Debate Commission Apologizes To Ralph Nader

Contributed By: Green Party of the United States Articles, June 3, 2002

Washington, D.C. - On the eve of trial in federal district court in Boston, Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), and Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, the CPD's Democratic and Republican co-chairs, have sent a letter of apology to Ralph Nader and made a monetary payment to his attorneys in order to settle the case Nader filed against them for the events on October 3, 2000, the night of the first presidential debate. The Commission's security consultant during the first debate has also sent a letter of apology and is also paying a portion of Nader's attorneys' fees.

On the night of the first debate, Nader had a valid ticket to an auxiliary viewing room and an interview with Fox News, but he was met at the university campus by the CPD's security consultant and state police and forced to leave the event under threat of arrest. The CPD had instructed the consultant that Mr. Nader could not attend the debate, but Nader was attempting to attend a separate viewing event that was sponsored by the University of Massachusetts, not the CPD presidential debate. Others allowed on campus without any ticket were invited to attend the university event. Nader promptly sued the CPD on October 17, 2000.

Reacting to the letters of apology, Nader said, "This expression of contrition was what I asked for in a letter to the Commission soon after the expulsion on October 3, 2000, and this is what the Commission finally agreed to, however delayed. After our victory, they will think thrice before doing this again to any ticketed third-party candidates in the future." Nader has repeatedly accused the CPD of being a deplorable, exclusionary tool of the two-party duopoly, performing an antidemocratic screening function in our system, and forcing excluded candidates to the sidelines in media attention and public appraisal."

The Commission on Presidential Debates was formed in 1987 to replace the non-partisan League of Women Voters, which included independent candidate John Anderson in the first 1980 presidential debate and prohibited the major party candidates from selecting the debate panelists in 1984. Frank Fahrenkopf, then chairman of the Republican National Committee and now the leading lobbyist for the gambling industry, and Paul Kirk, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee and now a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, created The Commission on Presidential Debates.

Financed by Anheuser-Busch, Philip Morris and other multinational corporations, the Commission on Presidential Debates has excluded popular third-party candidates, most of whom are critical of the Big Business agenda. Although he received $29 million in public funds, captured 19 percent of the popular vote in the previous 1992 election, and 76 percent of eligible voters wanted him included, Ross Perot was excluded by the two parties from the 1996 presidential debates. Both Pat Buchanan, who collected over $12 million in federal matching funds, and Ralph Nader, who attracted the largest paid audiences during his campaign appearances, were excluded from the 2000 presidential debates, although in a national poll, 64 percent of eligible voters wanted them included.

Nader's legal team survived three motions to dismiss, two summary judgment motions by the Commission defendants and was prepared to go to trial today in Boston. During preparation for trial, it became clear that the lawyer for the allegedly "non-partisan" CPD had created a "face sheet" that was distributed to security personnel to bar several well-known third-party presidential and vice-presidential candidates from attending the debate. Howard Friedman, Nader's lead counsel, said "the Massachusetts civil rights law does not allow a corporation through police power to use threats, intimidation, or force to violate the First Amendment rights of people because they disagree with the Commission."


Back to