All four venues are universities, including the University of Nevada, from which CPD co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf, former chair of the Republican National Committee and later the gambling industry's representative in Washington, graduated. Fahrenkopf attended the Reno campus, and the climactic third debate will be in Las Vegas, the white-hot center of his lobbying life.
The CPD is clearly ignoring the recommendation of the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential Campaign Debate Reform to "eliminate on-site audiences for debates other than the town hall and, in the process, reduce the need for major financial sponsors and audiences filled with donors."
That's hardly a surprise for an organization that has remained insulated from any accountability for three decades.
The CPD, which was conceived as a means of displaying the two major party candidates only, is obviously resistant to any calls for change that reduce the influence of the parties and their donors.
We are less interested, however, in the format and the venues than in the participants. The CPD has stalled for nine months since Change the Rule's 50 distinguished Americans (former Senators and House Members, CEOs, military leaders, top academics) wrote to the Commission asking that the final fall debates in 2016 be opened up to a viable independent candidate.
Another organization, Level the Playing Field, the originator of this newsletter, has run full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal encouraging the CPD to do the right thing and open the debates for the sake, not of a particular candidate, but of the health of American democracy.
Regardless of venue, an independent must be on the stage. For that to happen, the rules must change. We have offered several alternatives and asked the CPD for a meeting to work out a solution. But the CPD is an opaque institution, accountable to no one, and no meeting with the full commission was forthcoming.
It's hard to believe that an unelected group, mainly composed of party regulars like Fahrenkopf and his fellow co-chair Mike McCurry, can block the desire of the American public to have an opportunity to hear from an independent with a chance to be president.
The Democrats and Republicans are losing support rapidly. Americans are disillusioned and unhappy with the current system. The CPD has a chance to set things right.
But time is running out and the CPD must act now. Independent and third-party candidates need to know the rules for admission to the debates very soon to have any chance to make it onto the stage next fall.
Below are the five separate ads - run a total of 13 times - to remind you of the arguments we made to the CPD: