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95% of Americans Elect Says Make All Campaign Donations Public. Will AE Comply?

“If you’re rich, serious about changing the world and think our two-party tyranny has become part of the problem, there’s no better time to invest in disruptive political innovation.”

So wrote Matt Miller in the Washington Post this week without irony, promoting the prospects of the Americans Elect corporation as it seeks to run its own candidate for President of the United States in 2012. The sole donor to Americans Elect that’s been formally acknowledged is the billionaire Peter Ackerman, who contributed $1.55 million of his own money to Americans Elect before he converted the organization from a Section 527 organization to a Section 501c4 corporation eleven months ago, preventing any further public disclosure of contributions and expenditures.

Peter Ackerman is, as Matt Miller suggests, “rich, serious about changing the world and” determined to “invest in disruptive political innovation.” But what is the standard by which such disruptions should be made in America? Should the use of money by these rich people to disrupt the American political be kept a secret from the American public, or should such their campaign spending be disclosed? In its bylaws, Americans Elect has laid out the standard it would prefer to use for making such a decision — a two-thirds vote of “delegates,” people signed up on the Americans Elect website to participate in its 2012 online presidential nomination:

Where these Bylaws provide for ratification by the Delegates, except on votes regarding nomination or endorsement of a particular candidate, the report of Committee shall be deemed adopted except by negative vote of two-thirds (2/3) of all registered Delegates….

… draft of proposed convention rules subject to ratification and approval of the Delegates in accordance with these Bylaws…. The Rules Committee may conduct hearings to solicit the views of Delegates and Members and shall draft and report detailed rules of each convention, subject to ratification of the Delegates…. The Bylaws of Americans Elect may be adopted, amended, or repealed by a majority vote of Directors then in office, subject to ratification by the Delegates…. All decisions of the Chair shall be binding, subject only to ratification by the Delegates in accordance with these Bylaws.

So how do two-thirds (2/3) of the registered members of Americans Elect feel about political groups disclosing their campaign donations? It turns out that the Americans Elect online survey of members entitled “My Colors” provides an answer. One of the questions asked in that survey of members reads as follows:

“Do you think the following real or proposed campaign finance rule is acceptable or unacceptable? All campaign donations should be made public.”

Americans Elect has begun displaying all the responses of its members in two ways:

1. The percentage choosing each response, and
2. The top response for each state.

On September 1 2011, a day after the question had been rolled out for Americans Elect membership to answer, the responses looked like this:

Americans Elect member responses to a Campaign Finance Disclosure question as of September 1 2011

And this morning of September 3 2011, three days into polling, responses look like this:

Americans Elect member responses to a Campaign Finance Disclosure question as of September 3 2011

The results are unequivocal: 95% of responses by Americans Elect membership agree with the proposed campaign finance rule that “All campaign donations should be made public.” Only 3% disagree with that proposal. The top response in every single state of the Union, and Washington DC too, is agreement with that proposed campaign finance rule.

On September 1, the day after it rolled out its question, Americans Elect announced on Facebook that it had topped the 100,000 member mark, so we know we’re not talking about the responses of a small number of people here.

Americans Elect membership has blown past the two-thirds (2/3) standard for changing the bylaws through ratification. It’s blown through a three-fourths standard. It’s blown through a four-fifths standard, a five-sixths standard and a nine-tenths standard. A whopping nineteen out of twenty (19/20) members have said they support a proposed rule that “All campaign donations should be made public.”

These are the members of Americans Elect. This is their voice. It surpasses the bylaws’ standard of ratification.

But as of today, neither the names of donors to Americans Elect nor the amount of their donations has been disclosed. Not fully, and not partially. Not a single person is named as a funder of Americans Elect on its website. Not a single dollar amount of a contribution has been identified by Americans Elect on its website.

Americans Elect has told the American people that when they sign up, they become the “true boss” of Americans Elect:

But you are the boss. It will be your voice and your choice that will determine the outcome.

Americans Elect has spoken. 95% of Americans Elect says it wants all campaign donations to be made public.

Will Americans Elect listen to its “true boss”? Will Americans Elect comply?

23 comments to 95% of Americans Elect Says Make All Campaign Donations Public. Will AE Comply?

