Licensing debates is a dicey proposition


A story surfaced at CNN and on last week to the effect that the Republican National Committee was informally kicking around the idea of sanctioning presidential debates ahead of the 2012 campaign season, and also the idea of bidding out exclusive broadcast rights. RNC has not said such consideration is official, and observers say it may be problematic.

The advantages are obvious, according to Time. Control over the venue – some in the party object, for example, to participation by NBC, home of MSNBC hosts like Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz. There would also be potential control over who gets to ask the questions, what the debate format will be, etc. Then of course there is the chance to fill the campaign coffers with rights fees.

NBC already commented to Time that under no circumstances would they pay for what they consider to be straight news programming. It added, however, that it has had no such proposal from anybody.

Attorneys asked to comment saw other problems. Not the least of them is the money aspect. The possibility would exist for a bidder who is friendly to the Republican Party to willingly pay an exorbitant amount of money for the rights as a way of making a back-door contribution to RNC that would otherwise be prohibited. In such a situation, the rights fee could be seen as an illegal donation.

If RNC does pursue such a course, it is thought it would open new territory for the Federal Election Commission to wade into, and it declined to comment on the possibility.