4/26 Open Letter to Americans Elect on Democracy, Transparency and Communication
I’ve tried to initiate contact with the 501c4 corporation called Americans Elect a number of times over the last eight months. I’ve placed phone calls, sent e-mails, and written letters, all at decent intervals. I’ve even tried to knock on their office door a block away from the White House before being shooed away by an anxious security guard. I’ve not gotten a reply to any of these attempts to make contact, even though Americans Elect has been communicative to private invitation-only audiences of movers and shakers. This is from a corporation that proclaims itself to be open to questions:
As with anything new, we expect a lot of “what if” questions. We will try to address all that come our way…. Where can I get more information? Please feel free to e-mail us at info@AmericansElect.org
I’ve been frustrated in my attempts to make contact with Americans Elect, but it’s important to keep trying, and the reason why should be obvious: to the best of my knowledge, Americans Elect is the first no-public-disclosure corporation in American history trying to arrange the election of its own candidates for President and Vice President of the United States — and on an undisclosed budget it has already gained 2012 ballot access in multiple states. The President of the United States is the single most powerful person on the planet, which makes the activities of Americans Elect of concern to just about everybody on the planet. Americans Elect says that you and I are its “true boss,” which means it should be responsive to questions. On top of all that, I’d really like to have a chance to see the organization from its own point of view.
The following is a copy of my second letter to Americans Elect, sent by certified mail today to Americans Elect headquarters in Washington DC. I’ve also sent e-mail copies of this letter to the formal contact e-mail address of Americans Elect, firstname.lastname@example.org and through Americans Elect’s new contact form. I’ll let you know in the comment section here whether I receive a reply.
52 Conway Road
Camden, ME 04843
April 26, 2011
Peter Ackerman, President
Kahlil Byrd, Director
1775 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
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.
Through e-mail messages, phone messages, a visit to Americans Elect headquarters and a previous letter, I’ve gently attempted to make contact with Americans Elect headquarters before this date, but my messages have not been returned; I hope that this letter will generate some response. With less than 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 the following questions at your earliest convenience.
On September 30 2010, Americans Elect converted from a Section 527 political organization to a Section 501(c)(4) corporation under IRS code. A Section 501(c)(4) corporation is not required to disclose contributions or expenditures to the public; a Section 527 organization is required to do so.
Question #1: For what reason did Americans Elect reorganize as a Section 501(c)(4) organization? Regardless of federal requirements, will Americans Elect make a complete report of its contributions and expenditures to the American public on a timely basis? If so, on what timeline? If not, why not? If Americans Elect plans to make a partial report of its contributions and expenditures, which sorts of these does it plan to make public, and which varieties of these does it plan to keep obscured?
In his book A Force More Powerful, Americans Elect President, Chairman and Director Peter Ackerman declared:
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.
In its new web page, Americans Elect declares that the American people are its “true boss.” One of the standards of a true boss is that she or he has access to information regarding the organization that she or he bosses.
Question #2: What is Americans Elect’s plan to keep itself open in form? That is, what is Americans Elect’s transparency policy? What documents about itself will Americans Elect share with the American people? What documents about itself will Americans Elect decline to share with the American people? What is the reasoning behind this policy?
Another standard for a “true boss” is that she or he is made aware of the names and positions of corporate officers and staff members working under him or her.
Question #3: What are the names and positions of Americans Elect’s current directors, corporate officers, staff members, and members of the various boards and committees and ad hoc teams created by Americans Elect?
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
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 seven months now and therefore should have made an application for tax-exempt status. 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 upon request. On March 11 2011 I visited Americans Elect headquarters at 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue in an attempt to deliver an in-person request for these forms. A security guard indicated that she had been made aware of my planned visit and refused me any access past the lobby. Unable to deliver my request in person, I made an e-mail request for documents the same day. I have not received any communication from Americans Elect in return. The 30 day federal deadline since my request has passed.
Question #4: What is the reason for Americans Elect’s noncompliance in supplying the requested documents and on what time frame will they be supplied?
Americans Elect describes itself as engaged in a drive to secure ballot access in all 50 states. Current reports indicating that Americans Elect has achieved 2012 ballot access for the presidential race in the states of Nevada and Florida. Public records across the states regarding ballot access are spotty and inconsistent, which means that Americans Elect may be engaged in states to an extent not publicly reported.
Question #5: In what states has Americans Elect gained ballot access for the 2012 presidential election? In what states is Americans Elect or any surrogate currently engaged in activities to gain 2012 ballot access?
At its new website, Americans Elect asserts that “We have no candidates, issues, or ideology of our own.” Yet as of today in its video promotional materials and blog Americans Elect repeatedly refers to a preference for the “center” in politics and repeatedly discusses economic issues and federal budget matters while not mentioning other issues. Americans Elect also refers to “certain checks and balances to make sure that vehicle stays on the road.”
Question #6: If Americans Elect has no issues or ideology, why is a narrow set of issues and ideologies being positively referred to by Americans Elect? What role will the “center” play in the Americans Elect process? Will any “checks and balances” be employed to ensure that a ticket attending to certain issues or ideology is more likely to gain the Americans Elect nomination?
On its website, Americans Elect claims that “None of our funding comes from corporate, labor, special interest, foreign, or lobbyist sources.” Americans Elect President, Chairman and Director Peter Ackerman is the only donor to Americans Elect whose identity the corporation has revealed (to the tune of $1.55 million, and possibly more in unrevealed amounts). According to public records, Ackerman has significant ownership stakes and leadership positions in retail, distribution, marketing, and private investment corporations. This stands at odds with the dictionary definition of “special interest.” The American public does not know who any of the other contributors to Americans Elect are.
Question #7: How can Americans verify the claim that “None of our funding comes from corporate, labor, special interest, foreign, or lobbyist sources” when Americans do not have access to a complete list of the funders of Americans Elect? How does Americans Elect explain the disjuncture between its claims of dissociation from special interest funding and its funding by a leader with stakes in a number of special interests?
On its website, Americans Elect asserts that delegates will “craft the platform of key questions the candidates must answer.” But in job postings, Americans Elect appears to assign that responsibility to an entity called the “Americans Elect Policy Team.”
Question #8: Can Americans Elect explain this apparent disjuncture?
As I’ve previously mentioned, Americans Elect has not responded to repeated attempts to make contact and initiate communication, despite Americans Elect’s solicitation of contact on its website since the end of summer 2010. The political entities about which Americans Elect complains, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, are more forthcoming regarding their structure, contributions and expenditures than Americans Elect. They also respond regularly and swiftly when contacted.
Question #9: What is the method by which a citizen ought to establish contact with Americans Elect and receive a response?
I am willing to set aside time and travel a fair distance to meet with representatives of Americans Elect in person to learn more about it and to open a line of communication.
Question #10: Are representatives of Americans Elect willing to sit down with me for a face-to-face meeting regarding these questions in the near future?
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.