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Americans Elect Fibs about not being a Political Party again

Americans Elect Chief Operating Officer Elliot Ackerman and Americans Elect Board of Advisors member and Michael Bloomberg pollster Douglas Schoen appeared on the PBS NewsHour last night to insist that Americans Elect is not a political party:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Elliot Ackerman, to you first. Our political parties have been around since the birth of the country, practically. We have a stable system of government. Why circumvent them?

ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Well, I think what’s important to realize is, this isn’t another political party. This isn’t a third party. This is a second nominating process.

And the vision here is that, in November of 2012, when American voters go to the poll, there will be a third ticket that they have directly nominated themselves.

So, at Americans Elect, we will be holding the first ever nonpartisan online nominating convention. Any registered voter can be a delegate to that convention. And the ticket that comes out of the convention is going to be on the ballot in all 50 states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Doug Schoen, it’s not a third party, you’re saying.

DOUGLAS SCHOEN: No.

Americans Elect has insisted that it is not a political party before. Spring 2011: “Here is what Americans Elect is not. We are not a third party. We are not a political party of any sort.” Summer 2011: “The key delineation to make is that we’re not a party.”

But Americans Elect is in a very explicit, not-at-all-arguable sense a political party. Americans Elect has registered or is in the process of registering as a political party in a number of states:

You’ll have to ask Americans Elect what its motivations are for repeatedly declaring an untruth, but that is what’s been going on, straight from the spring, through summer, and right up to last night.

22 comments to Americans Elect Fibs about not being a Political Party again

  • Lee Mortimer

    So, what’s your point? Maybe Americans Elect is a political party. I think they’re a political party — or at least will be seen as a party if they succeed in getting a presidential ticket on the 2012 ballot. Aren’t you the same website that was always attacking Unity08 back in 2007-08? Are the American people any better off that Unity08 ended up folding without a presidential ticket in 2008? I can’t see how we’re any better off for the absence of another choice in the last election. Please give us a real reason why we should fear that Americans Elect is out to subvert our democracy and take away our rights and freedoms.

    • Welcome back, Lee. I notice you’ve been here before.

      My point is that Americans Elect is asking the American people is to place trust in their less-than-transparent system while saying one thing and doing another, which is not a trust-worthy behavior. It is a behavior that should elicit healthy skepticism.

      This is indeed the same website that was always asking Unity08 questions back in 2006-2008… questions that Unity08 would not answer. It turns out Unity08 had a lot to hide. Like the fact that they’d registered a Draft Michael Bloomberg website at the same time they were telling the American people they had no candidate in mind, then shuffled money and staff and office space directly to a Draft Bloomberg committee. Like the fact that they were demanding the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates restrict themselves small donations at the same time they were suing the FEC so they could take donations of unlimited size. Americans Elect is the continuation of Unity08, which makes that relevant, so thanks for bringing it up.

      See here and here for documentation.

      It’s interesting that you conflate asking questions with “attacking.” I’m not going to tell you what to fear and what not to fear, Lee. That’s your own business. You go ahead and believe what you want to believe. I’ll go ahead and share information with other people when I find it. And if Americans Elect is really the legitimate force for democratization, then it should have nothing to fear from documented truth.

  • Lee Mortimer

    Jim: Thanks for finding and linking to my May 2007 post. I don’t think I can say it any better today than I said it four years ago.

    We’ve learned from your sleuthing that Unity08 was backing a Michael Bloomberg presidential run in 2008. My question remains the same — Are our country and our democracy any better off because the American people did not get a chance to vote for Bloomberg in 2008? Personally, I wanted to see a ticket that included Chuck Hagel. I would have been willing to support Bloomberg to get Hagel.

    When it became clear that wouldn’t happen (and Hagel signaled support for Barack Obama), I went all out for Obama. I gave money. I knocked on doors. I made phone calls. I took time off from my job to volunteer for Obama in both the primary and the general election. Like many supporters from 2008, I am thoroughly disillusioned with the Obama presidency. I find myself hoping he will see the writing on the wall, then voluntarily step aside and let Hillary Clinton be the nominee.