  • Language is ambiguous, but it is a plausible argument that “campaign donation” means a donation to a particular candidate. People who have donated to Americans Elect have not donated to a particular candidate. They have instead donated to make it possible for Americans Elect to be on the ballot for whatever candidate is chosen by Americans Elect in the future.

    • It’s plausible.

      It’s also plausible that Americans Elect might not call this a vote.

      it’s also plausible that Americans Elect to say that there needs to be an official vote of delegates for the bylaws to be amended, a vote that Americans Elect happens not to have called.

      All of these are plausible.

      But the overwhelming spirit of this sentiment, along with Americans Elect’s open declaration that Americans Elect members are the “true boss,” is also not deniable. It’s also clear that Americans Elect is engaged in a campaign.

      Americans Elect will choose whether to use narrow language to continue to hide the nature of its funders from its members — who have overwhelmingly have called for full disclosure of campaign funding — or to listen to the spirit of what its members are calling for. That’ll be a pretty good indication of whether we’re seeing politics as usual or a truly transformative movement.

    • Also, “campaign finance” is a broad term that is not limited to individuals in its scope. Campaign finance data encompasses corporations that make direct and indirect spending, parties that receive and spend money, lobbyists that bundle and 527 organizations that advocate. Americans Elect, having been a 527 organization and currently a corporation and political party, fits snugly right in the middle of all that.

  • Lee Mortimer

    In your post on Daniel Winslow, you urge me to “Draw your own conclusions about Americans Elect.” I’m going to do just that here, and I challenge you to tell us your conclusions about AE. I know you have some from the zeal with which you critique their every action. BTW, Richard Winger hits it on the head that “campaign donations” most likely refer to donations to candidates, not to the AE organization.

    I’m happy to share my conclusions about Americans Elect. They are a group of people who feel the country is ill-served by the existing two-party duopoly and want to change that. They think the best way is to put a moderate/centrist/middle-of-the-road presidential ticket on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to challenge the Democrats and Republicans in 2012.

    They recognize this is a huge undertaking and will be massively expensive. They have solicited financial support from donors but feel those donors would be less willing — perhaps unwilling — to contribute if their identities have to be disclosed. Thus, AE has organized as a 501(C)4 to allow donors’ identities to remain confidential. The plan is to hold an on-line convention to nominate a presidential candidate from one party and a vice presidential candidate from another party.

    As a 501(C)4, AE says it is not a political party. In order to comply with ballot access requirements in various states, AE may have affiliate organizations that are political parties. Once a national ticket has been nominated in convention, AE will cease to exist as a 501(C)4 and will re-emerge as a political party in support of the ticket. As such, AE will fall under the same campaign finance regulations that govern political parties. Likewise, AE’s nominees will be subject to the same financing and disclosure requirements as other candidates.

    Some people in AE are on record as supporting a Michael Bloomberg candidacy. Bloomberg may be a candidate for AE’s nomination. Bloomberg’s personal ambitions to run for president are not mutually exclusive with AE’s goal of putting a centrist ticket on the ballot to challenge the two-party duopoly. The announced procedures for AE’s online convention give Bloomberg no greater chance than any other candidate to gain AE’s nomination.

    AE’s post-election strategy is a “coalition” plan to use any electoral votes it may gain to support another party’s ticket in the Electoral College. Which party — if any — would get AE’s electoral votes would be decided by AE delegates in a followup online convention after the election and before Electoral College votes are cast. It’s a shrewd strategy that avoids the “spoiler” label, while giving AE something tangible to aspire to short of winning the election.

    AE’s process thus far is not perfect, and some may find it rather imperfect. Given the large expenditures required to overcome draconian barriers erected by the Democrats and Republicans, some temporary compromises on openness and transparency can be accepted. If AE is successful in establishing a viable centrist third party to compete with Democrats and Republicans, it will open the way to a wider-ranging democratic process in future multiparty elections.

    • A number of your claims are simply factually incorrect, Lee. If you’d like me to interact with you regarding them, please provide source information for them.

      I’m just not going to come out and share with you a set of conclusions, first because I don’t have any firm conclusions, because it’s possible Americans Elect might move in a variety of directions. Second, I won’t share conclusions because even if I did have them set in stone I think the behavior of Americans Elect is more interesting than Jim Cook’s opinions about the behavior of Americans Elect. I’m just a guy, after all. Americans Elect is trying to change the leadership of the most powerful person in the world. I’d prefer that people use the information I present as they see fit.

  • Lee Mortimer

    Jim, I don’t believe I made any “claims” about Americans Elect. I was just stating my personal conclusions about where I think this is all headed. I have no particular “source information” for those conclusions. But if you believe what I was saying is “factually incorrect,” you shouldn’t need my source information. You just need to state what is incorrect about what I said. I didn’t even know about Americans Elect until the PBS interview a few weeks ago. If I have become misinformed, I am happy to have you set the record straight.

    • I source my facts, Lee. You’re voluminous in your claims without sourcing. I’m not going to do work for both sides of an argument.

      You are of course free to believe what you want.

  • Lee Mortimer

    And you are avoiding the issue, Jim, and leaving me to conclude that you have nothing with which to refute my conclusions.

  • Well, you’re partially right. I’m very busy this weekend and am probably impatient with you for that reason. I’m especially impatient when you won’t source your claims but are picking on me… for not sourcing your own damned claims for you! I mean, come on, Lee. I may pick on Americans Elect, but at least I provide sources to document what I’m saying, and I don’t bother Americans Elect unless and until I have documentation to back up what I’m doing. “Sheesh” is what I’m saying to you, but believe me, it’s not what I’m thinking. Sheesh, Lee. Sheesh.

    Unless there are sources you have, some of your conclusions are guesses, and guesses can’t be refuted just as they can’t be confirmed. That makes them kind of useless. Example: “AE will fall under the same campaign finance regulations that govern political parties.” You have no way of knowing that.

    Then there are some conclusions of yours that combine an apparently irrefutable/unprovable prediction of the future with something that can’t be true. Example: “Once a national ticket has been nominated in convention, AE will cease to exist as a 501(C)4 and will re-emerge as a political party in support of the ticket.” The ceasing-to-exist-as-a-501c4 bit is your untestable prediction, which is just plain useless. The bit about “re-emerging as a political party” cannot be true because Americans Elect, in addition to being a 501c4 corporation, is already a political party right now.

    Then there are some simply untrue statements, “I know you have some [conclusions]” being one of them. I am a skeptical person by inclination. I am also more on the fence about Americans Elect than you might suspect. Another one is “In order to comply with ballot access requirements in various states, AE may have affiliate organizations that are political parties.” They are not “affiliate organizations.” I have looked and I can find no evidence of such a thing as an “affiliate organization” in 501c4 or political party law. Besides, if you look (example: Florida documents) you will see Americans Elect, using the Americans Elect logo, represented by the Americans Elect officers, presenting Americans Elect documents, featuring the Americans Elect address, regarding the Americans Elect 501c4 organization itself, which it will explicitly also say from time to time qualifies as a “minor party” and as a “national party.”

    There. I just took 30 minutes out of my day to satisfy your demand for sources when you won’t do the work for yourself, which is to be frank really irritating. Yes, I’m grumpy. No, that’s not even mostly your fault. I’m grumpy anyway. Grrrr. We are all only human and are all fallible, me included — and the people who are running Americans Elect included. The difference is that I am grumpy and source my claims and am not trying to run the world, while Americans Elect is grumpy and doesn’t share information and wants to run its own proprietary process to put a president into office. You know, the single most powerful person in the world and all. Little thing.

    You don’t trust me. Fine, don’t. That’s your right. I won’t cry in my soup about it. I don’t even like soup.

    But if you don’t trust me, then for sure you shouldn’t trust Americans Elect. And they, like, you know, matter, and junk.

    • By the way, I am really quite grumpy today and that’s not your fault, Lee. But I do mean what I say: if you won’t put the work in, you shouldn’t be surprised if I’m not going to put the work in.

  • Lynn Della

    Jim: You make reference to “Peter Ackerman, who contributed $1.55 million of his own money to Americans Elect.” According to OpenSecrets.org’s “Americas Elect: Donor Search” (which states that the information was current as of July 19, 2011), the $1.55 million was donated by Tufts University through Peter Ackerman. That would not appear to make it his own money.

    I have been following your stories regarding AE with some interest and, based on my own research, share your skepticism. (E.g., see my article at http://www.worldwidehippies.com/2011/09/03/who-and-what-exactly-is-americans-elect, in which I have quoted from several of them.) Like you, I have made direct inquiries to AE which have not been answered.

