Shapiro Arato Effort To Open Presidential Debates Makes Public Launch To Widespread Press Coverage

Change the Rule, a public advocacy project backed by some of the nation’s foremost leaders and spearheaded by Shapiro Arato and others, publicly launched its campaign to create an opportunity for an independent candidate to participate in the 2016 presidential debates. Driven by the record number of Americans who have soured on the legitimacy of our current two-party system and seek an alternative, Change the Rule challenges a rule created by the Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”) that effectively freezes out independent voices from the debate stage, only to serve the interests of the two major parties.

Change the Rule has the support of an esteemed group of Americans from both political parties, including current and former elected officials, diplomats, leading academics, former cabinet members, business leaders, and high ranking members of the military. This group, which includes Dr. Larry Diamond, Director of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law; retired four-star General Michael Hayden; former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN); former Gov. Christine Todd-Whitman (R-NJ), political scientist Francis Fukuyama; former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT); former Rep. Vin Weber (RMN) and 38 others, has gone public demanding the CPD to change a discriminatory rule governing debate access that it deems harmful to our democracy.

Earlier this year, the group sent a detailed letter to each board member of the CPD calling for “the restoration of honest competition in the way we select our president, as required by law.” They have proposed establishing a new path to the presidential debate stage by using a rigorous and measurable way to qualify for access that does not discriminate against third-party and independent candidates.

The group’s efforts have recently been featured in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the Hill, CNN, ABC News, Politico, Yahoo! and elsewhere. Its website can be found here.

In addition to its work with Change the Rule, Shapiro Arato represents Level the Playing Field, a non-profit, non-partisan corporation that seeks to enhance and strengthen our democracy by creating an opportunity for more competition in our political system. Like Change the Rule, one major goal of LPF is to reform the presidential debate system to ensure the use of criteria that will provide an independent candidate a real chance to participate in the debates.

LPF has filed both an administrative complaint and a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) that argue that the existing rules the CPD applies for selecting debate participants systematically discriminate against third-party and independent candidates. The complaint seeks to hold the CPD liable for violating federal election law through its discriminatory practices, the petition requests that the FEC amend its regulations to put an end to the discriminatory system now in place and to require the CPD to adopt an objective rule that gives an independent candidate a reasonable chance of gaining access to the debates.

A more detailed discussion of the petition and the public support it has received can be found here and here.

LPF’s administrative complaint against the CPD can be found here.

Alexandra Shapiro and Jeremy Licht drafted the administrative complaint and the petition and are leading these efforts for the LPF.