Guidance to State/Local Leagues Regarding Co-Sponsorship
of Presidential Primary Debates

The League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) Board of Trustees must approve any project involving presidential candidates.

Statement on the Presidential Debates for the General Election

The debates are firmly in the control of the Presidential Debates Commission for the general elections.  Given this fact, there is little incentive for the commission to co-sponsor, and therefore, to share decision-making for the debates with other organizations.  Similarly, there is little incentive for the candidates to debate outside the "safe" environment created by the party-controlled commission. Thus, the LWVEF does not anticipate any direct involvement in presidential general election debates.

Presidential Primary Debates

State and local Leagues - particularly in key primary states - may contemplate hosting a presidential primary debate.  In order that a League understands what it really takes to host a presidential primary debate, the following questions raise important items to consider:

  • Facilities to hold a debate can depend on the partners. Will it be held in a large auditorium (i.e., at a university) or a smaller venue like the studio of a television station?  If in an auditorium, do you have appropriate space and technical capacity for the media to cover the event?  Is there a proper staging area for candidates and their teams? Do you have appropriate security for a large venue?
  • Do you have enough volunteers to assist in running the event?  A core, reliable, responsive group to help coordinate in advance with the candidates and media is essential.  (The LWVEF used to utilize the help of approximately 100 volunteers to support crowd management, press needs, candidate needs, etc.)
  •  Do you have sufficient financial and/or in-kind resources to conduct the event?  Depending on the venue, costs can range from $50,000 - $500,000 for a single debate.
  • Plans for any major debate should include provisions for legal advice in case it is needed. A League should be prepared to secure free or reduced rate assistance from attorneys who provide help to nonprofit organizations.
  • Insurance coverage is essential for carrying out most events where the public is invited.  Do you haveinsurance coverage?  For example, the LWVUS/EF carries a policy of not less than $1million coverage for personal injury liability, property damage, and auto liability insurance.
  • If the LWV is going to moderate the event, do you have a skilled debate moderator?

After consideration of these factors, if a League wants to sponsor or co-sponsor a presidential primary debate, the following steps must be taken to obtain permission from the LWVEF Board of Trustees:

A written proposal needs to be submitted to the LWVEF Board, addressing the points above and below so the LWVEF Board has the assurance that --

    • the event will comply with all applicable FEC and IRS rules and regulations; *
    • the League will have sufficient control over such important factors as criteria for candidate participation (a copy of the proposed candidate participation criteria to be used must be included with the proposal), focus of the questioning, and format to ensure that League standards for fairness and nonpartisanship are met;
    • The event will not conflict with other possible LWVEF-sponsored projects involving candidates for president;
    • the League has or can obtain the financial and human resources needed to conduct the debate; and
    • the event will further League voter education goals.

A local League that has been approached to sponsor or co-sponsor a presidential primary debate must provide evidence that its state League endorses the project and will work with the local League to ensure compliance with the criteria outlined above.

Even if the LWVEF Board does approve a request, it is not anticipated that the LWV national office will be able to provide either financial assistance or debate advice.

 

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*  See Face to Face: A Guide to Candidate Debates (LWVEF pub #830) for a discussion of legal considerations and other issues involved in sponsoring candidate debates.