    I was also concerned, in reading Matt Miller’s recent op-ed piece, about his apparent blind acceptance of AE’s legitimacy. It appears that he accepts, on face value, that AE is (only) what it purports to be. Although I personally have no use whatsoever for political parties (or even a quasi-party, such as AE may be), I would be quick to give AE credit for its creativity in the concept of an independent cyber-convention BUT FOR its lack of transparency.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work!

  • Lee Mortimer

    Jim, I didn’t mean to inject so much stress into your Labor Day weekend. I apologize for that and do appreciate your willingness to humor me. You see, my family is away for the week, so I have nothing better to do than blather on. You just need to not let irritating people like me get to you.

    All I’m putting out there are my own opinions/conclusions/conjecture/etc of scenarios that Americans Elect might move toward. You’re right, I don’t know that AE will do any of the things I am predicting. I’ve already said I’m not clairvoyant. But I hope they’ll move in some of those directions. I think it would benefit their purposes if they did a lot of what I laid out in my conclusions. Again — they’re just my opinions.

    Now, to address some of the specific disputes you raise to my conclusions. You will recall that I made the statement, “AE says it is not a political party.” I was simply repeating their own denial made (again) on PBS that you cited in your 8/23 post and which you titled, “Americans Elect Fibs About Not Being a Political Party.” You’re saying they are a political party. They say they’re not. So, it is not an established fact that AE is (yet) a political party.

    I’m afraid you’ll still have to explain to me why AE wouldn’t “fall under the same campaign finance regulations that govern political parties” if and when they are determined to be a party. You don’t explain why you think I’m wrong on that point. You just call it a “useless guess.”

    You also dispute when I said, “AE may have (state) affiliate organizations that are political parties.” Here, I drew from AE’s bylaws Sections 7.1 (“Americans Elect may . . . authorize and organize the formation of state-based chapters or state committees . . .”) and 7.2 (“where Americans Elect has met all statutory requirements to form a minor political party, such organizations shall be considered separate legal entities from Americans Elect, and shall be governed by the Board pending qualification as a national political party . . .”).

    Now maybe AE’s attorneys don’t know what they’re talking about, but they certainly seem to think they can have “affiliate organizations” and that those organizations would become a “political party” and thus “comply with ballot access requirements” in their states.” If it turns out that you’re right and AE is wrong, then I guess they will have to go back to the drawing boards. But they’ve had a pretty good record of defending their organizational and funding models.

    Finally, I have to take issue with your assertion that AE “wants to run its own proprietary process to put a president into office.” Now, I will agree it is a “proprietary process” and as such AE has no legal nor even moral obligation to be open and transparent — though it’s in AE’s interests to be as open and transparent as it can. But AE is not attempting “to put a president into office.” What AE is attempting is to create a new model for nominating a presidential ticket. There is a vast difference between those two things.

    We are the ones who will “put a president into office” when we cast our votes on Nov. 6, 2012. And if we’re fortunate, we will have three viable tickets to choose from rather than the two we usually get (with an occasional marginalized spoiler candidacy).

    • “You’re saying they are a political party. They say they’re not. So, it is not an established fact that AE is (yet) a political party.”

      That is flawed thinking. It’s as if I said “we live in the United States” and you said “we live in the belly of a gnat” and therefore it is not an established fact where we live. No. We can look it up. Actual facts matter. I already provided you a direct link to documents in the state of Florida in which Americans Elect is indeed directly registered as a political party and claims status for itself (not an “affiliate,” which is still a word in your head, not in the bylaws of Americans Elect and not in 501c4 or political party law).

      Here is another link, Lee, linking you directly to Americans Elect registration as a political party in multiple states. Go read it:

      http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/2011/08/23/americans-elect-fibs-about-not-being-a-political-party-again/

      “I’m afraid you’ll still have to explain to me…”

      … no, I don’t. At this point, I don’t *have* to do anything. I’ve explained. You don’t understand. I’ve linked, with sources. Go back and read the sources. Also reread what I’ve linked to above. See if you agree with me after you do. If you don’t, oh well. We disagree. I don’t *have* to make you agree with me. The world is too big for me to *have* to make everybody agree with me.

