Two Sponsors Pull Out From Debates Over Exclusion Of Gary Johnson

Two presidential debate sponsors have dropped out because of a third party candidate's exclusion.

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This post was updated at 11:38 a.m. to include comment from the Gary Johnson campaign.

At least two of the original sponsors of the 2012 presidential debates have pulled their support over the exclusion of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, arguing that the commission which runs the debates is locked into a two-party outlook.

The first presidential debate will take place in Denver on Wednesday between President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney.

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Multinational corporation Philips Electronics and the women's organization the YWCA both dropped their sponsorship after being flooded with E-mails and letters from supporters of former Republican New Mexico Gov. Johnson, as well as two election watchdog groups, Open Debates and Help the Commission.

"I've been trying this since 2004 ... and this is first time any sponsor has peeled off from supporting the commission," says George Farah of Open Debates, who wrote the book No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates. "For this to happen on the eve of the first presidential debate is a remarkable act."

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which runs the debate logistics, didn't immediately respond to request for comment from Whispers. But the commission, which is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation and relies heavily on sponsors, is likely to feel the impact of its missing sponsors.

Back in July, the commission's executive director Janet Brown told Whispers that Johnson could possibly appear in the debates. Over the last month, however, it became clear that Johnson did not have the polled support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate, one of the commission's three debate participation requirements. Last week, Johnson filed a lawsuit over his exclusion from the debates, but that effort is not expected to be successful.

In a letter announcing its sponsorship withdrawal, Philips wrote that it was concerned the commission's work "may appear to support bi-partisan" instead of "non-partisan" politics. YWCA similarly wrote that it was dropping out because it is a "non-partisan" women's organization.

Joe Hunter, spokesman for the Gary Johnson campaign, says of the pulled sponsors: “It appears that they have recognized what we have recognized – that the debate commission is a product of the Democratic and Republican National committees, and that they have structured the rules and their agreements among themselves to exclude third party candidates like Gov. Johnson.”

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Open Debate and Johnson supporters have been sounding the alarm for months that they believed the commission was too loyal to the Republican and Democratic parties.

The commission, which was created by the two parties in 1987, was founded on the principle that the debates would be run between candidates, and said from the start that it was unlikely to include third-party candidates in debates. At the 1992 debate, however, third-party candidate Ross Perot appeared on stage with President George H. W. Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.