The corporate vice grip on the presidential debates is tightening. As usual, the thousands of reporters covering the debate last night at Hofstra University were treated to free and unlimited beer and dinner at the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten just a stone’s throw from the debate hall. The reporters were also given free AB beer glasses and free AB water bottles — gotta hydrate after all that beer. AB even had a hashtag for the event — #BrewDemocracy. Not that reporters at the event — except for maybe the Anheuser Busch executives — had on their minds the issue of corporate consolidation — like the proposed merger between Anheuser Busch and SABMiller, a merger that would create the largest beer company with 30 percent of world beer sales. CNN’s debate night coverage was sponsored by Vote 4 Energy — a front group of the American Petroleum Institute. Vote 4 Energy wants us citizens to ask the candidates questions like — Do you support government policies that encourage developing more energy resources, specifically oil and natural gas, here in the U.S.? And — Do you support energy policies that would allow for additional oil and natural gas production on federal lands and off our coasts? Frank Fahrenkopf took to the stage minutes before the debate to thank the Commission on Presidential Debates corporate sponsors — including Anheuser Busch and AARP. AARP is of course that insurance company that until just last month was a dues paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council. (Can’t let single payer get it’s foot in the door, now can we?) Fahrenkopf, for years a lobbyist for the casino gambling industry, also sent a shout out to Commission on Presidential Debates board member Dorothy Ridings, who from 1982 to 1986 was president of the League of Women Voters. Ridings was out by 1988, the year the League got evicted from running the debates by the two corporate parties. At the time, the League put out a press release calling the debates a “fraud.” “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter,” League President Nancy M. Neuman said at the time. “It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions,” Neuman said. “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.” Not that Lester Holt would know.