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What Americans Elect is Not Telling Us (8/22/11)

Americans Elect aims to accomplish two firsts in 2012:

1. It aims to be the first 501c4 corporation to elect a President of the United States.

2. It aims to be the first-ever presidential nomination process to ditch verification by local elections boards and instead run a private nominating election held entirely online.

Because the President of the United States is the single most powerful person on the planet and because we Americans are citizens not subjects, it makes sense for Americans to have as much information as possible about this new corporation with plans to intervene in our political system. Because Americans is planning to run its own presidential nominating election using new technology on a vulnerable platform under its own authority and without the checks and balances provided by local boards of election, it is reasonable to ask Americans Elect to demonstrate whether it has the technical capacity to pull it off and the managerial skills to follow its own procedures.

With this in mind, I’ve been asking Americans Elect a series of questions since the fall of 2010 through phone calls, e-mails, certified letters, an announced in-person office visit, online contact forms, and Americans Elect’s “Get Satisfaction” customer service support system. I had consolidated my questions onto that “Get Satisfaction” website on Americans Elect’s behalf. Unfortunately, starting a week ago all comments in each thread but the most recent 15 have been erased while Americans Elect has consolidated most of my questions into one gigantic thread, in effect erasing those questions from public view. I have brought this issue to Americans Elect CTO Joshua Levine and await his response. In the meantime, in the interest of clarity and public review, I’m bringing together the questions I’ve asked of Americans Elect and describing Americans Elect’s response to them. All updates on (non)response are current as of today, August 22 2011.


QUESTIONS: DISCLOSURE OF SOURCE AND AMOUNT OF FUNDING AND EXPENDITURES

After having converted to a Section 501(c)(4) corporation on September 30 2010, Americans Elect is no longer required to disclose its donors or expenditures to the American people. Will Americans Elect volunteer to publicly disclose this information? If so, by what mechanism and on what schedule?

Asked by certified letter sent December 20 2010
Asked again by letter, e-mail and contact form sent April 26 2011
Asked again via Get Satisfaction, July 28 2011
One response by e-mail, August 12 2011, by Americans Elect Chief Technology Officer Joshua Levine: “funding will also be addressed at month end.”
To date, no disclosure of donors or expenditures

I’ve always believed that the Golden Rule is a useful test for the ethics of a person or group. Americans Elect: do you believe we should let the Republicans and Democrats take contributions of unlimited size without disclosure of the contributions’ source or amounts?

Asked via Get Satisfaction August 2 2011
No Response


QUESTIONS: SPECIAL INTEREST SOURCES OF DONATIONS

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?

Asked via e-mail on July 12 2011
Asked with update on Rostron’s Board of Advisors position via e-mail and contact form on July 28 2011
Asked again via Get Satisfaction on July 28 2011
No response

Jim Holbrook is the CEO of three marketing corporations: Emak Worldwide, Upshot and Neighbor. He is also the Chairman of the Promotion Marketing Association, which describes itself explicitly as an interest advocacy trade group. Americans Elect has pledged that ‘None of our funding comes from special interests.’ If Americans Elect agrees that Jim Holbrook’s contribution is a special interest source, when will it return the contribution? If Americans Elect disagrees that Jim Holbrook’s contribution is a special interest source, then what is Americans Elect’s definition of ‘special interest’?

Asked via e-mail and contact form on July 13 2011
Asked again via Get Satisfaction on July 28 2011
No response

Americans Elect declares that “none of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.” But in his Sunday New York Times profile of Americans Elect, columnist Thomas Friedman describes “swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.” Given recent special interest advocacy of hedge fund operators regarding the Dodd-Frank Act, these two statements appear to be inconsistent. Is Thomas Friedman’s statement regarding hedge fund contributions to Americans Elect inaccurate? Or has Americans Elect been accepting money from the operators of hedge funds?

