In early September, libertarian-leaning Texas congressman and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said on NBC's The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, "democracy isn’t all that healthy because if you’re in a third party, you don’t get into the debates.”
The statement sparked reactions from pro-democracy groups as well as from the 2012 Libertarian Party nominee for president, Gary Johnson, who recently filed an anti-trust claim against the Commission on Presidential Debates to protest the supposed rule that a third party candidate must poll above 15% in order to gain access to the season's presidential debates.
"The Republican and Democratic Parties, through the CPD, indefensibly limit access of other candidates to the marketplace of ideas and the opportunity to be employed in these highest offices in the land, and in so doing are violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890," says Johnson's claim.
And now, 18 pro-democracy groups -- Open Debates, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Rock the Vote, Judicial Watch, Public Campaign, FairVote, Demos, Democracy Matters, League of Rural Voters, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, Essential Information, Personal Democracy Media, Reclaim Democracy!, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Citizen Works, Free & Equal Elections Foundation, and Rootstrikers -- are calling on the CPD to make public the secret debate contract that was negotiated by the Obama and Romney campaigns.
According to the coalition, Robert F. Bauer of the Obama campaign and Benjamin L. Ginsberg of the Romney campaign negotiated a detailed contract that dictates many of the terms of the 2012 presidential debates, including how the format will be structured. The CPD, a private corporation created by and for the Republican and Democratic parties, agreed to implement the debate contract. And, in order to shield the major party candidates from criticism, the CPD is allegedly concealing the contract from the public and the press.
"The Commission on Presidential Debates undermines our democracy," said George Farah, Executive Director of Open Debates. "Because of the Commission's subservience to the Republican and Democratic campaigns, the presidential debates are structured to accommodate the wishes of risk-averse candidates, not voters." Meanwhile, Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause, said, "it is vital that voters have access to the rules that govern the influential presidential debates in order to hold the candidates accountable for them and advocate for debate reforms that would strengthen our democracy."
Farah and Edgar claim previous debate contracts negotiated by the major party campaigns have contained anti-democratic provisions that sanitize debate formats, exclude viable third-party candidates and prohibit additional debates from being held.
The viability of a third party option is gaining traction in the current election season, after a contentious 2012 Republican presidential primary pitted the establishment wing of the GOP against the younger and more vocal supporters of the libertarian candidacy of Ron Paul. In addition, growing discontent among Republican, Democratic and independent voters who feel Romney vs. Obama is a false choice that'd continue the status quo regardless of the outcome on November 6, are warming up to the possibility of having their voices heard during the upcoming presidential debates.
Perhaps, the most obvious acknowledgement of this trend was Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's call to Ron Paul supporters to vote for Mitt Romney. “Do you want Barack Obama to be re-elected? Then don’t vote for Ron Paul,” urged Ryan.