Behind the Secret Republican and Democrat Effort to Shut Out Third Parties

US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney  share a laugh October 3, 2012 at the conclusion
US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney share a laugh October 3, 2012 at the conclusion of the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

The first debate of the 2012 presidential election aired last night with Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama going head to head about several issues affecting the United States. Missing from the stage in Denver, however, were all of the third party candidates.

That's why Democracy Now! took a look at how the Democrats and Republicans manage to shut out all third parties from the presidential debates. The Obama and Romney campaigns have secretly negotiated a detailed contract that dictates many of the terms of the 2012 presidential debates. This includes who gets to participate, as well as the topics raised during the debates.

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman interviewed George Farah, founder and executive director of Open Debates, and author of the book, No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates. Farah explains the history of the Commission on Presidential Debates, how it solely controls the debates, why other non-major party candidates are excluded, and the influence that large corporations have on not only the debates, but on legislation overall.

"Third-party candidates faced extraordinary structural barriers, discriminatory ballot access, scant media coverage, loyalties of the political class in the voting public, enormous campaign finance disparities," Farah says. "So, if they managed to convince a majority of Americans that they ought to be included in the presidential debates, it is outrageous that a private corporation backed by Anheuser-Busch, controlled by the two parties, is telling them no. It absolutely is a catch-22."

"The presidential debates are the gatekeepers to credibility," Farah adds. "If third party candidate gets in, he is instantly deemed credible, viable worthy of voter attention and worth of media attention, but if he is excluded, he is dismissed as marginal unworthy of voter attention of media attention, and his campaign is relegated in many ways to the dustbins of history. ... It stifles debate, by design."

On corporate influence, Farah says, "If you actually go to some of these debate sites -- I don't know how it is this year, but in the past there have been Anheuser-Busch tents where scantily clad women are passing out pamphlets denouncing beer taxes."

Democracy Now! broke the sound barrier posed by this debate structure on Wednesday night, offering two third party candidates a chance to participate remotely in the first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, in real time. In a three-hour special, "Expanding the Debate," Democracy Now! aired the Obama/Romney debate and paused after questions to include responses from two presidential contenders who were shut out of the official debate: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

For all of our coverage on the 2012 election, visit the Democracy Now! news archive here.

Join the discussion on Twitter at #ExpandTheDebate.