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Americans Elect Conversion to 501c4 Status Contradicts a Long-Avowed Political Purpose

In the last month, Americans Elect has reorganized itself as a IRS Section 501(c)4 corporation. 501(c)4 corporations do not have to disclose the sources of their money, a tactical advantage but an ethical disadvantage in a democracy. But IRS Section 501(c)4 corporations must have “social welfare” as their primary purpose, and cannot have the pursuit of political goals as their primary activity. To quote the IRS itself on the matter:

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.

Americans Elect’s move to 501(c)4 status stands in direct contradiction to its long-stated primary objective: the election of a President and Vice President of the United States. Let’s document that.

Although it has vacillated in its names, its values and its means, since Americans Elect first formed as Unity08 in the spring of 2006, the group has always maintained one central mission: to elect a President and Vice President of the United States of America.

August 2006:

Today Unity08 announced that it has appointed a rules committee to determine precisely how the new political organization will put its groundbreaking vision for a viable Unity Ticket for the 2008 presidential election into action. The new group will make recommendations to the Unity08 Steering Committee on how the first-ever online political convention will work, how candidates will indicate their intent to run and choose running mates, and the process by
which delegates will actually nominate the Unity Ticket to represent them in ’08.

The committee will be co-chaired by Peter Ackerman, Managing Director of Rockport Capital

February 2007:

Unity08 announced that beginning today, American voters can reserve a seat at a history-making online political convention Unity08 will host over the Internet in the spring of 2008 – the first-ever “national” presidential primary.

Up until now, Americans have been able to sign up on the Unity08 Web site (www.unity08.com) to learn more, but not to actually register to be a delegate in Unity08’s national political primary. Today, any American can sign up on www.unity08.com to reserve their spot as one of the millions of delegates who will select a bipartisan Unity Ticket over the Internet in the spring of 2008.

“Opening this delegate registration is the most important move Unity08 has made since our launch,” said Unity08 founders council member and president and CEO Doug Bailey.

January 2008:

At the current moment, we don’t have enough members or enough money to take the next necessary step – achieving ballot access in 50 states – to reach the goal of establishing our on-line convention and nominating a Unity ticket for president and vice president this coming fall.

Unity08 in court, July 2009:

Unity08 is a political organization with a unique mission. It seeks to create a platform for broader, bipartisan participation in politics in order to change the tone and focus of the current political system. To achieve that goal, it will “nominate” candidates for President and Vice-President.

Unity08 has suspended its ballot access activities and election-related efforts while it litigates this case, and has not engaged in any material fundraising or spending since January 2008. See FEC-Ex. 1. But it remains a viable political organization with a clear and definite intent to participate in the 2012 presidential election. Unity08-Ex. 1 ¶2 (“If Unity08 is successful in this litigation, Unity08 has a clear and definite intent to resume its activities—renamed ‘Unity12’—for the 2012 presidential election. The ‘Unity’ mission remains as critical today for the 2012 presidential election as it was in 2006 for the 2008 presidential election.”); id. ¶6 (“If the FEC ruling is reversed, Unity12 stands ready and fully intends to carry on the work that Unity08 began.”).

Unity08 reforms as the Unity12 Task Force and declares its purpose, April 2010:

The goal of the Unity12 Task Force is to set the stage for an effort to nominate a Unity Ticket for President and Vice-President of the United States in 2012. This ticket will be headed by a woman and or man from each major party or by an independent who presents a Unity Team from both parties. We also aim to effect major change and reform in the 2012 national elections by influencing the major parties to adopt the core features of our national agenda.

Renaming itself from Unity12 Task Force to Americans Elect, its restated purpose in mid-July 2010:

The goal of Americans Elect is to set the stage for an effort to nominate an Americans Elect ticket for President and Vice-President of the United States in 2012. We also aim to effect major change and reform in the 2012 national elections by influencing American leadership to adopt the core features of our national agenda.

At the end of July, Americans Elect restates its purpose for the first time in public:

Our Mission

In order for Americans to enjoy the governance they deserve, Americans Elect will organize an Internet-based convention that nominates a presidential ticket for 2012. Every registered voter in America will be eligible to be a delegate. Americans Elect will collect and measure public and delegate views on core national issues and nominate a balanced presidential ticket that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion. The Americans Elect nominees will run on the ballot in all 50 states and will be a competitive alternative to candidates put forth by the Democratic and Republican parties.

And its stated public mission as of today:

Our Mission

In order for Americans to enjoy the governance they deserve, Americans Elect will organize an Internet-based convention to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012 that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion.

The winning presidential and vice presidential nominees will be on the ballot in all 50 states and will be a competitive alternative to candidates put forward by the Democratic and Republican parties.

Every registered voter can become a delegate and decide who will run for and who will win the Americans Elect nomination.

Our mission is not to create a permanent third party but instead to empower Americans to choose a viable presidential ticket that is responsive to the vast majority of citizens while remaining independent of the partisan interests of either major party.

Paid for by Americans Elect. Not affiliated with any candidate or candidate committee.

The current version of Americans Elect’s declared mission is all about getting an Americans Elect ticket for President and Vice president nominated and on the ballot to run for the White House in 2012. There’s no other goal even mentioned.

When Americans Elect jumps to 501(c)(4) status but maintains a nakedly political purpose impermissible for 501(c)(4) groups, it contradicts itself. That may be a virtue for gadabout literary figures, but it is a vice for a legally chartered entity that avoids sharing information about itself as it arranges the installation of its very own President in the White House.

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