Asked via e-mail and contact form on July 24 2011
Asked again via Get Satisfaction on July 28 2011
No response


QUESTION: DISCLOSURE OF OFFICERS, DIRECTORS, STAFF MEMBERS AND BOARDS

In its new web page, Americans Elect declares that the American people are its “true boss.” One of the standards 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. 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?

Asked by letter, e-mail and contact form sent April 26 2011
Asked via Get Satisfaction, August 9 2011
One response by e-mail, August 12 2011, by Americans Elect Chief Technology Officer Joshua Levine: “changes at the end of the month cover many of the ‘who are you’ requests that i read today.”
To date, spotty, inaccurate and incomplete disclosure of officers and staffers on Americans Elect blog. No disclosure on Americans Elect website of directors, boards and committees on Americans Elect website to date.


QUESTION: LOYALTY OATH FOR DELEGATES

What is Americans Elect’s rationale for introducing Section 2.4 into its bylaws on July 1 2011, a provision that could take away the right to vote from citizens who voice dissent or opposition in regard to the Americans Elect organization, the Americans Elect leadership or their actions?

Asked by e-mail and contact form on July 15 2011
Asked again via Get Satisfaction on July 28 2011
No Response
As of this date, clause still present in bylaws


QUESTION: PRIORITY OF CENTRISM VS. DEMOCRACY

In its short public statement, Americans Elect asserts that “every registered voter can become a delegate and decide who will run for and who will win the Americans Elect nomination,” but Americans Elect also asserts that the aim of this process is “to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012 that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion.” In a speech at the Breakthrough Gala on October 22 2010, Americans Elect President Peter Ackerman identified the same two elements: the process of a democratic selection and the outcome of a centrist ticket. In a democratic process, it is possible for people to choose a ticket that is not centrist. Which element of the Americans Elect plan – democratic process or centrist result – has a higher priority? If a democratic majority favors a ticket that is not centrist in the Americans Elect process, how will Americans Elect resolve the discrepancy?

Asked by certified letter sent December 20 2010
Asked again in e-mail, contact form and letter sent April 26 2011
No Response
No Resolution of the Disparity


QUESTION: CONSISTENCY OF 501c4 STATUS WITH POLITICAL PURPOSE

On October 12, Americans Elect filed papers with a number of states indicating a change in its articles of incorporation to put itself in alignment with its Section 501(c)(4) status:

“The Corporation is organized and shall be administered and operated exclusively to operate as a social welfare organization within the meaning of Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as now in effect or may hereafter be amended (the ‘Code’), to include the following: 1) To engage in any and all lawful activities as permitted for organizations qualifying as ‘social welfare organizations’ under Section 501(c)(4) of the Code except as restricted herein.”

Both of you [Peter Ackerman and Kahlil Byrd] signed your name to this change. A corporation organized under Section 501(c)(4) must have as its major purpose the pursuit of “social welfare.” IRS guidelines state that “The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”

On the evening of October 22 2010, after this change to the structure of Americans Elect was made, President Peter Ackerman made this address at the Breakthrough Gala Benefit in New York City:

“Now, recently I’ve been involved with another system that I think most here would agree is dysfunctional: our own political system. And there are many reasons for it, and I won’t go into that in the short time I have, but what I am undertaking as the Chairman of the Americans Elect initiative is an effort to create an online virtual primary and convention to nominate a Presidential – Vice President ticket that will bridge the center of American public opinion and that will be on the ballot in all 50 states in 2012. What I think will happen again, just like in civil resistance, we’ll have a new force that will come to play in a system that is struggling and that is giving so little satisfaction to the American people.”

In these remarks and on the home page of AmericansElect.org, the purpose of the organization is described in solely political terms. In Nevada, Americans Elect is registered as a political party. Could you clarify how Americans Elect’s political party status, the statements of Americans Elect leaders and Americans Elect’s goals are consistent with the restrictions of 501(c)(4) status?

