Presidential Debate Funding Remains Dubious To Some

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INTERACTIONS

The Commission on Presidential Debates, the tax-exempt organization responsible for putting on the national presidential debates, has been under intense public scrutiny for excluding third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein from the debates, and activist groups are now questioning who actually finances them. It seems that presidential debate funding is often convoluted and highly protected.

This year’s debates are sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, Southwest Airlines, International Bottled Water Association, The Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Sheldon S. Cohen, Esq., Crowell & Moring LLP, and The Kovler Fund.

After heavy petitioning from activist groups, three sponsors — Phillips Electronics, YWCA, and BBH New York – withdrew their support last week due to possible perceived bipartisanship of the CPD.

Phillips issued the following statement Friday through an e-mail sent to multiple people: “While the Commission on Presidential Debates is a non-partisan organization, their work may appear to support bi-partisan politics. We respect all points of view and, as a result, want to ensure that Philips doesn’t provide even the slightest appearance of supporting partisan politics. As such, no company funds have been or will be used to support the Commission on Presidential Debates.”

It seems that the CPD would like to have it appear that these remaining national sponsors are the only contributors paying for the debate, but their 903 tax forms filed with the IRS indicate that there are more donors whose names and donations are being withheld by the CPD.

The 903 filing shows that from 2005 to 2009, the CPD received $7,173,145 in total support.

On page 14, the document states the contributions received by the CPD each year since 2005.  Furthermore, it reads, “The portion of total contributions by each person (other than a governmental unit or publicly supported organization) included on line 1 that exceeds 2% of the amount shown on line 11, column (t).” “0″  is marked in the total amount for that item.

This means that no national sponsor gave more than $143,462.90 (2 percent of line 11, column f).

There are two possibilities according to Help the CPD activist Rick Stewart. “Somebody or a group of somebodies gave a total of $6,946,471, which means there had to have been quite a few of them.”

The other possibility is, “some or all of the $6,946,471 came from a different 501(c)(3) organization,” said Stewart.

In 2004, the CPD took in over $4.1 million and more than 93 percent came from six contributors, according to The Center for Public Integrity. The CPI also requested and received a donor list in which, “the commission blanked out the names of all six.”

Nonprofit organizations are not legally required to make this information public, but the CPD, an organization dedicated to non-partisanship and providing the best possible information to its viewers, is suspicious in its discretion.

According to the CPD’s Executive Director Janet Brown, who has received $1.6 million in the past nine years for her services, the commission is similar to most non-profits in their fundraising efforts. A report from the CPI says, “[The CPD] seeks funding from foundations, corporations, individuals, and the debate sites themselves. [Brown] insists that no funder has ever asked for a topic or question to be introduced in the debates.”

The CPD’s conflict of interest policy states that it “ensures compliance with its conflict of interest policy in multiple ways.  The commission’s transactions are few enough in number that the executive director is able to monitor for any transaction that might implicate the policy.” However, the CPD’s reluctance to reveal the specific  foundations, corporations and individuals that donate to theme raises eyebrows, as the involved contributors may, in fact, pose a conflict of interest in the supposedly non-partisan debates.

IVN contacted the CPD office in Washington, but could not be reached for comment.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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16 comments
James Osburn
James Osburn

Just think how all those Trillions of dollars spent on the elections would do for the economy.

James Osburn
James Osburn

It's like the whole political process, the rich insuring themselves to stay rich, grow richer, off the backs of the poor.

Mark Bellamy
Mark Bellamy

Given they keep out everyone not part of catering to banking institutions and corporations, I'd say they were sponsored by the former two.

Roger Jewell
Roger Jewell

It's not registered voter fraud we should be worried about. It's the fraud engaged in by the two major political parties and the media that is ruining our political system. They block out third parties any way they can. Our political system is a completely fraud.

James Davis
James Davis

Dubious? It's a fraud! Let Gary Johnson and other 3rd party candidates debate. Ohh yes I forgot, the Republicans and Democrats changed the "rules" after Bush Sr., Clinton, and Ross Perot. What a sham! Corporate media and the central bank picks the prez. Don't believe me? Ask Goldman Sachs.

Clarence Young
Clarence Young

Bought and paid for. Move em out. Vote for Gary Johnson.

Jason Harsha
Jason Harsha

The debates are completely partisan toward the corporate parties. If you don't have enough corporate backing (i.e. "third" parties), you will never be a part of the Republicrat club (or is it Demoblican?).

Mareike Lucht
Mareike Lucht

I think transparency is of utmost importance, especially nowadays where it seems that money is voice.

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier

Maybe the CPD should be subject to a debate... the Commission on Presidential Debates Debate

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

Hats off to Phillips Electronics for backing out and making a statement. This is a case where non-partisan and bi-partisan can get mixed up. CPD says they're non-partisan, but don't do anything to support a non-partisan debate. There is more than two ideas for a solution.

Jane Susskind
Jane Susskind

Seems suspicious when multiple organizations are pulling funds from the CPD. There's a lot of money floating around, way more than I expected, and if the CPD is truly non-partisan, it seems like they should have no problem being more transparant about where they get their money.

Matt Metzner
Matt Metzner

I've been reading the agreements between them and the campaigns in the 2004 race. It's unreal how much control this group has over the event. Definitely more theater than discussion. The worst part is that they refuse to allow the candidates to participate in debates in other forums.

Chad Peace
Chad Peace

I had no idea their was that much public funding for the CPD. I don't understand why it even costs that much money; makes no sense at all ... and how do they get away with not allowing other candidates who have the requisite ballot access to participate?

Emma Goda
Emma Goda

I agree with Jane, there is so much money floating around and what is it really all going towards.