Open Debates' August 16, 2004 letter to President Bush and Senator Kerry:

Open Debates
National Press Building,
529 14th St. NW, Suite 1201
Washington, DC 20045

August 16, 2004

Dear Mr. President and Senator Kerry:

The American people expect that the leading presidential candidates will participate in general election presidential debates this fall. Your campaign has commendably agreed to participate in televised presidential debates.

You have a clear choice as to what kind of presidential debates you will participate in. You can participate in real and transparent presidential debates proposed by the genuinely nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission, or you can participate in stilted and deceptive events proposed by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The former will show voters your courage and commitment to voter education, the latter will suggest an unpopular disrespect for the democratic process.

For the first time in sixteen years, an organized effort to return control of the general election presidential debates to a nonpartisan champion of voter education exists. The nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission was formed in January to host presidential debates because the bipartisan CPD, which seized control of the debates from the League of Women Voters in 1987, has failed to adequately serve voters' interests.

Under the CPD's tenure, debate formats have been monotonous and unrevealing, with the participating candidates often reciting memorized soundbites in response to predictable questions from moderators selected by the candidates; third-party candidates that a majority of voters want to see have often been excluded, such as Ross Perot; issues the American people want to hear about have often been ignored; and debate viewership has plummeted, with twenty-five million fewer Americans watching the 2000 presidential debates than watching the 1992 presidential debates. Walter Cronkite called CPD-sponsored presidential debates an “unconscionable fraud.”

The CPD has come under increasing public attack for operating without transparency and for undermining voter education.  Political commentators, former presidential candidates, civic groups and newspaper editorial boards (including the Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times, The Tennessean, The Oregonian, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Chicago Sun-Times) have criticized the CPD and called on the presidential candidates to participate in real debates proposed by the Citizens' Debate Commission.

Moreover, the CPD is facing unprecedented legal challenges this year. The civic group Open Debates has filed complaints against the CPD with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission (FEC), accusing the CPD of illegally operating in a partisan manner and of illegally accepting corporate contributions in order to facilitate presidential campaigns.  Former third-party challengers have also filed a lawsuit accusing the CPD of illegally accepting corporate contributions by functioning as a partisan organization.  On August 13, 2004, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. held that the FEC acted "contrary to law" in its finding no "reason to believe" that the CPD was a partisan organization, and he ordered the FEC to conduct a full investigation of the CPD.  Secret debate contracts negotiated by the Republican and Democratic campaigns in 1992 and 1996 serve as the basis of these legal complaints and lawsuits; these documents, which were obtained from a whistleblower, have never been made public until the filing of those complaints and lawsuits.

The Citizens' Debate Commission offers a transparent and legally sound alternative that befits a democracy.  The genuinely nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission is comprised of seventeen national civic leaders from the left, center and right of political spectrum – including Chellie Pingree of Common Cause, Ambassador Alan Keyes, Tom Gerety of the Brennan Center for Justice, Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, Jehmu Greene of Rock the Vote, Bay Buchanan of the American Cause, former FEC General Counsel Larry Noble, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, TransAfrica Forum founder Randall Robinson, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, Norman Dean of Friends of the Earth, former Congressman and chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy John B. Anderson, Jeff Milchen of, Veronica De La Garza of the Youth Vote Coalition, Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Over sixty diverse civic groups serve on the Advisory Board of the Citizens' Debate Commission.

Aspiring to reverse the decline in debate viewership, the Citizens' Debate Commission has announced sites and dates for five presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate to be held in colleges and universities around the country this fall: 

Those debates 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 Citizens' Debate Commission formally invites you to participate in its presidential debates this fall.  Accepting this invitation would demonstrate to voters across the country a clear and courageous commitment to democracy.  Help us restore transparency and voter education to the most important public forums in America .


- John B. Anderson, former independent presidential candidate, former congressman (R-IL), and chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy;

- Bob Asman, executive producer of the 1996 presidential debates and former NBC special events producer;

- Medea Benjamin , founding director of Global Exchange and co-founder of Code Pink;

- Angela Bay Buchanan, president of The American Cause and former U.S Treasurer;

- Pat Choate, former Reform Party vice-presidential candidate and director of the Manufacturing Policy Project;

- Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the National Voting Rights Institute;

- Veronica De La Garza, executive director of the Youth Vote Coalition;

- Norman Dean, executive director of the Friends of the Earth and chair of CERES;

- Phil Donahue, former television talk show host

- George Farah, executive director of Open Debates and author of No Debate;

- Tom Fitton, President of Judicial Watch;

- Paul Findley, former Congressman (R-IL) and chairman of the Council for the National Interest;

- Tom Gerety, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and former president of Amherst College ;

- Jehmu Greene, executive director of Rock the Vote;

- Reverend Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling;

- Jon Hanson, Harvard Law School professor and co-founder of Just Advocates;

- Alan Keyes, former Ambassador to the United Nations, former GOP presidential candidate and chairman of the Declaration Foundation;

- Joan Mandle, executive director of Democracy Matters;

- Eugene McCarthy, former U.S. Senator (D-MN) and presidential candidate;

- Jeff Milchen, executive director of;
- Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and former general counsel
of the FEC;

- Nick Nyhart, co-founder and executive director of Public Campaign;

- Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX);

- Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council;

- Jamin Raskin, American University Law School professor and director of the Appleseed Commission on Electoral Reform;

- Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy;

- Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica Forum and author;

- Normon Solomon, syndicated columnist and author;

- Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform;

- Mark Weisbrot, Co-director of the Center Economic and Policy Research;

- Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation and chairman of the Free Congress Foundation;

- Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News.