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Chairs of Americans Elect Rules Committee: A Coal/Casino GOP Lobbyist and a Lieberman Democrat

Who is running Americans Elect, the 501c4 corporation that aims to nominate its own presidential candidate in 2012? Today, another little piece of information has leaked out.

William Busa shares the basic information that Americans Elect has neglected to disclose: the identity of the people who are co-chairs of its own presidential election’s Rules Committee:

In this letter to the editor in Sept. 16th’s Washington Post, Americans Elect has for the first time revealed the names of the co-chairs of AE’s all-important Rules Committee. Meet your new overlords!…

I believe this is the first we, the rank-and-file members of AE, have heard of the appointment (by the self-appointed Board of Directors) of co-chairs for the Rules Committee. Like them or not, we’re stuck with these political insiders, since these chairs are not answerable to nor chosen by the membership of AE. According to AE’s Bylaws, they “serve at the pleasure of the Board,” and the Board serves at the pleasure of itself (and, of course, its top-secret anonymous mega-donors).

Who are the Chairs of the Americans Elect Rules Committee? Meet Thomas L. Sansonetti and F. Christopher Arterton.

Tom Sansonetti

Tom Sansonetti: lobbyist for big coal companies.  Lobbyist for gambling casinos.  Chair of the Americans Elect Rules Committee.Tom Sansonetti is currently Partner at Holland and Hart LLC, a major corporate law firm, representing “business entities of all sizes, including more than 100 of the Fortune 500 companies.” Tom Sansonetti is head of Holland and Hart’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Practice. He is a major contributor to the Holland and Hart Political Action Committee.

A search of the House Lobbying Disclosure database reveals that over the last election cycle of 2009-2010, Tom Sansonetti has been active as a lobbyist for Peabody Energy Corporation, which is the largest private coal corporation in the world and a chief participant in ALEC, a consortium of corporations that writes pro-business legislation that are introduced and passed by corporate-sponsored state legislators and members of Congress.

Thomas Sansonetti has also been active as a lobbyist for the Oneida Indian Nation recently, nominally as it pertains to the Oneida Nation’s efforts to have 17,000 acres in New York put into national trust. That may sound like an obscure issue, but it turns out that according to the Oneidas the issue had to do with whether the Oneida Nation and those operating on Oneida land would pay taxes in their enterprises. The enterprises on that land include the Turning Stone Resort and Casino. The Oneida Nation, represented in their efforts by Sansonetti, specifically sought to exempt Turning Stone Resort and Casino proceeds from taxation. The Peabody Energy and Oneida Indian Nation lobbying activities have been the top two lobbying activities carried out by Holland and Hart in recent years.

Sansonetti has also been active as a lobbyist for the gambling megacorporation Harrah’s Casinos, on “matters pertaining generally to Indian gaming.”

When he’s not lobbying on behalf of casino interests and the world’s largest coal corporation, Thomas Sansonetti has been active in the leadership of the Republican Party, serving in the past as Wyoming’s Republican National Committeeman, as General Counsel for the Republican National Committee and as Chair of the Wyoming Republican Party. Sansonetti was a contributor to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney in the 2008 elections.

F. Christopher Arterton

Chris Arterton is an academic, a Director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University. He is also a contributor to the Reuniting Our Country PAC, a Joseph Lieberman “leadership” fundraising committee, and to Friends of Joe Lieberman.

These are the two Chairs of the Americans Elect Rules Committee.

Are they financial contributors to Americans Elect? If so, in what amount? We do not know and cannot know. This kind information is not disclosed by Americans Elect to the public.

16 thoughts on “Chairs of Americans Elect Rules Committee: A Coal/Casino GOP Lobbyist and a Lieberman Democrat”

  1. Glabard says:

    So much for letting the American people decide. Americans Elect delegates are just little pawns that are being moved around “at the pleasure of the Board”, over which there is no democratic control.

    Americans Elect is a sick farce.

  2. Lee Mortimer says:

    These are interesting tidbits but pretty irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. The fact that the gentlemen in question are co-chairs of the Rules Committee means nothing until and unless AE succeeds in gaining ballot status in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only then would an online convention be held in June to nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates. The Rules Committee could conceivably exercise some oversight to ensure that the delegates’ choice meets AE’s mission and purpose of nominating a cross-partisan “centrist ticket.”

    Given that delegates who have registered with AE lean further left than typical Democratic Party delegates, a free-wheeling convention could well come up with a left-leaning ticket of, say, Dennis Kucinich (Democrat) and Bernie Sanders (Socialist). The result would surely split the progressive vote and hand the election to the Republicans. In that case, progressives should be grateful that Messrs. Sansonetti and Arterton would be there to save us from ourselves. Bottom line: our democracy could certainly be imperiled for other reasons–but not from anything we’ve learned thus far about Americans Elect.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      Your first paragraph is a declaration that Americans Elect won’t matter unless it succeeds. Well, yes, obviously.

