Debate Moderators Must Ask About Democracy

June 19, 2019

NBC News

Dear Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, José Díaz-Balart of Telemundo, and Rachel Maddow:

We write to encourage you to ask participating candidates in the upcoming Democratic debates about what they will do to end political corruption, reduce politicians’ unhealthy dependence on special interests and wealthy donors, and strengthen our democracy.

Although this issue does not get the coverage it deserves, voters care immensely about reducing this systemic corruption and making Washington, DC work for all voters. During your network’s 2018 pre-election tracking polling, reducing corruption was the number two issue for voters. Only the economy rated higher ¹. Another reliable poll, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that “corruption in Washington, DC” was in fact the number one issue in 2018 ².

Indeed, in recognition of this intense voter interest and importance to our system, the Democratic House majority made democracy reform the first priority of the 119th Congress and labeled its reform package “HR 1—The For The People Act.” This bill passed the House but has not been brought up in the Senate.

Though HR 1 languishes in the Senate, the issue should not be forgotten. Just the opposite. By highlighting democracy reform, your network will aid not only Democratic primary voters but all citizens. Voters care deeply and passionately about improving our system and finding a way to reduce the massive flow of money into our political system. They want to learn more about how the candidates on the debate stage will solve the problem. So it becomes critical for you to push candidates to discuss their concrete plans.

The signatories of this letter are an ideologically diverse coalition. But we all see that pressing candidates to explain how they will fix democracy is a critical ] step towards an engaging and productive Democratic Primary.

We recommend any of the below questions to pose to candidates:

  • Many people argue that we can’t enact big changes without first fixing the way Washington does business. Do you think that should be a first-order priority for the next president and what would you do to change things?
  • Do you believe that the recent increase in political donations and spending by outside groups, such as SuperPACs, has made Washington more dysfunctional? If so, do you have a plan to change our system and make politicians less reliant on large donations and special interests?
  • Most voters agree that “corruption in Washington,” driven by massive spending by wealthy individuals and SuperPACs, is among the biggest problems in our political system. If you are elected President, how will you solve it?
  • Do you support the public funding of political campaigns? If so, what method of funding do you endorse?
  • Do you believe that the fundamentals of our democracy need reform? If so, what are your first priorities for improving our democratic system?

Many voters believe that politicians are more responsive to the needs of wealthy donors, outside interest groups, and Super PACs than they are to everyday voters. As president, what changes would you make to hold politicians accountable to the needs and preferences of average Americans?

We would be happy to discuss this topic further at your convenience.


Center for American Progress

Communication Workers of America

Democracy Matters

Equal Citizens

New American Leaders Action Fund

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Open Democracy

Public Citizen

Progressive Turnout Project


Small Planet Institute




1 “Corruption in Washington Is a Top Concern for Voters, WSJ/NBC News Poll Shows,”

2 “Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – Late Summer 2018,”