      Finally, if you read Americans Elect material (see its bylaws) you will see that Americans Elect sees itself not just as nominating a president but as coming back after the election and using its position as holder of a small number of electoral votes to act as broker and thereby create a deal to choose the next president. It’s not just about nominating. See also this web page captured from ae2012.org before Americans Elect took it down this week — it represents the state of the Americans Elect “about” page in June 2011. The pictures and videos are gone because Americans Elect has removed them, but the text remains, and it reads:

      “We believe the system needs a jolt at the top—right now. Voters around the country, when casting their ballots for President in 2012, can put Washington on notice. A November 2012 victory for the Americans Elect ticket would force Congress and the entire political community to work with a President who is governing with the broad support of the people.”

      … and …

      “We think that, with your participation, Americans Elect will spoil the election for both the major parties and win the White House in 2012.”

      That’s not just about nominating. It’s about getting a president elected.

      You’re welcome to form your own conclusions, which as you note are based on unempirical conjecture. Go right ahead. But if you want me to agree with you, you’ll have to make a better case

  • Lee Mortimer

    Jim, I was feeling some sympathy for your “grumpiness,” but I think it’s becoming a cover for frustration that I haven’t caved in to your drum beat of imaginary threats that you are convinced AE represents. You’re sounding pretty overwrought.

    To my mind, your “sources” confirm (at least for me) that AE is doing something very worthwhile and helpful to democracy. I never said there aren’t state-level entities being organized as political parties. They’re doing that simply to meet ballot access requirements. And, yes, those are the “affiliate organizations” I referred to, and, yes, they do use AE’s name. But AE stipulates in its bylaws, “such organizations shall be considered separate legal entities from Americans Elect.”

    This strategy allows AE to hold off declaring themselves a “political party” until after a national ticket is nominated. Meantime, they have the advantage of 501(c)4 status allowing them to keep their donors’ identities confidential — if that’s what AE feels is necessary to obtain the financial resources to get on all 51 ballots. I think it’s a great strategy, and I commend them for creating, defending and successfully implementing it.

    As for your information about “brokering” the election which AE has “removed” from its website, you make it sound like something sinister. I don’t know why they would even want to take that down. It’s rather inspiring verbiage and highlights one of the best things about their strategy. It proves they’re serious about establishing a permanent and viable third party to challenge the Democrat-Republican duopoly. I’m inspired that they have a tangible goal in mind and aren’t some meaningless “No Labels” mush.

    You and other critics always harp on AE’s money. How much are we actually talking about? Twenty million dollars is what I usually hear mentioned. That’s not even pocket change compared to what the Democrats and Republicans will be raising and spending. Hasn’t the Obama campaign talked about raising $1 billion? If a third party can run a national campaign and have a tangible impact on the outcome with a fraction of the money that Democrats and Republicans have, that will be a huge advance for reducing the role of money in politics.

    I don’t know about others, but you continue to confirm for me that Americans Elect is on the right track and is adding value to our election process.

    • It’s a free country, which means you’re free to come to whatever conclusion you want to come to about my motivations and that organization. It seems I won’t be able to convince you otherwise, so, well, there you are. I can live with that.

  • Lee Mortimer

    The calmer tone of your concluding comment is more befitting the kind of exchange that I know you want to foster and maintain on your website. And where you earlier said, “I am more on the fence about Americans Elect than you might suspect,” I hope I might have had some part in influencing that.

    • 1. I’ve been telling you all along you have a right to see patterns as you wish.

      2. No, you didn’t influence me, not that I expect you to accept that.

      3. Tell me you know what kind of tone I want on Irregular Times again and I’ll drop the F-bomb just to break things up. I prefer fractious conflict to facetious consensus.

  • Lee Mortimer

    Wow, I guess I’d better watch what I say. I sure don’t want my computer blowing up in my face.

  • Larry Drake

    To me this is an “end justifies the means” issue. Torturing prisoners – a very un-american activity – was said to be OK because it would save American lives. AE acts like the big two parties and their surrogates by hiding information, justifying it by touting the nobility of their mission.
    They won’t have my support until all is above board. It looks like many other “delegates” feel the same if the answers to the latest survey question is an indication. Hold out for openness.

    • I’m almost with you, Larry, but actually the “big two parties” disclose their contributors and their expenditures by name and amount. Americans Elect won’t even rise to the transparency level of the Republicans and Democrats.

  • toowearyforoutrage

    Soon as an organization holds its political events on the same website frequented by girl clatches coordinating who wears what to prom, I think it’s jumped the shark.

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