      Your second paragraph supposes that Americans Elect is interested in stopping people from splitting the left-leaning vote. What makes you think Americans Elect is interested in that?

      1. Lee Mortimer says:

        A fair question. Being top-heavy with Republicans, AE could plausibly be suspected of engineering a left-leaning spoiler ticket to throw the election to the Republicans.

        My question is, do they really have to go to the time, trouble and expense of everything they’re doing to accomplish that goal? If Obama’s in as much trouble in Nov. 2012 as he is now, the Republicans will win without secretive political machinations.

        My guess, and I could be naive here, is that some rich guys are frustrated by the Republicans (and to a lesser extent by Democrats) and felt creating a “centrist” third party to shake things up appeals to their sporting instincts.

        1. Hendrix says:

          Their sporting instincts are to shoot caged birds. I hope you’re being paid well, Lee. ( Or are you trying to make sure your AE donation isn’t wasted? )

  3. Lee Mortimer says:

    Hendrix, I would hope Jim does not approve of ad hominem attacks on his blog. I’m not getting paid because I’m unemployed. But I am getting by on my unemployment benefits, thank you very much. I might contact AE about doing some paid petitioning work when that starts in my state–as it looks pretty questionable that Obama will be able to get unemployment benefits extended.

    1. Hendrix says:

      So it’s an ad hominem attack to suggest someone would work for or donate to AE? I’m not sure why you would go on to suggest you are considering making such an attack true.

      I am confused as to whether AE candidate will agree with the consensus views of the delegates (“further left than typical Democratic Party delegates”) vs one that will be framed as a centrist choice between them and a few frustrated rich guys on the oversight committees. But I don’t think they’re doing well at either.

      1. Lee Mortimer says:

        It is an ad hominem attack when one person states an implication, with absolutely no evidence to substantiate it, that what someone else is saying is motivated by a financial payoff rather than sincere conviction.

        1. Hendrix says:

          My implications fairly cancelled each other (employee vs donor) and were phrased as a question. Thanks for responding.

          I would call fallacy on your confidence that AE is harmless as you insist you have no inside info and their behavior is so suspicious.

    2. Jim says:

      I have to admit two things. First, that the thought crossed my mind more than once that Lee’s been so determined to look on the bright side of Americans Elect that he might be a sock puppet or somehow employed by Americans Elect.

      Second, that having quietly looked into it I found not a SHRED of evidence that he is anything but a person with whom I disagree.

      Thinking on it a bit more, Americans Elect has been so obvious when it messes up or tries to go about being sneaky that he couldn’t possibly be with Americans Elect. Lee would have posted from Peter Ackerman’s condo or something.

  4. Bill Jacoby says:

    I don’t want to be naive, and no conspiracy is disproven until it’s disproven, but I find myself wondering how AE, or something like it, could come into existence without some initial “angels” with some prior political/business/government experience.

    1) The effort needs some seed capital. If there were no serious effort underway to “gain ballot access” in 50 states, most people would dismiss the effort and would wait to get involved until some results had been shown. Likewise, a staffed website would be essential for credibility; and access to political TV programs like “Lehrer”, Colbert, and others would also be necessary. The latter, especially, requires some media sophistication, track record, contacts, … and (indirectly) money. Otherwise the producers of those programs would dismiss overtures as lacking credibility.
    2. Until a critical mass of funding AND membership is developed, any organizational activity is inherently, necessarily undemocratic. One might hope for a well-publicized collaboration between a few millionaires of widely divergent political perspectives, issuing a call for others to put in money. But who would respond to that? There are many well-intentioned, on-target initiatives, political, civic, or charitable, that I will not send money to only because I doubt that they will get past the dream stage. Knowing that, say, four millionaires, one far right, one far left, and two well-balanced centrists have put up the money would still look suspicious; each of the four would have enemies and would be proof of a conspiracy to those with different views. I, for example, don’t want to support an initiative started by a coal-company lobbyist. However, the reason the coal companies hire a lobbyist is because they think he is good at what he does, so that person may make a good contribution to this kind of effort if he is doing it at his own behest and not that of a coal company. Ditto, hedge fund managers.
    3. Bylaws for this kind of a venture are also a little tricky. We are not really just talking about bylaws, we are talking about creating a nominating procedure that can convince a wide spectrum of Americans that is fairer than what the Constitution provides for, and than what is currently practiced. The AE bulletin board, and this site, show how a participative approach can improve the drafting process. Several commentators assume bad motives on the part of the organizers, others express a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt….

