Next week’s presidential debate in Los Angeles remained in doubt Wednesday as the new sponsor said that it had raised about half the money it needs to pay for the event but still faced unreasonable demands from the League of Women Voters for the right to use Shrine Auditorium, the preferred site.
The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which took over sponsorship after the league angrily withdrew on Monday, disclosed that Times Mirror Co. and the Los Angeles Times had donated $100,000 to help offset the $500,000 in expected costs.
Commission spokesman Robert A. Neuman said other corporations in the Los Angeles area, which he declined to identify, also had made pledges that brought the group “about halfway” toward its fund-raising goal.
“I’m optimistic that by the end of the night we’ll be far enough along that we will be able to go to Los Angeles,” he said.
Still ‘Up in Air’
However, one corporate officer who spoke with commission fund-raisers Wednesday night said that “things still seem very much up in the air. . . . There is considerable chaos.”
The commission, an entity created by the major political parties, handled the first debate in Winston-Salem, N.C., last month and Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate in Omaha.
It agreed to put on the presidential rematch in Los Angeles after the league pulled out in protest against ground rules demanded by the candidates, Vice President George Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
The debate will be held Oct. 13 unless a seventh game of the American League baseball playoff is played that night, in which case the debate will take place on the 14th.
The nonprofit league continued to insist Wednesday that it would not relinquish its rental contract with the Shrine Auditorium unless the commission agreed to pay for expenses incurred by the league in making preliminary arrangements for the debate.
Disagree on Payment
Neuman said the league was demanding payment of $90,000 in exchange for use of the auditorium, but the commission was willing to pay only the $40,000 rental fee for the facility. The remaining $50,000 is not negotiable, he added.
“They’re holding the Shrine Auditorium hostage and we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Neuman declared, reflecting commission anger over the league’s implied criticism of the way it handled the first presidential debate. “They are being unprofessional, mean-spirited.”
Later Wednesday, Neuman told the Associated Press that the league paid its $40,000 deposit on the auditorium earlier that very day--two days after it withdrew as a debate sponsor. “What they’re telling us is they’re willing to spend $40,000 to keep the hall empty,” he said.
League officials were not immediately available to comment on Neuman’s contention.
Neuman said the commission was seeking ways for the league’s rental contract to be broken and is also exploring other sites.
Vicki Harian, debates director for the league, maintained that “we are not really holding the Shrine Auditorium hostage. But can you imagine anyone doing anything else? It’s just a business practice. We don’t have that kind of money to donate. Our position is we will not stand in the way of the commission using the hall. They just need to talk to us about it.”
Stephanie Drea, the league’s communications director, said: “Our motivation is only to recover planning and preparation costs for everything from Secret Service arrangements to construction of media workplaces.”
Solicited for Contributions
Los Angeles Times Publisher Tom Johnson said that the company had been solicited for contributions by three persons acting on behalf of the commission: former Reagan White House aide Charles Bakaly Jr., former Democratic Party Chairman Charles T. Manatt and Janet Brown, the commission’s executive director.
“In essence, they were saying the debate was in jeopardy without local funding,” Johnson said.
He added that he was told that ground rules for the debate would be the same as those in Winston-Salem--rules rejected by the league as “a fraud” in part because they allegedly did not permit free-wheeling discussion by the candidates.
“I asked if the journalists had any problem with the North Carolina concept,” Johnson said, “and I was assured they considered it basically acceptable.”