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Still co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, the CPD secretly submits to the demands of the Republican and Democratic candidates. Behind closed-doors, negotiators for the major party nominees jointly draft debate contracts called Memoranda of Understanding that dictate precisely how the debates will be run – from decreeing who can participate, to selecting who will ask the questions, to ordaining the temperature in the auditoriums. Masquerading as a nonpartisan sponsor, the CPD obediently implements and conceals the contracts. These candidate-controlled debates are now primarily funded through tax-deductible corporate contributions, and debate sites have become crass corporate carnivals, with Anheuser-Busch girls passing out free beer and pamphlets denouncing beer taxes. This is not surprising; Fahrenkopf is the nation’s leading gambling lobbyist, and Kirk has lobbied for pharmaceutical companies. The consequences of such deceptive major party control are distressing. Candidates that voters want to see are often excluded, such as Ross Perot. Issues the American people want to hear about are often ignored, such as free trade and child poverty. And the debates have been reduced to a series of glorified bipartisan news conferences, in which the Republican and Democratic candidates exchange memorized soundbites. Accordingly, debate viewership has plummeted; twenty-five million fewer people watched the 2000 presidential debates than watched the 1992 presidential debates. Walter Cronkite called CPD-sponsored presidential debates an “unconscionable fraud” and
accused the major party candidates of “sabotaging the electoral process.”