    4. My own view is that what AE is trying to do is hard. The objections to its legal and financial structure, and the questions about the relationship between the Board of Directors and the Delegates, and what AE’s role would be if its candidate isn’t the frontrunner, are good ones, and need answers. I’m not willing to impute bad motives, on the contrary…but I do fear that the core team lacks the sophistication and the strategy to accomplish its task. Questions like “Whose behind this” and whether the delegates/voters will control the board of directors or vice versa, had to be anticipated, and participatory structures/procedures for addressing them needed to be ready to be put in place. My impression is that hedge fund managers, lobbyists, public relationists, etc., are not at all accustomed to thinking about participatory structures, and so they didn’t think this through sufficiently. [They might be forgiven for concluding from their professional experience that the public’s gullibility is limitless.] Consequently, their apparently laudable initiative is unable to gain the legitimacy needed to accomplish its goals. This may be just as well, because it would be better for it to fail early rather than late, after millions have been led into generating a failed third-party bid only to become disillusioned and splinter.

    Cyberdemocracy is in its infancy. Meet-Up was an important innovation several years ago, Move-On and probably its conservative analogs (I assume they’re out there) have improved certain techniques for organizing the like-minded, but I have not seen techniques evolving to generate legitimacy for broad-based efforts and consensus-building. Hopefully the best and brightest among us, those with some strong grounding in political theory, are watching this unfold and are coming up with improvements. I just hope the country can hold on long enough for them to roll out their product.

    The way forward for AE, if it wants to succeed this time around, is to read, study, analyze, and acknowledge on its website the concerns of those who have rallied initially to its call; come up with a representative structure to develop rules, solicit input, and make decisions; and to do these things quickly. Unlike the Supreme Court Justices who trumpet their “originalism”, I really do respect the brilliance of our founding fathers; times have changed, but unless we can generate and organize comparable brilliance, we will fail to preserve the essence of what they bequeathed to us.

    If this venture was just a clever way to pursue a partisan strategy, then it deserves to be roundly discredited. It seems as though the promoters have it in their power to either move forward, or to discredit themselves.

    1. Lee Mortimer says:

      You make a lot of sense, brother Jacoby. I don’t know how many commenters on this website are open-minded enough to recognize that. But if Elliot Ackerman and those who are putting together Americans Elect take what you say to heart, they just might pull off something worthwhile.

  5. Sanderson Beck says:

    My name is Sanderson Beck, and I am running for President as a progressive Democrat. I was hoping that AE would provide a process of direct democracy that could transform US presidential elections. After reading their proposed rules I have several serious concerns that I believe the delegates must remedy if this process is to be truly democratic and not be controlled by the “mission” of AE.
    Having taken the early questionnaire I agree that those who have signed up so far are mostly progressive in their views. I believe that if the process is fair and open, that the delegates would nominate a progressive ticket which, in a three-way race between a right-wing Republican and the centrist Obama, could win.
    A problem with the rules is that the Presidential nominee must choose someone from a different party. This might be okay if a Democrat could choose a Socialist (such as Sanders) or a Green. However, another problem is the rule which says they must select someone that “balances” the ticket, and there are also references to a “major party.” Thus this centrist board might interpret their rules in such a way that a Democrat and a Socialist or a Democrat and a Green would not qualify according to their “mission.” If delegates let them get away with doing that, then we could end up with another centrist ticket that would split Obama’s vote and help the Republicans win. This would obviously be a disaster. Thus the delegates must clarify the rules and make sure that the Presidential candidate has the right to choose whomever he or she wants as the Vice Presidential candidate. Thus eliminating the “different party” rule and the “balance” requirements are essential changes to keep the process free and fair.
    Another problem with the rules is the favoring of professional politicians, corporate executives, military officers, etc. According to their rules I would not qualify as the President of a non-profit because the organization has less than 1,000 employees. How those not meeting these criteria are accepted as second-class candidates is rather murky and could also be controlled by the board. Even if they are accepted, they have the disadvantage of having to get ten times as many supporters as those people who already have name recognition because of their celebrity status. This is very elitist and undemocratic, and I believe the delegates should cancel these rules. Everyone who is qualified by the US Constitution should be allowed to run, and the delegates should decide which candidates are to move forward in the elections.

    1. Lee Mortimer says:

      I want to reply to your comment, but the first thing I would suggest is that you put it on the more recent post related to the release of AE’s draft rules and candidate handbook:

  6. Ron Tenin says:

    Why is the New York Times backing American Elect 2012?
    Why is AE2012 leadership council loaded with Bush stalwarts?.
    Does anyone really beleive these hedge funds/billionaires ..are just
    in this for sport?…Why is William Webster and Wendy Drake ..and the
    Webster group …leading this charge?
    Does AE2012 ..hold damning tax evidence that will blow the Romney campaign up..?.
    Is ae2012 more interested in the 12th amendement…and making sure POTUS doesnt receive 50.% of electoral delegates….throwing the election to the “house’..

    Corporate America is petrified of the 99% …they want to privatize the presidency.
    Jeb Bush or Christy Todd Whitman..lurking in the background….Whitman leads Republican women in revolt…the radical middle roars…

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