“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:
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?
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.