Asked by certified letter sent December 20 2010
No Response
No Resolution of the Disparity


QUESTION: TRANSPARENCY IN PROMOTIONAL LITERATURE

Americans Elect expenses indicate large printing and mailing costs, costs separate from those of ballot access activities. In his October 22 2010 remarks, President Peter Ackerman indicated that Americans Elect literature was being distributed to people attending the Gala. Would Americans Elect be willing to send me a copy of the literature distributed that night? If there is other literature Americans Elect has distributed at similar private events in the last year, would Americans Elect be willing to send a copy of that literature as well?

Asked by certified letter sent December 20 2010
No Response
No Transparency in Promotional Literature


QUESTION: AMERICANS ELECT AND NO LABELS

Multiple Americans Elect staffers and contractors have simultaneously “liked” Americans Elect and another 501(c)(4) corporation, No Labels, on Facebook since the beginning of Fall of 2010. For a time, Americans Elect predecessor Unity08 shared office space with the Draft Bloomberg Committee, and it was in a meeting with Michael Bloomberg political aide Kevin Sheekey that the founders of No Labels met. On December 13 2010, Americans Elect Communications Manager Nick Troiano staffed the social media desk at No Labels’ public launch event in New York City. Has there been any formal or informal contact between leaders or employees of No Labels and leaders or employees of Americans Elect? If so, please explain the nature and extent of this contact.

Asked by certified letter sent December 20 2010
No Response
No Explanation of Multiple Points of Contact between No Labels and Americans Elect, despite additional connections coming to light


QUESTION: IRS-REQUIRED DISCLOSURE OF 501c4 DOCUMENTATION

Dear Mssrs. Ackerman, Byrd, Troiano and Ms. Blackmore,

I am writing this request to you at the corner of 18th and Pennsylvania in Washington DC, outside the front door of 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is as close as I can get to Suite 1212, so it will have to do in delivering my official request for the latest IRS Form 990 and the official request for tax exempt status for the 501(c)(4) corporation Americans Elect, both of which are required by the IRS to be made available the same day as the submittal of an in-person request. Please consider this to be a full, formal submission of an in-person request for those documents. I am of course prepared to pay the IRS-stipulated per-page fees for these documents.

I would like to make this request in person, and informed Americans Elect Communications Manager Nick Troiano of my plan to do so. When I entered 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue, however, a security guard refused to allow me access to the building despite my requests. After I explained who I was, and asked her to call your office to request my admittance, she informed me that she had been made aware of the situation and had been specifically informed by staff not to allow anyone access unless they were on the list of the approved, and apparently I am not on this list.

I am sure this is an honest mistake, since such a practice makes it impossible to deliver the request the IRS stipulates. Americans Elect office staff must be aware of the disclosure requirements and of the penalties associated with noncompliance. It is not my intention to pursue a such punative measure, which I am sure will be beside the point after these documents are furnished. As Dr. Ackerman himself said in his conclusion to the book A Force More Powerful, transparency and bottom-up participation are essential for the success of an authentic people’s movement.

Please respond to this in-person request by phone or e-mail (see below) at your earliest convenience today. I will be able to come with 15 minutes’ notice to pick up these documents today as IRS regulations stipulate.

Thank you. I look forward to the chance to discuss Americans Elect with you in person in the near future.

Kindest Regards,

Jim Cook

Asked by e-mail sent March 11 2011
Request made again
by e-mail, letter and contact form message sent April 26 2011
Request made again by e-mail sent August 13 2011
Request made again by e-mail sent August 22 2011
No Response
Legally-Mandated 30-day period Expired


QUESTION: PUBLIC NOTICE OF MEETINGS ON WEBSITE

In 2012, Americans Elect is planning to be the first 501c4 corporation to run its own candidate for President of the United States. Americans Elect is also a registered political party in multiple states. When Americans Elect sought and obtained registration as a minor political party in the state of Florida, it subjected itself to the terms and conditions of Florida state law regarding minor political parties. Florida state officials have notified Americans Elect of relevant provisions of state law by letter. Under the terms of Florida State Law, Americans Elect must “timely notify its members as to the time, date, and place of all of its meetings; timely publish notice on its public and functioning website as to the time, date, and place of all of its meetings.”

