- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

A group seeking to allow independent candidates into this fall’s presidential debates has announced five dates for a series of proposed debates.

The Citizens’ Debate Commission, a new group led by more than a dozen national political and civic figures, said its debates will allow independent candidate Ralph Nader to participate.

“This time around, Ralph Nader is the largest figure; there is no other big shot,” said George Farah, executive director of Open Debates, a debate-reform advocacy organization that formed the Citizens’ Debate Commission. “But our criteria is not established for one specific candidate. The fundamental question is: Who is the Commission on Presidential Debates to exclude people?”

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which was established by a consensus of the two major parties in 1987 as a tax-exempt governing body, probably will not include Mr. Nader in its debates this fall.

Under the current rules, to be included in the presidential debates, a candidate must have at least 15 percent of the national electorate in five national polls. Mr. Nader is garnering between 3 percent and 8 percent in those polls.

Three debates — Sept. 30, Oct. 8 and Oct. 13 — have been scheduled by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Mr. Farah said the debates under the Commission on Presidential Debates are prefabricated, with handpicked moderators agreed upon by both candidates.

“Every four years, the candidates get together behind closed doors, and the format of the debates is agreed upon,” he said. “They agree to exclude third-party candidates. These guys are manipulating the debates.”

The reform group said it would prefer a system that allows candidates to participate in debates after the primaries if they score at least 5 percent in predebate polls or if a majority of people want to hear their views.

“Our goal,” he added, “is to displace the commission as a presidential-debate sponsor.”

Since the Commission on Presidential Debates became the arbiter of the debates, one third-party candidate, independent H. Ross Perot in 1992, has qualified to participate.

He joined President Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton for three widely watched debates. But Mr. Perot was making the grade in the polls and ended up receiving nearly 20 million votes that year.

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