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VBA Debate Policy
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The Virginia Bar Association, a voluntary, nonprofit organization of Virginia lawyers, judges and law students, committed to serving the public and the legal profession, has long been active in public and legislative issues. For many years, the Association has sponsored debates among candidates in general elections for statewide public office, including the U.S. Senate, governor and lieutenant governor. By sponsoring debates, the VBA seeks to educate the public, including members of the VBA, about candidate views on issues and to stimulate voter interest and participation in the election process.

To implement this goal, the VBA has developed policies and practices for the conduct of debates, including criteria for selection of candidates who participate in its debates. This Statement of Debate Policy memorializes and publicizes VBA policies, practices and criteria for the benefit of VBA members, the public, the news media, political organizations and candidates for statewide public office to assure that the VBA debates continue to be an important part of the political process in Virginia.

Basic Principles and Rules

  • The VBA is a nonpartisan organization; the VBA does not endorse, support or oppose political candidates. The VBA debates are not intended to in any way promote or advance one candidate over another.
  • VBA-sponsored debates are conducted in full compliance with all applicable federal and state laws.
  • VBA debates traditionally, but not exclusively, are conducted in connection with and in the same location as the VBA Summer Meeting.
  • At VBA debates, questions will be prepared and presented to candidates by a nonpartisan, knowledgeable person or panel of such persons who are independent of the VBA. The format may be limited to questions or may include a general discussion among the candidates. Regardless of format, each candidate participating in the debate will have an equal opportunity to present the candidate’s views. Questioning procedures are designed to neither favor nor hinder any candidate.
  • The moderator of a VBA-sponsored debate is not a spokesperson for the VBA and will in no way represent or present that views expressed are the views of the VBA, VBA staff or VBA members. The moderator shall ensure that the ground rules of the debate are enforced. The audience will be advised that the views expressed are those of the candidates, not of the VBA, and that sponsorship of the debate is not an endorsement by the VBA.
  • VBA debates will include at least two candidates. The VBA will not conduct “empty chair” debates.

Criteria for Selection of a Candidate to Participate in a VBA-Sponsored Debate

  • The candidate must be legally qualified under applicable federal and state law to hold the office sought.
  • Criteria for selection of a candidate will not include nomination by a particular political party as the sole criteria to determine whether to include a candidate in a debate.
  • The candidate must meet all requirements to be on the ballot according to applicable election laws.
  • The candidate’s candidacy must, in the sole and exclusive judgment of the VBA, be significant; he or she must have a reasonable chance of being elected. To be a “significant” candidate, a candidate must, at least 30 days before a scheduled debate, have demonstrated substantial voter interest and support. In assessing the significance of a candidacy, the VBA may consider (a) the results of major, reliable, nonpartisan public opinion polls, (b) coverage by the news media as a recognized candidate, and (c) evidence of a significant and sustained level of financial support and receipt from a significant number of contributors.

VBA Debates Open to the Public; News Media Coverage Encouraged

    Subject to space availability and reasonable security procedures adopted by VBA staff in connection with a debate, the audience for VBA debates will include VBA members and their guests, representatives of the news media and members of the general public.
  • The VBA permits and encourages “live” and recorded coverage of debates by the news media, including print newspapers and magazines, radio, television and Internet news media, and will make available a designated work area for them in the debate room with wireless internet connection. A technician will be on site for assistance.
  • No photography or audio or video audio recordings of the proceedings are permitted without prior written permission of the VBA by campaigns, VBA members, guests or the general public inside the debate room.
  • The VBA may, but need not, live stream, publish or use any footage of the debate as the VBA determines. Any live stream coverage shall carry an on-screen icon of the VBA logo.
  • The VBA may commission a court reporter/transcription service to provide a written version of the debate to be available upon request by news media during the campaign season.
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