    If so, I’ll support Clinton. But I’d like to think I’ll have another choice via Americans Elect. If that choice ends up being Donald Trump, I’ll certainly say “No thanks.” If it’s Hagel or some other credible ticket, then I’ll feel fortunate to be able to weigh my choices and not have to fall in behind Clinton as the lesser-evil alternative to stopping a Republican takeover.

    I’m happy to say again what I said four years ago: “Unity08 (now Americans Elect) may not be a ‘grassroots’ organization, but that doesn’t mean it can’t accomplish something worthwhile. And the most worthwhile thing now is to break up the two-party duopoly of power that stifles meaningful political activism.”

    The beneficiaries will include Greens, Libertarians, Labor, social conservatives — any grouping that wants to offer candidates to the electorate. Our democracy will be the better for it.

  • Linda Wilson

    Is it possible that Americans Elect is required by law in some states to register as a party in order to add their candidates to the ballot?

    Thank you for your investigation and insights into Americans Elect. I would be much more encouraged if such an organization was backed by philanthropists without a personal agenda to get elected.

  • I don’t think whether they’re a party is the real issue here. What we should be concerned about is their accountability, transparency and security. After all, what they’re building is a great big voting machine.

    • I agree with you that those are important issues too. I’d suggest that an organization which fibs about itself has some trust issues to overcome when it comes to accountability, transparency and security.

  • An alternative nominating process? Uh, nominating processes are what political parties are! It’s like saying, “This is not orange juice. It’s the liquid squeezed from orange citrus fruits!”

  • Brad Rainforth

    It seems to me that the main issue here is what a political party is and to another extent who would make this definition. I would guess that two groups that make this distinction would be the FEC (for organizational and fundraising purposes) and the various state election bodies (for ballot access, expenditure reporting, and organizational purposes).

    Based on what they are saying I think it does sound incorrect to call them a political party. A party has unique members (for instance you cannot be registered Republican and Democrat but it sounds like you can be a member of Americans Elect and a Republican) and a unique agenda. These guys just seem to be hosting a website where people can nominate a candidate.

    As Linda above mentioned, perhaps they simply have to register as a party in each state because that is the only way ballot access is possible. I would imagine that if states granted ballot access to 501c4s then they would have to register as such in that state. For instance in my home state of CA I know that ballot access is only granted to “political organizations that submit their intent to organize as a political party to participate in the primary election.” So technically it seems that once they submit their signatures or whatever then they are deemed a political party by the state (as opposed to a political organization) and have ballot access. Maybe I am wrong and please feel free to correct me if I am – perhaps you have more insight into how ballot access works.

    it is clear you don’t really like the organization (I found your blog by listening to NPR in LA where you made that clear) which is fine by me. I don’t really support them and find the idea nice but unrealistic. But this seems like the wrong thing to pick on here. Just my thought.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brad. I hope you notice that you’re saying two things, that Americans Elect has to register as a political party to do what it wants to do, but it’s not a political party. That’s kind of a contradiction.

      There are states in which it is possible for candidates to be listed under multiple political parties, there are states in which people can vote in primaries without joining political parties. When I lived in Ohio, nobody registered by political party. Political party and registration are highly variable and distinct phenomena in the United States.

  • Many words have legal definitions, and then they also have real-world common-place definitions. “Political party” is one of those words. In state election law, Americans Elect is a party. But in the non-legal everyday world, it is not a traditional party because it doesn’t represent any particular ideology or any particular group.

    • Then it should say it is “not a traditional political party,” which it has said on occasion. Or it should say it is a different kind of political party. Or it should say “we are a political party that is trying to demolish the way that political parties run today.”

      But it should not say it is not a political party, because in the very legal world in which Americans Elect is registered as a 501c4 corporation/political party, and in the very legal world in which it is trying to effect change — namely, government — Americans Elect is very much a political party.

      If Americans Elect can’t master these sorts of details or is willing to glide over them, what does it think it’s doing running a presidential nomination?

      And on that not-limited-to-any-ideology thing, come on, Richard. You know ballot history. When the last billionaire Ross Perot came around and started the Reform Party, his bag was all about ditching ideologies and somehow just coming together and looking under the hood and fixing things. That’s what the Reform Party was supposed to be. Didn’t make it any less a political party. Didn’t make it a success, either.

    • If you want to go “real-world common-place definitions,” go to the urban dictionary page for “political party”. Entry #3 is just weird, and entry #1 is a joke and not a definition, but Americans Elect fits the real-world common-place definitions in #2 and #4.

      And if you really don’t think Americans Elect represents any particular group, consider consulting this list of the Americans Elect Board of Advisors. There’s a lot of very particular particulars in there, starting with “P” and rhyming with “brivate capital.”

  • Lee Mortimer

    Brad hit the nail on the head about this discussion: “This seems like the wrong thing to pick on here.”

    • Why is a secretive organization that appears to be backed by hedge fund managers that seeks to change the national government of the United States of America “the wrong thing to pick on”?

  • Tom

    Rah – rah – rah for the right wing/corporatist agenda! As if anything is going to change for the better because of some bunch of jerks with money are trying to subvert their way into power/sneek in while no one is looking. We’ve just witnessed with Obama how truly messed up politics has become. Here’s a guy who campaigned all “little guy” and “hope and change” and what did we get by electing him? MORE BUSH!
    Keep yer politics (as a giant waste of time to convince you that you have some “choice” or “control” in the matter. Well guess what? YOU DON’T) – better to start preparing for the big collapse.

  • Lee Mortimer

    Here’s why I agree with Brad that “this is the wrong thing to pick on.” We already know we’re going to have two corporate-backed candidates in Nov. 2012. We know that the Democrats and the Republicans will not slip up and nominate someone who hasn’t sold out to Wall Street and the corporations. But we can’t be absolutely sure that AE will follow suit. The worst that can happen if AE is successful is that we’ll have three corporate-backed candidates. But who knows — the AE process is still undefined and may have something in it that backfires on AE’s corporate backers. So, what do we gain by expending all this effort to block AE from getting a third presidential ticket on the ballot?

    • You mistake questions and observations for an “effort to block,” Lee.

      If Americans Elect is really up to the job of running the first ever online nomination without getting hacked and while allowing a truly democratic process that isn’t stacked, then it should be able to handle a few questions from citizens.

      Conversely, if the success of Americans Elect is contingent upon whether citizens clam up and keep their questions to themselves, that’s not a good sign, is it?

  • Lee Mortimer

    JIm, thanks for continuing the conversation. As I said at the outset, I would very much like to see more transparency from AE. And if you succeed in extracting some answers from them, then I commend you for helping our democratic process and enabling AE to make a better contribution to it.

    But if they persist in stonewalling, I would still see value in what AE is doing. Assuming they do have a lot of corporate funders, AE is far more capable than, say, the Greens or some “Rainbow” party to fight Democrat-Republican collusion to weaken and marginalize third-party efforts. Once any “third party” can firmly establish itself, it will greatly facilitate and open the doors to fourth, fifth and sixth parties getting in the game.

    So, even if AE’s nominating process tuns out completely non-transparent — even if they “steal” their own nomination — it would still be worthwhile having a third ticket on the ballot to threaten and disrupt the two-party duopoly. Of course, I hope they do come clean and that you get credit for persuading them to do it.

    • That’s true, Lee, just like it’s true to say upon finding a massive metal robot on your town square with howitzers coming out of its armpits, “This could do a lot more than my garden rake in fighting the forces of evil.” It could. But it could also do a lot of other things. Considering the capability of Americans Elect to impact the electoral landscape for the position of the most powerful single person on the planet, maybe we should find out what it’s all about. I’m glad to read you saying that’s important, too.

