Open Letter to Americans Elect: Questions and an Invitation to Dialogue
Having initiated contact with Americans Elect by phone and e-mail multiple times over the past months, and having received no reply, I’ve decided to write a formal letter. The following is a copy of a letter sent by certified mail today to Americans Elect, the 501(c)(4) political corporation with the goal of electing its own President and Vice President of the United States of America in 2012. Certified mail copies have been sent to Americans Elect headquarters in Washington DC, to Sung Media Ventures in Boston MA, and to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington DC. I’ve also sent e-mail copies of this letter to the formal contact e-mail address of Americans Elect as well as the personal e-mail addresses of Peter Ackerman and Kahlil Byrd at the organization. I’ll let you know whether I receive a reply.
Jim Cook 52 Conway Road Camden, ME 04843 firstname.lastname@example.org December 20, 2010 Peter Ackerman, President Kahlil Byrd, Director Americans Elect 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Suite 1212 Washington, DC 20006
Dear Messrs Ackerman and Byrd:
My name is Jim Cook and as a writer for Irregular Times I’ve been following the development of Americans Elect with interest across its various incarnations, from its resurrection of Unity08 as the Unity12 Task Force, to the renamed Americans Elect Section 527 corporation, and finally to the current Americans Elect Section 501(c)(4) corporation. In all of these incarnations, Americans Elect has expressed the goal of nominating and electing its own candidates for President and Vice President of the United States of America.
I have a series of questions regarding the activities of Americans Elect, which to this point has only published a brief public statement regarding its plans for the 2012 election. Through e-mail and phone messages, I’ve attempted to make contact with Americans Elect headquarters before this date, but these contacts have not been returned; I hope that this letter will generate some response. With little more than a year before the 2012 presidential election season kicks off, time is short for the American people to become aware of the political forces in play, and I would appreciate it if you would answer these questions at your earliest convenience. With your experience as an advocate for nonviolent organization and as an organizer of international broadcasting, I hope you would agree that transparent communication of information is vital for the invigoration of democracy.
I would also be interested in meeting with Americans Elect leaders and/or staffers in person to discuss the questions I have regarding Americans Elect, but also to see and hear any additional information about your rationale and plans for the 2012 election that might enrich my understanding of the group. I am willing to travel at my own expense at a time of your convenience for such a meeting, and I look forward to your response in this regard.
The questions I hope you might answer are:
1. After having converted to a Section 501(c)(4) corporation on September 30 2010, Americans Elect is no longer required to disclose its donors or expenditures to the American people. Will Americans Elect volunteer to publicly disclose this information? If so, by what mechanism and on what schedule?
2. In its short public statement, Americans Elect asserts that “every registered voter can become a delegate and decide who will run for and who will win the Americans Elect nomination,” but Americans Elect also asserts that the aim of this process is “to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012 that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion.” In a speech at the Breakthrough Gala on October 22 2010, Americans Elect President Peter Ackerman identified the same two elements: the process of a democratic selection and the outcome of a centrist ticket. In a democratic process, it is possible for people to choose a ticket that is not centrist. Which element of the Americans Elect plan – democratic process or centrist result – has a higher priority? If a democratic majority favors a ticket that is not centrist in the Americans Elect process, how will Americans Elect resolve the discrepancy?
3. According to the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs of the District of Columbia, on September 30 the Board of Directors of Americans Elect met to change its articles of incorporation to read:
“The Corporation is organized and shall be administered and operated exclusively to operate as a political organization within the meaning of Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as now in effect or may hereafter be amended (the ‘Code’), to include the following: 1) To engage in any and all lawful activities as permitted for organizations qualifying as ‘political organizations’ under Section 501(c)(4) of the Code except as restricted herein.”
Both of you signed your names to this change. Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code reads in its entirety:
“(4)(A) Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.
(B) Subparagraph (A) shall not apply to an entity unless no part of the net earnings of such entity inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”
The term “political organization” does not appear in Section 501(c)(4) of the IRS code, or anywhere in Section 501 of the IRS code. Could Americans Elect clarify its understanding of the procedure for “qualifying as ‘political organizations’ under Section 501(c)(4)”?
4. October 12, Americans Elect filed papers with a number of states indicating a change in its articles of incorporation to put itself in alignment with its Section 501(c)(4) status:
“The Corporation is organized and shall be administered and operated exclusively to operate as a social welfare organization within the meaning of Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as now in effect or may hereafter be amended (the ‘Code’), to include the following: 1) To engage in any and all lawful activities as permitted for organizations qualifying as ‘social welfare organizations’ under Section 501(c)(4) of the Code except as restricted herein.”
Both of you signed your name to this change. A corporation organized under Section 501(c)(4) must have as its major purpose the pursuit of “social welfare.” IRS guidelines state that “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.”
On the evening of October 22 2010, after this change to the structure of Americans Elect was made, President Peter Ackerman made this address at the Breakthrough Gala Benefit in New York City:
“Now, recently I’ve been involved with another system that I think most here would agree is dysfunctional: our own political system. And there are many reasons for it, and I won’t go into that in the short time I have, but what I am undertaking as the Chairman of the Americans Elect initiative is an effort to create an online virtual primary and convention to nominate a Presidential – Vice President ticket that will bridge the center of American public opinion and that will be on the ballot in all 50 states in 2012. What I think will happen again, just like in civil resistance, we’ll have a new force that will come to play in a system that is struggling and that is giving so little satisfaction to the American people.”
In these remarks and on the home page of AmericansElect.org, the purpose of the organization is described in solely political terms. In Nevada, Americans Elect is registered as a political party. Could you clarify how Americans Elect’s political party status, the statements of Americans Elect leaders and Americans Elect’s goals are consistent with the restrictions of 501(c)(4) status?
5. Americans Elect expenses indicate large printing and mailing costs, costs separate from those of ballot access activities. In his October 22 2010 remarks, President Peter Ackerman indicated that Americans Elect literature was being distributed to people attending the Gala. Would Americans Elect be willing to send me a copy of the literature distributed that night? If there is other literature Americans Elect has distributed at similar private events in the last year, would Americans Elect be willing to send a copy of that literature as well?
6. Multiple Americans Elect staffers and contractors have simultaneously “liked” Americans Elect and another 501(c)(4) corporation, No Labels, on Facebook since the beginning of Fall of 2010. For a time, Americans Elect predecessor Unity08 shared office space with the Draft Bloomberg Committee, and it was in a meeting with Michael Bloomberg political aide Kevin Sheekey that the founders of No Labels met. On December 13 2010, Americans Elect Communications Manager Nick Troiano staffed the social media desk at No Labels’ public launch event in New York City. Has there been any formal or informal contact between leaders or employees of No Labels and leaders or employees of Americans Elect? If so, please explain the nature and extent of this contact.
I am grateful to you for reading, considering, and hopefully responding to these questions. I also hope we will be able to arrange a personal meeting for mutually informative discussion in the near future. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me should you have any questions or concerns of your own.