01/24/2008 06:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading The Pictures: A Banner Year For Corporate Debate Sponsors?


Back in October, following the Democratic debate at Drexel University, I was doing my usual run through the pictures when I landed on a page at Huffington Post 's "Off The Bus" project.

The entry featured a "behind the scenes" video by a young, indy media group called GroundReport. As the young reporter, Rachel Sterne, moved from campaign and media operations outside the Main Building Auditorium to the debate setting inside, something caught my eye.

Behind Ms. Sterne, on the far wall of the media's filing room, I noticed a banner for Walmart. What then attracted my notice -- while Ms. Sterne was interviewing Carl Cameron, the Chief Political Correspondent for FOX -- was a large banner over his shoulder for $18 billion drug giant, Astra Zeneca.

I thought enough of it to do a screen grab of the pharmaceutical banner, but I then sort of forgot about it. What rekindled my interest, however, was the buzz on Monday over the coal industry's sponsorship of at least three CNN debates. If you missed it, the coal industry has created a front group called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) which has a $35 million ad budget in states with primaries and caucuses to snow the public on the idea of "clean coal."

What is most disturbing, however, is the fact that, in those three debates -- including the one Monday night in South Carolina, as well as the CNN/YouTube debates in Nevada and Florida -- not one question was asked about global warming.

I know there are watchdogs, including Open, which track corporate influence over the Commission for Public Debates (CPD), the organization that governs the debates once each party has selected a nominee. In searching the web for information on corporate sponsorship of party debates, however, I couldn't tell how these banners showed up, or how a deal like the one with ABEC came about.

So here are a few questions: First, who is selling corporate sponsorship to the party's presidential debates and what does it involve? Second, what corporations (besides the media corporations themselves) have backed which debates, and what issues might have been left off of which as a result? And third, but mostly: What is the point of candidates sanctimoniously calling each other out on taking money from lobbyists, PACs, and so on, when corporations can quietly buy a stake in the very stage they happen to be pontificating on?

For more of the visual, visit

No Questions On Global Warming Asked At CNN's Coal Industry-Sponsored Presidential Debates (ThinkProgress)

Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (Energy industry "clean coal" website)

Corporate Sponsorship of the Commission for Public Debates (via Open Debate)

Behind The Scenes In Last Night's Debate Spin Room: CNN and Fox Open Up On Debate Coverage Tactics (Ground Report video)