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Corporate Lobbyists Manage Our Presidential Debates

Lee Fang: Itu2019s worth considering that the men behind the nonprofit managing our presidential debate system are corporate lobbyists.

Three debates have gone by, and to this date, neither a candidate for president or vice president has been asked about some of the biggest issues facing voters this cycle.

Which candidate will prosecute the financial crimes that led to the disaster in 2008? Who has the best plan to deal with the climate crisis? Poll after poll shows Americans are frustrated with the corrosive levels of corruption and big money in DC, but the moderators have refused to bring it up ethics reform. America’s War on Drugs—which has contributed to tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico, racist stop-and-frisk policies in New York, and crackdowns on medical marijuana users across the country—is apparently too taboo of a topic as well.

Why are our debate moderators so reluctant to bring up controversial topics that affect the future of our country? What’s behind this wall of silence?

Maybe it’s worth considering that the men behind the nonprofit managing our presidential debate system are corporate lobbyists.

Take Mike McCury, the Democratic co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates. McCurry, a former White House press secretary for President Clinton, works as a Partner at Public Strategies Washington, a Beltway lobbying firm.

McCurry doesn’t disclose all of his clients, but his website lists a number of corporations, including Bain Capital, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Lockheed Martin Corporation, the US Chamber of Commerce and Anheuser-Busch. One could argue that McCurry’s work for the beer lobby—which benefits from not having to compete with other drugs, like marijuana—might be a conflict of interest given the debate’s refusal to bring up the failed War on Drugs. (McCurry’s lobbying client, Anheuser-Busch, also helped underwrite the last presidential debate, providing free beer to the journalists at the event.)

Worse, McCurry doesn’t even reveal his entire client list. I took a look at Department of Justice records, and McCurry’s company is also currently being paid over $132,026 to lobby for the Mexican government on issues relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. Wonder why none of the debates have covered the TPP—which could have huge implications for the economy?

Frank Fahrenkopf Jr, the Republican co-chair, is the head of a lobbying coalition of major casinos and related gambling industries. Fahrenkopf—who was paid $1,920,561 in 2010, according to IRS records—represents major firms like Las Vegas Sands Corp, MGM Resorts International, Morgan Stanley, KPMG and Goldman Sachs. Fahrenkopf’s group spends millions on K Street lobbyists and attorneys—retaining even Ropes & Gray, the law firm in charge of Romney’s non-blind trust—to influence federal policy on issues ranging from Internet gambling to tax and labor policy.

Americans deserve a real debate; one that shines a light on our biggest challenges and forces the candidates to draw real distinctions. It’s less than reassuring that we have K Street shills managing our only substantive public forum.

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