The CPD violates FEC and IRS regulations
By implementing debate contracts drafted by the major-party campaigns at the expense of third-party challengers, the CPD violates federal regulations established by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits tax-exempt organizations from "participating or intervening , directly or indirectly, in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office."
A section 501(c)(3) organization may conduct a candidate debate, but only pursuant to strict restrictions of neutrality. The IRS explained, "[I]f the forum is operated to show a bias for or against any candidate, then the forum would be a prohibited activity as it would constitute an intervention or participation in a political campaign."
By secretly executing debate contracts drafted by the Republican and Democratic candidates, the CPD "participates" and "intervenes," directly and indirectly, "on behalf of" the Republican and Democratic candidates and "in opposition to" third-party and independent candidates. The contracts identify precisely which candidates may participate in the presidential debates, and the CPD invites only those candidates and excludes all others. The contracts identify precisely how the debate formats should be structured, and the CPD implements the format instructions.
In 1979, the FEC enacted a regulation permitting corporations to contribute funds to a presidential debate sponsor so long as that sponsor meets the specific requirements of 11 C.F.R. §110.13.
With respect to sponsorship, 11 C.F.R §110.13(a) provides: "Nonprofit organizations described in 26 U.S.C. 501 (c)(3) or (c)(4) and which do not endorse, support, or oppose political candidates or political parties may stage candidate debates in accordance with this section and 11 CFR 114.4(f)."
With respect to candidate selection, 11 C.F.R §110.13(c) provides: "For all debates, staging organization(s) must use pre-established objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate in a debate." The FEC explained: "Staging organizations must be able to show that their objective criteria were used to pick the participants, and that the criteria were not designed to result in the selection of certain pre-chosen participants."
The CPD implements contracts jointly drafted by the Republican and Democratic campaigns that identify which candidates may participate in the presidential debates. In doing so, the CPD illegally "support[s]" the Republican and Democratic candidates, "oppose[s]" third-party and independent candidates, and fails to "use pre-established objective criteria."
A number of civic groups and third-party candidates have filed complaints with the FEC claiming that the CPD has violated 11 C.F.R. §110.13 and thus is ineligible to sponsor debates. In 1997, Larry Noble, then General Counsel of the FEC, recommended a full investigation (6.6MB zipped PDF) of the CPD because he suspected that it had violated FEC debate regulations. Unfortunately, the FEC, which is comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans selected by the President, voted against conducting an investigation.
The 7 Major Problems with the CPD