As of today there is no notice, timely or otherwise, of any of Americans Elect’s meetings on its website. Compliance with legal standards is a central requirement in running a successful election, as Americans Elect plans to do. When will Americans Elect comply with this legal standard?

Asked via Get Satisfaction August 11 2011
No Response
Still no notice of meetings on its website


QUESTION: AMERICANS ELECT BYLAWS REGARDING A SPLIT ELECTORAL COLLEGE

In the event that Americans Elect fails to gain a plurality or majority of votes and no party wins a majority of the popular vote in the presidential election of 2012, the Americans Elect bylaws declare that a second convention of Americans Elect will take place in which Americans Elect will endorse one of the major party candidates. While the bylaws spell out the details of a number of other processes, they do not describe either in broad strokes or in detail the process for making such an endorsement. What is that process?

Asked via Get Satisfaction on July 28 2011
No Response

10 comments to What Americans Elect is Not Telling Us (8/22/11)

  • Jim, as I wade through all of the connections that Ackerman has, and all those connections to AE that slowly oozing forth, it has become more than obvious that the term “special interest groups” is synonymous with AE. From governmental entities to the military, to corporations, to foundations, to think-tanks, to majorly big money – it’s all there.

    These people are anything but righteous in their endeavors – and, if anything is forthcoming at the end of the month as Levine has stated, I, personally, don’t believe that the propaganda will offer any more transparency.

  • The special interests already have extreme clout with the existing officials of the federal government. The idea that special interests are backing Americans Elect because they don’t already have enough influence doesn’t seem persuasive to me.

  • Tom

    Their smarmy talking head was on public television (ch 9 here) – i couldn’t watch or listen to his privileged insider bullshit.

    • And yet (unless you turn off your TV, which is a good idea) you’ll find you’ve been seeing a lot of that talking head, and you’ll be seeing a lot more.

      I see it was PBS NewsHour, and I see Judy Woodruff didn’t really follow up on her questions. Woodruff asks her question, Ackerman or Schoen provides a talking point, Woodruff asks another question. It went like this, starting off with a good question:

      =====
      JUDY WOODRUFF: I have been doing some reading about what you’re doing. There is some suspicion out there that this is a stalking horse for a particular candidate.

      How do you guarantee to people watching this, reading about this that you don’t have a particular candidate in mind, that this is truly open?

      ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Americans Elect is about two things. It’s about providing ballot access for a ticket to be directly nominated by the American people. That’s all that’s going on here. We need people to get involved.

      Becoming a delegate of Americans Elect is a serious endeavor. And we have the president of the United States himself saying our politics is dysfunctional. The genius of our country is the fact that the last self-correcting measure we have is the American people. At Americans Elect, the spirit of Americans Elect is to give the people the power to self-correct our politics.

      JUDY WOODRUFF: And in terms of doing this online, your nominating — your convention would be in cyberspace, in effect.

      DOUGLAS SCHOEN: That’s right.
      ====
      If anyone wants to read the entire transcript, see here:

      http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec11/thirdparty_08-22.html

      I count three evasions and two outright fibs in the transcript. Can you catch them?

  • Lee Mortimer

    I would like to see more transparency, but I don’t understand why so much hysteria about this. What’s the worst that could happen — Donald Trump might get on the ballot? If so, he certainly won’t be elected, but the American people will have something we seldom get — a choice other than the two-party duopoly. If Americans Elect is some kind of stealth campaign to advance corporate interests, they don’t have to create a third-party ticket for president. They could just put their money into one of the two existing parties and get most of what they want. How can anyone be against more choice when we have so little now, and the two major parties do everything they can to erect barriers to anyone else getting in the game. If Americans Elect do nothing more than finally break down barriers to wider participation, then more power to them.

