In 1988, the League of Women Voters wound up yielding sponsorship of the debates to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has overseen all general election debate contests since that year.
The 1992 debates were the only commission-sponsored events to include third-party candidates — independent Ross Perot, who later founded the Reform Party, and his vice-presidential nominee, retired Adm. James Stockdale.
In each of the last three election cycles, the commission has provided a list of criteria that third-party candidates must meet in order to qualify for the debates, as dictated by Federal Election Commission regulations. In 1992 and 1996, the criteria were a long list of standards involving media coverage and other, more subjective types of standards. But for 1998, the debate commission shortened its list of criteria to basically a hard-and-fast 15 percent threshold in a series of designated national polls by media organizations.
Source: ABCNEWS Research, Katy Textor and Landmark Documents in American History: An On-Line Archive, by Facts On File, Inc.