Special Interest. Noun. 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 — Merriam Webster Third New International Dictionary
Until this week, we’d have to take that assertion on trust, since the corporation has not filed financial disclosure forms that would make the identity of its funders public. Until now, the only donor to Americans Elect that could be identified was its sole initial donor, President, Director, CEO and Chairman, Peter Ackerman. Ackerman, who funneled $1.55 million of his private funds into Americans Elect before it stopped filing disclosure forms, is an executive of and/or holds a significant ownership stake in the food corporation FreshDirect, in the capital entity Crown Emak Partners LLC, marketing firm Emak Worldwide, and in the investment firm Rockport Capital. Each of these is a special interest. This single funding source alone gives us reason to doubt the veracity of Americans Elect’s “no special interest funding” claim.
And now there’s more. This week, Americans Elect’s donations collector, Piryx, quietly started publishing an incomplete list of those people who have given money to Americans Elect and have agreed to share their identity on Piryx’s “giving stream.” People who want to hide their financial backing for Americans Elect and people who have directed money to Americans Elect by means other than Piryx don’t appear on that list, so we can’t treat the Piryx list as complete or representative. Also missing from the Piryx list is any disclosure of the amount of money each person has given to Americans Elect: we could be talking about $10 gifts or $10 million grants.
Despite the appearance of this limited list via Piryx, there’s a lot of information that Americans Elect is still withholding from the American people about its financial activity. In this regard, Americans Elect is actually a step backward from all other political parties, which must and do disclose the names, addresses, occupations, employers, and dollar amounts of all contributions they receive above a small threshold. Around the country, Americans Elect is registering as a political party to reap all the benefits and ballot access — but it’s not playing by the rules for political parties when it comes to disclosure. For purposes of disclosure, it’s a 501c4 corporation, and even though it wants to arrange the election of your next president you don’t have the right to know who’s behind it.
Despite these limiting factors, we know enough to test the Americans Elect claim that “none of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.” If any donation to Americans Elect comes from special interests or lobbyists, then Americans Elect’s claim is untrue.
We’ve already documented one violation: Peter Ackerman, a man who has very particular special interests and who has funded Americans Elect. Here’s the name of another Americans Elect contributor with special interests, plucked from the Piryx giving stream: Kirk T. Rostron of Alexandria, VA. Kirk Rostron is a co-founder and managing partner of The Mt. Vernon Group, a private capital investment firm situated in a choice spot just four blocks from the White House at 1101 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC. Rostron specializes in managing hedge funds, having done so previously at Merrill Lynch, Hovde Capital Advisors and HedgeCall.
As a hedge fund manager and managing partner of a private capital investment firm, Kirk Rostron has special interests in various aspects of American economic policy, from regulation to privatization to transparency to taxation. Curiously enough, of the seven areas of policy Americans Elect identifies as relevant, it overwhelmingly focuses on economic policy in its delegate process. Within the 64 policy questions Americans Elect has deployed to shape the selection of its 2012 presidential candidate, the largest subset — a full 17 questions — has to do with privatization, deregulation and taxes, fixating on policy issues in a manner highly compatible with the special interests of well-to-do private capital financiers like Kirk Rostron.
The question is not whether Kirk Rostron is a nice man. He may be a very, very nice man; I don’t know him. The question is whether Kirk Rostron has a special interest as defined straightforwardly in the dictionary — and it’s pretty clear that he does. It is not a credible act for Americans Elect to declare it does not take money from special interests in one breath and to collect money from Kirk Rostron in another. If Americans Elect wishes to maintain its credibility, it should disclose the size of the donation it received from Kirk Rostron, then return Rostron’s money in its entirety.
P.S. With Americans Elect rolling out a new version of its website this month, it has introduced a new catchphrase: "What's on Your Mind? Ask Us Anything!" They even say "we’ll do our best to reply as soon as we can." You'll notice that although Americans Elect says it will do its best to answer, it doesn't actually commit to answering the questions you ask. Indeed, although I've been asking Americans Elect questions for nearly a year I've yet to receive a single answer or reply of any kind from Americans Elect corporate headquarters.
But despite its record of not actually communicating, I'll take Americans Elect at its word and try again. Starting with this post, every time I write about Americans Elect I will ask Americans Elect a question directly through the two means it presents: 1) the online question form it has created, and 2) the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. If I receive an answer to my question, I'll post it in the comments section for you to read. If you don't see an answer from Americans Elect in the comments section, it's because Americans Elect hasn't given me an answer.
This post's question, submitted this evening to Americans Elect:
"Americans Elect declares that 'none of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists,' but Americans Elect donor Kirk T. Rostron has special interests as a hedge fund manager and private capital investment specialist. How much money has Kirk Rostron contributed to Americans Elect, and when will Americans Elect refund that contribution?"