      The end of this month will be a good time to see what sort of disclosure and transparency Americans Elect is willing to make when pressed — they’ve responded to critiques of a lot of people (who all deserve credit) by making that deadline for themselves.

  • Lee Mortimer

    Jim — I think your analogy of Americans Elect to “a massive metal robot with howitzers coming out the armpits” might be a bit overdrawn. Conversely, control over U.S. elections by the Democrat-Republican duopoly hardly seems analogous to “a garden rake.” But on to another matter that should be of more interest to you.

    I came across Micah Sifry’s article about Americans Elect at Personal Democracy Forum. He gave what I thought was a fairly balanced analysis of AE and quoted you and Irregular Times several places in the article. A comment posted to the article contains a revealing and troubling insight into Daily Kos (and perhaps other progressive websites).

    A group of credible progressives makes the complaint that Kos is enforcing a “third party discussion ban.” They link to an instance of the ban being imposed on someone named “Michael,” who re-posted his statement at Nob Hill Observer. After a pretty searing critique of Obama, Michael concluded by saying, “Maybe the Greens will run somebody so I can vote — I won’t be voting for Obama.”

    Well, that was enough to get a notice sent from a Kos moderator warning, “Be as critical as you like, but don’t advocate for a third party.” Michael was instructed that if he didn’t want to lose his posting privileges at Kos, he needed to “click the box” that acknowledged his offending words and promise not to repeat any such sentiments in support of third-party activity.

    The commenters to Micah’s article asked if he would be willing to add his name to an open letter they are circulating and will be sending to Markos Moulitsas requesting the third party discussion ban be rescinded. Knowing the importance you place on free and open expression, I thought you might want to contact Moulitsas and get his statement on the record, so the readers of Irregular Times can examine and judge for themselves.

    • Oh, yeah, my analogy was definitely swooping and dramatic. I don’t dispute that. But the point I was making with the analogy, I think, is reasonable.

      I wouldn’t be surprised about what you say about that — Daily Kos is not a completely open discussion forum, and I wouldn’t even necessarily call it “liberal” or “progressive.” (It calls itself neither of these.) It’s two things by my eye: a partisan Democratic website and an LLC corporation. The LLC corporation part is why it’s completely willing to accept advertisements from corporations like Exxon or from shady diploma mills that wouldn’t pass muster on a “liberal” or “progressive” website. The “Democratic” part is why the third party discussions are at least frowned upon. Markos Moulitsas is ban-happy, as a read over here will show: http://www.dkosopedia.com/wiki/DailyKos_FAQ#Diary_pimping and these are reasons why I don’t as a rule participate over at DailyKos.

      I’m going to post on this right now.

      http://nobhillobserver.blogspot.com/2011/07/im-banned-from-posting-on-daily-kos.html is the original source for what you’re talking about.

      It should go without saying that Irregular Times doesn’t ban third party talk. We aren’t even registered in either of the two parties. There are a lot of other liberal (I am coming to distrust the word “progressive,” because it can mean almost anything) websites that not only tolerate third party talk but are flooded with conversation about primarying Obama within the Democratic party or running a third-party challenge to Obama.

  • They are going to have a problem in states like Arizona or Kansas, where people can register as Americans Elect party members. While they say they want only to be in the presidential race, nothing can stop those registered members of AE Party from running in primaries or getting petitions from other AE voters to be their candidates for Congress, statewide offices, state legislatures, and county and municipal offices. They may end up with “state parties” that wildly diverge from their views. And mischief-makers can register as AE party members and run for office to siphon votes from a major party in races lower down on the ballot. In Arizona in 2010, I and other candidates who won Green Party primaries (I won with 6 write-in votes in the Sixth Congressional District) in federal court, but the court ruled that the party could not control whom primary voters elected (any more than could the Republicans in the 2010 primaries in states like Alaska or Delaware). The Americans Elect group may be asking for trouble by going the party route rather than the independent route taken by, say, John Anderson in 1980.

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