty diverse civic organizations serve on its Advisory Board.

Copies of the invitations to the major party candidates are available at: