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Contrary to Leader’s Maxim, Americans Elect Remains Closed Off from Citizens

“If the cost of a movement based on persuasion rather than coercion is occasional freelance action, by impetuous followers, the larger benefit is a movement that distributes initiative to its farthest outpost. Movements that expect people to take the personal risks inherent in nonviolent action have no alternative; they have to become what they want their country to become: open in form and democratic in function.”

— Americans Elect President, Chairman and Director Peter Ackerman, in A Force More Powerful


They Never Write, They Never Call

Over the past six months, I’ve made repeated efforts to reach out to the nascent 501c4 corporation/political party Americans Elect, establish contact and learn to see things from their point of view. I’ve made phone calls. I’ve sent e-mails. I’ve sent certified letters in the mail. I’ve asked simple questions. I’ve done all these things all at nicely spaced intervals so as to not give them a harried feeling. I have yet to receive a response.

Americans Elect has been engaging in outreach and sharing information, mind you, but only to limited audiences of powerful and well-connected people. Last fall, Peter Ackerman distributed literature regarding Americans Elect and solicited communication from attendees at a gala dinner charging up to $50,000 a plate. Americans Elect also held an exclusive, invitation-only event in Aspen last summer at which it distributed literature to those in attendance. With the well-connected and well-heeled, Americans Elect has maintained lines of communication. It’s with the little people like you and me that Americans Elect isn’t communicating.

The Latest Episode: No Response on Legally-Required Information

My latest attempt to make contact with Americans Elect and see their side of the story was earlier this month, when I e-mailed Americans Elect to let them know I’d be in town March 11 and would like to pop into their office at 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue to say hello. That message hit a stone wall, so I sent a second message informing them that I’d be dropping by their office that day to review their IRS documentation. You see, the federal government requires corporations organized under section 501(c) of the IRS code to make the following forms available the same day upon an in-person request, and within 30 days upon a written request:

* Form 990, the organization’s annual report to the IRS
* Form 1023/1024, the organization’s application for tax-exempt status
* Any letter or other documentation accompanying the organization’s application for tax-exempt status

Now, Americans Elect may not yet have a Form 990 to share with those who make a request, but it has been acting as a 501(c)4 corporation for six months now and therefore should have made an application for tax-exempt status; these are documents that Americans Elect is required to let anybody see. Americans Elect was organized before that as a political organization under Section 527, creating another set of documents that it is also required to produce.

Here’s a picture I took of the lobby of 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue, covered in exquisite marble. Americans Elect occupies Suite 1212, located on the building’s prime top floor:

The marble-covered lobby of 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Americans Elect headquarters occupies a top-floor suite in this prime real estate location, just one block away from the White House

The Exterior of 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC.  Americans Elect occupies the 12th floor.That picture was taken on my way out, after a security guard informed me that under no circumstances would I be allowed to visit the Americans Elect offices. I explained that the purpose of this visit was to review IRS documents that Americans Elect is required to make publicly available upon request; the guard told me that didn’t matter. I explained to the guard that I’d let Americans Elect know I’d be coming to look at these documents. The guard was aware of this, I was told, and had been specifically instructed by Americans Elect that day not to let anyone up who wasn’t on the approved list. I wasn’t on the list of the approved.

In a neat trick that only the wealthy and powerful can manage, it turns out that Americans Elect does not have to follow federal mandates to provide IRS documentation upon an in-person request if it can prevent people like you and me from presenting Americans Elect with the in-person request. I was reduced to standing on the street corner outside Americans Elect’s luxury office building and sending my in-person request for documentation via a wi-fi connection. I offered to make myself available to receive those documents within 5 minutes during any period of the six hours left to the March 11 workday. Americans Elect never responded to my request. Should Americans Elect interpret my request for documents as a written rather than in-person request (e-mails count), it has until April 10 to provide those documents to me. What do you think is going to happen?

Conclusion
Americans Elect strikes a populist tone as it readies itself for a public launch. But while it communicates with the wealthy and powerful, it stonewalls requests for communication from everyday Americans like you and me.

As an author of a book he says is the model for Americans Elect, President and Chairman Peter Ackerman insists that such efforts must be open, even and especially to the little folk who might prove a distraction. That’s the price of democracy, Ackerman writes. To this point, the reality of Americans Elect doesn’t match the standards of its leadership. If Americans Elect will not communicate with us, the most that we can do is stand on the sidelines and hope for change.

9 comments to Contrary to Leader’s Maxim, Americans Elect Remains Closed Off from Citizens

  • Thanks for investigating. I don’t expect much transparency or change I can believe in from a party that uses security guards where they should have secretaries. I wonder if the major party offices would be comparatively open in this regard.

  • Tom

    Typical right wing clandestine actions to hide the fact that they are completely bogus. The want the money but not the hassle of dealing with, you know, actual people (ugh, can you imagine?). Since their poop doesn’t smell and they live on the “right” side of town, they can’t be bothered answering questions about their goings-on because it’s “need to know” info and you don’t need to know (according to them). Only BIG DONORS with BIG MONEY have the right to know what’s up, what’s going down, who’s in and we’re out.

    i appreciate you’re confrontation of them though. Just one question, was the security guard wearing a gun?

  • April 10 came and went. Americans Elect never responded. The corporation that wants to run America’s first online presidential nomination can’t or won’t abide by federal reporting mandates.

  • Months later, Americans Elect has still not responded.

  • BobSK

    Jesus! What are they thinking? What might their meetings look like where they discuss you? (You’re probably on the agenda of every meeting.) Does every person in that organization agree that you should be stonewalled like this? Is there no one in the organization that wants Americans Elect to walk their talk?

    It sounds like you’re suggesting they’ve already broken the law. What federal agency would you inform if that’s the case?

    Keep at it. This is good work.

    • Hi, Bob!

      I’m more interested in the other things besides me they might talk about in their meetings, and I don’t know who’s behind the decision to stonewall, but it isn’t the best of ideas. Sooner or later information will either be leaked out, or they will be running a full-out presidential nominating campaign while refusing to make public disclosures, and that won’t inspire confidence. The longer they stonewall, the more inclined I am to suspect they have something going on that wouldn’t inspire public confidence.

      You can call me a coward in the face of phantom lawyers, but I’m not going to use a phrase like “Americans Elect has broken the law”. I would say that it appears to me that Americans Elect is not in compliance with requirements as described by the IRS.

      Follow the “e-mails count” link in the article to the IRS page describing legal requirements. Here’s a broader set of documents describing what Americans Elect ought to be disclosing upon request as a 501c4 corporation.

      After you look at those, Bob, what would you conclude?

  • BobSK

    Well, it looks like they could create some wiggle room for themselves. For example, the IRS says the organization has to show you the documents “… if the organization regularly maintains one or more regional or district offices having three or more employees, at each such regional or district office.”

    Two angles for them: they could claim the office you visited has fewer than three employees. If there are three or more, they could simply “open” another “regional office” somewhere else and staff it with one person (or none!). They could then ignore you because of the words “…at each such…”

    • … but there’s an “and” in front of that, not an “or.” The full paragraph, with the quoted phrase in the first sentence:

      In response to a written or in-person request by an individual at the principal office of the organization, and if the organization regularly maintains one or more regional or district offices having three or more employees, at each such regional or district office, a copy of the covered tax documents must be provided to the requester. The covered tax documents include, in general, the organization’s application for tax-exempt status, and the organization’s annual returns for a period of three years beginning on the date the return is required to be filed. If the request for copies is made in person, the request will generally be honored on the day of the request; if the request is written, then the organization usually has thirty days to respond. (A request that is faxed, e-mailed or sent by private courier is considered a written request.)

      The office I visited is Americans Elect’s primary office as listed on dozens of documents filed at the federal and state level, and for the principal office it doesn’t matter how many employees there are.

      • BobSK

        Ah so. I too noticed the ‘and’ but assumed the principal office was included in the number-of-employees requirement.

        I’m not afraid of lawyers. They’re breaking the law! And clearly they don’t care, perhaps wagering that no one of consequence will notice such things. Are you of consequence? I think you are!

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