I’ve been doing my best to understand Americans Elect by going direct to the source, but they haven’t made it easy. The 501c4 corporation, which has a goal of electing its own candidates for President and Vice President of the United States in 2012, has been reaching out to well-heeled and exclusive audiences in private settings but for six months now has been unwilling to return my phone calls, e-mails or letters. Heck, I even dropped by their Pennsylvania Avenue suite while in Washington DC and asked to knock on their front door, but their security guard wouldn’t let me past the lobby. It’s curious for an organization to be so closed and secretive in its behavior when it declares on its Facebook page that “our goal is for our democracy to be more open and our government to be more accountable to the people.”
Fortunately, at the beginning of March 2011 Americans Elect became a bit more verbose, posting 8 paragraphs of text on Facebook where none had been before and introducing a splashy front page with plenty of overlapping colors at americanselect.org. It features this as one of six quotations:
Americans Elect’s Facebook page also has something to say about “special interests”:
We have no ties to any candidate or political party or other group or movement—left, right, or center. None of our funding comes from corporate, labor, special interest, foreign, or lobbyist sources.
What is a “special interest”? Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “special interest” as:
an individual, group, or corporation having a special interest in usually a particular part of the economy and receiving or seeking through political pressure special advantages from the government often to the detriment of the general welfare — usually used in plural
Princeton’s WordNet defines “special interest” as:
an individual or group who are concerned with some particular part of the economy and who try to influence legislators or bureaucrats to act in their favor
Peter Ackerman is at the head of Americans Elect as Chairman, President, Director. He is also the only acknowledged funder of Americans Elect, with $1.55 million in traceable contributions and possibly more since Americans Elect stopped disclosing its contributors in October 2010.
Does Peter Ackerman, head and sole acknowledged funder of Americans Elect, meet the standard of a “special interest”?
Are Peter Ackerman and Americans Elect an individual, group or corporation? Yes. That part’s obvious. Americans Elect is a 501c4 corporation. Peter Ackerman is an individual.
Are Peter Ackerman and Americans Elect attempting to influence the government, legislators or bureaucrats? Yes. Americans Elect has explicitly declared that as its intention in various forms of its web page over the past year: “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” and “bridge the vital center.” As Americans Elect’s President, Chairman and Director, Peter Ackerman is responsible for this declaration.
Do Peter Ackerman or Americans Elect have a concern with some particular part of the economy? Yes. We cannot say much regarding Americans Elect as a corporation, since it has not publicly shared its definition of “the vital center” or “the core features of its national agenda.” Peter Ackerman, however, is another story. He and nephew Jason Ackerman are founders, funders and directors of FreshDirect, a food supply corporation serving New York City. Ackerman has an interest in food distribution and retail, a significant part of the U.S. economy. Ackerman controls Crown Emak Partners LLC, which in turn controls Emak Worldwide, a marketing firm. Ackerman maneuvered the appointment of his surrogates to the Emak Worldwide Board of Directors last year. Ackerman has an interest in marketing, a significant part of the U.S. economy. According to his profile as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (last updated March 23 2011), “Peter Ackerman is the managing director of Rockport Capital Incorporated, a private investment firm.” According to Ackerman’s LinkedIn profile, he has held his position as managing director for more than 20 years. Ackerman has an interest in investment firms, which control a significant part of the U.S. economy.
On the very front of its website, Americans Elect uses a quote from someone in Missouri to disparage political groups that “keep taking enormous amounts of money from people who have special interests.” It professes not to have any funders with special interests. Yet the President, Chairman, Director and sole acknowledged funder of Americans Elect turns out to have significant interests in the food distribution and retail, marketing and investment sectors of the economy.
Isn’t that special?
Coda: A Call for Full Disclosure
In the course of this article, I’ve been careful to refer to Peter Ackerman as Americans Elect’s “sole acknowledged funder.” The truth is that since Americans Elect converted last fall from Section 527 status (requiring disclosure) to Section 501c4 status (not requiring disclosure), it hasn’t shared a lick of information about the people who are funding it and what their interests might be.
On its new Facebook page, Americans Elect obliquely acknowledges that it has more than one funder:
What we are is a nonpartisan nonprofit founded by Americans from all sides of politics who are worried that our nation’s deep political divisions keep big problems from being solved. Their support has made Americans Elect possible, but it is the delegates—you, your family members, your friends, and millions of other caring Democratic, Republican, and independent voters—who will make it work.
Who are these Americans whose support has made Americans Elect possible?
What are their interests?
From what sources does their money derive?
As you can see from the information above, Americans Elect is not being straight with you: although they assert that none of their funding comes from special interests, $1.55 million funder Peter Ackerman has not one but at least three domains of special interest. With that record of not-truth telling, I’d like to suggest that Americans Elect is not worthy of your trust. When the people at Americans Elect say they have no relationship to any “special interest,” don’t take their word for it. Ask for proof. The form of that proof is a list of the names of all contributors and the dollar amounts of contributions.
I’ve already asked Americans Elect for a list of contributors, and I’ve received no response. Why don’t you ask, too? The more of us that ask, the more likely we are to get an answer. If Americans Elect produces that list, you can do your own research and find out for yourself whether its contributors have any special interests. If Americans Elect fails to produce that list, you can figure out for yourself why that might be.