A Debatable Role in the Process: Political Parties and the Candidate Debates in the Presidential Nominating Process
As the federal campaign finance laws have withered, leading to the rise of super PACs and other forms of largely unregulated spending, the parties have remained subject to stringent legal restrictions and must contend with other factors adverse to their competitive position in the electoral landscape. Certain of the limitations they have encountered affect their ability to fund, control, and manage core institutional functions. One such function is the conduct of presidential debates, now largely financed, planned, and operated by the news media organizations and nonprofit organizations. The candidates, especially front-running candidates and party nominees, also have some say in the conduct of debates. But the parties occupy the periphery of these major campaign events that bear directly on how they present themselves and showcase their candidates to the electorate. Empowering parties through modest legal reforms to play more of a role in the debate process would be one limited but potentially important step in bolstering their standing and capabilities.