With the entire hubbub surrounding the replacement referees, and the third week of the NFL season ending with a controversial Green Bay Packers loss, you may have missed a major development in the election cycle of 2012.
Last week, I told you that the Gary Johnson campaign had decided to sue the National Commission on Presidential Debates for excluding him from the upcoming debates. Many may dismiss this story out of hand, simply because it’s just a third party trying to get some publicity. But we should not only pay attention to the story itself, but also why the CPD is legally bound to include Gary Johnson.
First, let’s discuss the legality issue.
The CPD was created in 1987 to “ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.” According to its website, the CPD was granted and operates currently as a 501(c) nonprofit organization. This means that among other perks, the CPD enjoys the ability to conduct business without paying taxes.
But did you know that there are certain political stipulations that come with such a designation? IRS Exemption Requirements — Section 501(c)(3) Organizations state that such organizations may not be an “action organization, i.e., it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” Furthermore, the IRS says that “the organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests.”
What does that mean? Well, by barring any candidate that appears on enough ballots to win the election, the CPD is participating in “campaign activities against political candidate” — Gary Johnson.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that calling the debates a campaign activity is a stretch. That is hardly true. Campaigning is done at the discretion of each candidate and their advisors. No appearances are made without careful consideration towards political gain.
These debates are no different. They are not mandatory. They are absolutely another campaign tool used by the major parties. And that brings us to the second part of the legality issue, the parties themselves.
It is widely known and accepted that both of the major political parties in America are private groups, which Americans support out of habit, not because the law says they are all we get. In fact, the Supreme Court told us that these parties are neither subject to government regulation nor intervention, except in regard to applicable election laws. So, by not allowing a viable, electable third party candidate into the debate format, the CPD is operating distinctly for the benefit of “private interests.”
Ok, so now we know that the CPD is breaking the rules for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations, but what does that mean?
At the very least, it means that a case can be made that the CPD is operating for the political duopoly and evading taxes, which happens to be a felony. And who are the people presiding over the CPD? The co-chairmen are Frank Fahrenkopf (former chairman of the RNC) and Mike McCurry (former press secretary for Bill Clinton). How’s that for a convenient “neutral” relationship? Wink wink.
Finally, Ross Perot was polling at 7% when he was included in the CPD events at the behest of then-President George H.W. Bush. Bush thought that by including Perot, he could split Clinton’s support and thus win the election. For his part, Clinton completely opposed the idea but went along so as to appear democratic.
Unfortunately for them, Perot soared in the polls after being declared in the media as the winner of two out of the three debates. In fact, 70 million Americans watched the third debate, still a record. Perot gained more ground in the polls than any candidate in presidential election history in the last 6 weeks of the campaign.
Where does Gary Johnson stand today? He polls at 6%.
The CPD conducts focus groups after each election cycle. After 1992, they determined that “participant reaction to Ross Perot and James Stockdale's presence in the debates suggested that the dynamics, content, and tone of the exchange during the debates were distinctly affected by their presence. Focus groups found this element impacted their attitudes about independent candidates.”
And what did they do after learning that including Perot strongly influenced the election? They made it harder to include a third party.
What are the main points to take away from all this?
1) Gary Johnson polls right about where Ross Perot did in 1992.
2) The CPD knows that including Johnson would likely hurt the chances of both major candidates.
3) Disallowing Gary Johnson puts the CPD in violation of current tax code.
It’s time that America starts holding these political groups accountable. They are running the system like the Wizard of Oz, screaming for us to ignore the man behind the curtain. Sadly, we do.
Not anymore. You can call the CPD and let them know to allow Gary Johnson at 202-872-1020, or sign this petition on his behalf.