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Presidential Precedent In Debate-Sponsor Flap

The Federal Election Commission’s Republican majority, which back in May voted against finding that Fox News Channel’s sponsorship of its first Republican presidential debate was a contribution to the 17 candidates involved — the Democrats on the commission and the FEC Office of General Counsel apparently voted to sanction Fox News — noted after that vote was publicized that there was scant precedent for such an action.

But that precedent was a famous one.

Back in 1980, the commission told the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph that its plans to host a debate would amount to a corporate contribution, and that the general counsel was empowered to stop the debate.

As a result, one of the candidates’ campaign committees stepped in to sponsor the debate.

The candidate: Ronald Reagan. That FEC-prompted move set the stage for an iconic campaign moment.

When the moderator tried to cut Reagan off during the debate, the former actor said dramatically and accurately: “I am paying for this microphone.”

The FCC has since concluded that hosting debates is a form of news coverage, the Republican commissioners said in expressing their “astonishment” at the Democrats’ vote.