    • I don’t think I see very many people getting “hysterical” about Americans Elect. I don’t see people fainting at the prospect. I don’t see people running into the streets, screaming and holding their heads. Asking questions of a secretive corporation that wants to elect a president is not equal to “hysteria.”

      Americans Elect is interesting to me for many reasons. One of those reasons is that Americans Elect represents the vanguard of the future — a future in which corporations can form with no transparency, construct electoral systems of their own device, communicate with the American people to the extent they want or don’t want to, and stack the ballot with their own candidates in states across the country without first running elections in those states to see whether the people of those states want to have that candidate on the ballot. This is the path currently being blazed by Americans Elect. If Americans Elect shows that can be done in 2012 for as little as $20 or $30 million, then we can expect to see a number of similar corporate efforts in presidential and other elections in the future.

      You’re right that another candidate would offer another choice, but saying that the American people “seldom get” a chance other than the two-party duopoly is not true. There was Ross Perot in two elections, Ralph Nader in the two elections that followed, and Cynthia McKinney in the last election. You may not have liked those choices, but they were there.

      There are many kinds of choices. Some choices are like choices between Visa and Mastercard and American Express. Some choices are like choices between Burger King and McDonalds and Wendy’s. Whether these choices are equivalent to electoral choices remains to be seen, and Americans Elect is part of an important moment in deciding whether that will come to pass or not.

      • Lee Mortimer

        Jim: Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause offense by my use of “hysteria” to describe your questioning of Americans Elect.

        If Americans Elect is seeking to further entrench corporate control over politics, then they are undermining their stated goal by widening participation. It’s a lot easier to dominate when only two parties control the political process. When more parties are out there promoting ideas and winning elections, it makes it harder for corporations to exert control.

        I don’t quite understand your objection that AE wants to put candidates on state ballots without a public vote. As I understand it, AE is complying with the same ballot access signature requirements that other political parties and candidates have. The only parties that don’t have to submit to such requirements are the Democrats and Republicans. They get a free ride.

        There’s really no justification for any political grouping to have its candidates “approved” in order to appear on the ballot. The “approval” comes when the voters say yes or no to the party’s candidates in the general election. Reforms from the 1970s that required primary votes to nominate candidates may have looked good at the time. But the drawn-out primary season that has evolved has probably done more than anything to foster the dysfunction and hyper-partisanship we see today.

        You’re correct that we have occasionally had other choices such as Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and others. You might be interested to know that I voted for Perot both times he ran. I voted for Nader in 2000. And I voted for John Anderson in 1980. My point is that we need those additional choices in every election — and they should not be blocked and marginalized by the existing two-party control over the electoral process.

        So, again I say if Americans Elect can contribute to breaking down the barriers for Greens, Libertarians, Labor, social conservatives — any grouping that wishes to offer its candidates to the electorate — then our democracy will be the better for it.

  • Elliot

    This is fascinating stuff here Jim. Thanks for doing the digging. It’s crucial that organizations have transparency, and if they’re not willing to provide that transparency, then it’s up to the people to dig it up through records and other means. It’s truly a thankless job, and I appreciate your hard work in keeping track of what they’re saying.

    I signed up on their website out of curiosity for the real purpose behind what they’re doing. I’ll definitely be checking back here as their site becomes more flushed-out, and whatever agenda they may or may not be hiding is made more clear.

    Feel free to contact me if you would like me to forward you any communications or information they send me as a potential “delegate”.

  • Jerry Thomas

    I’m convinced that AE is not what it claims to be. What do you think their end game is a what steps will they take to get there? Regardless of their methods, are they contributing to a more viable electoral process? How would you develop and promote the AE concept (not the AE entity)? I will be watching for your answer in the AE Town Hall or in the appropriate community for volunteers.

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