Contracts

Two DC Lawyers Helped Negotiate Presidential Debate Agreement; Was It Followed?


Two Washington, D.C., lawyers helped negotiate a “memorandum of understanding” governing the presidential and vice-presidential debates that specify everything from staging (director’s chairs for the town hall debate) to make-up (each candidate can use his own personnel to do the job).

Patton Boggs partner Benjamin Ginsberg represented Mitt Romney’s campaign and former White House counsel Bob Bauer represented President Obama’s campaign, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. Time magazine posted the agreement.

Among the stipulations: The candidates can’t use props, can’t ask each other direct questions, can’t reference specific individuals in the audience other than family members, and can’t address each other with proposed pledges.

The agreement also has rules for the moderators and specifically for Candy Crowley. She was banned from asking follow-up questions, for example, and tasked with enforcing two-minute answer limits. The CNN journalist didn’t follow all the rules; she had said in advance she wasn’t bound by the agreement, the Hill had reported. Even the camera shots were addressed: TV networks were to avoid cutaways showing one candidate responding to the other as he answered a question, though the agreement acknowledged the difficulty of enforcement. The debate commission would enforce the restriction “to the best of the commission’s abilities,” according to the pact.

The agreement didn’t specify a penalty for violations. According to Washington Post coverage of Tuesday’s debate between Romney and Obama, “at moments their town-hall-style engagement felt more like a shouting match than a presidential debate. The two men challenged each other on the facts, talked over each other and stalked each other across the stage. Moderator Candy Crowley of CNN faced a difficult task all night in trying to keep to the intended format as both candidates insisted on answering nearly every charge from his opponent, regardless of the time limits.”

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