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Americans Elect Corporation names itself a Grassroots Movement, embraces “Moderate” Ideological Label

On September 23, Americans Elect posted a new web page in which it declares itself to be a “nationwide grassroots movement” and promotes a video of Americans Elect activity in Portland, Oregon as a message that “explains Americans Elect clearly and simply.”

Americans Elect declares if you want to get a small taste of the nationwide grassroots movement that's currently underway, or if you just want a video to share with friends that explains Americans Elect clearly and simply, watch this video!

“Moderate,” meet “No Ideology.” “No Ideology,” meet “Moderate.”
The clear and simple message sent about Americans Elect in that video is sent in a voice-over by Patrick Preston as he declares, “Americans Elect would open up the selection process to anybody, the idea being to give political moderates a stronger voice.” If you don’t get the point, perhaps the on-screen title will drive it home for you:

New Group Wants Moderate Candidate

That’s stating it pretty “Clearly and Simply”: Americans Elect “Wants a Moderate Candidate.” The funny thing is that elsewhere, Americans Elect says it has no ideology. If Americans Elect wants to nail down the consistency constituency, it’ll have to figure out whether it stands for an ideology-free vision of letting the people decide or an ideological allegiance to the moderate bloc.

A Nationwide Grassroots Movement of Paid Signature Gatherers?
In another odd aspect to its web page, Americans Elect calls that video “a small taste of the nationwide grassroots movement that’s currently underway.” What are the indications of an actual “grassroots movement that’s currently underway” in the state of Oregon?

We could look at Americans Elect’s own efforts to kick-start a “grassroots movement” in Oregon. Americans Elect has registered 94 Meetups across the country. To see them all, take the URL http://www.meetup.com/americans-elect-94/members/ and plug in any number from 1 to 94. You’ll notice that for the huge majority of meetups, there’s only one “citizen” signed up as a member, and that “citizen” is the Americans Elect corporation. That’s not grassroots. On some occasions, an Americans Elect Regional Director has signed up as an additional “citizen” member of meetups in each of the local meetups over a huge region of the country, such as the Southwest or New England. That’s not grassroots either. Very occasionally, an actual citizen or two who actually lives in the area has signed on to the meetup. That’s not a movement. In nearly all of the 94 meetups, no actual meetups that have occurred. That’s not a movement.

What about Oregon? Well, the video shows a very nice young woman advocating for Americans Elect in Portland Oregon, so you might forgivably conclude that there must be a “grassroots movement” for Americans Elect in Portland, Oregon. But there is no meetup at all for Americans Elect in Portland, Oregon’s largest city. Meetups for Americans Elect have been registered in the smaller Oregon cities of Eugene and Ashland, but there are no actual residents of Eugene who have signed up, and only one resident of Ashland who’s signed up. Looking at Americans Elect’s own means for organizing grassroots supporters, the “grassroots” part of the Oregon “movement” looks to be completely dead (with apologies to that one person in Ashland).

If there is no sign of an actual “grassroots movement” in Oregon, then what explains the “grassroots movement” video shot in Portland, Oregon? Well, it turns out that the only person involved in Americans Elect who is featured in the video is a signature gatherer.

Americans Elect Grassroots?  Portland, Oregon signature gatherer

Americans Elect has been paying its signature gatherers around the country. In a fundraising document Americans Elect kept away from the eyes of the general public, Americans Elect makes specific reference to paying for signature gatherers in Oregon:

This Americans Elect fundraising document leaked online features the same $4 per signature expenditure on paid signature gatherers as in other states

The $4 per signature cost envisioned by Americans Elect for Oregon is the typical payout to Arno Political Consultants to wrangle subcontracted signature gatherers who are paid about $1 per signature, as the signature gatherer community has been noting. The Americans Elect money to pay Arno Political Consultants comes in turn from big contributions by hedge fund managers.

In short, it looks very much like the “grassroots” effort in that video is a corporate big money operation. There’s a word for faked “grassroots” backed up by big corporate money. That word is “Astroturf.” Americans Elect appears to be misrepresenting its corporate endeavor as a “grassroots movement.” Americans Elect appears to be astroturfing.

14 comments to Americans Elect Corporation names itself a Grassroots Movement, embraces “Moderate” Ideological Label

  • Lee Mortimer

    Jim, I’m surprised you haven’t looked into the AE press releases that I posted earlier. They seem to have more for you to dig into than this story. Are we supposed to be surprised that AE “wants a moderate candidate”? All along they’ve been positioning themselves as a “centrist alternative” to Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right. So, what’s the news value in this?

    http://thirdpartypolitics.us/blog/2011/09/23/americans-elect-press-release-while-republicans-offer-more-of-the-same-americans-elect-delegates-are-shaping-the-debate-for-the-nation/

    Oh, and is the fact that AE is paying signature gatherers a bad thing? Doesn’t it mean that those corporate lobbyists and hedge fund managers who you say are funding AE are also “job creators”? I can tell you that people like me who can’t find new jobs and face losing our unemployment benefits might welcome a paycheck from AE for gathering petition signatures. Perhaps you speak from a position of financial security. Some of us are not so fortunate and need a job.

    • Jim

      My point is that there are two more examples here of Americans Elect being inconsistent at best and deceptive at worst about their identity and activities. The more Americans Elect gets spinny and cutesy with the truth, the less liable we should be to trust it and the more inclined we should be to insisting upon transparent disclosure.

      The lack of writing on all the memos Americans Elect has written is due to a case of busyguyitis.

      • Lee Mortimer

        And not selective&financiallysecureguyitis, I’m sure.

        • My my, Lee, what snark. If I had financiallysecureguyitis, I’d be sitting on the deck of my yacht and sending Chalmsley down below to fetch my ghost writer. Kind of like, oh, most of the funders of Americans Elect. But as someone with stillpayingoffhisstudentloansitis, I am necessarily busy.

          Besides, LAST week you were imploring me NEVER to write about Americans Elect again. Which way do you want it, Lee?

  • Lee Mortimer

    Jim, the definition of “financially secure” is by no means limited to having a yacht and a ghost writer. It would include having access to sources of income that free one from the pressures of maintaining traditional employment and enabling one to indulge personal passions, such as political blogging. If that’s your situation, I’m happy for you. I just hope you’ll remember that a lot of folks are struggling with joblessness, and a paying job gathering petition signatures is not contributing to a corrupt activity.

    By the way, I don’t know how you arrived at thinking I “implored (you) to NEVER write about Americans Elect again.” If you go back and look, you will clearly see that I was suggesting you stay focused on the excellent work you have been doing on things like the Wall Street protests, where grave harm is being done to the American people, and stop being so fixated on Americans Elect, which is doing no harm to anyone.

  • Paulie

    I don’t understand Lee Mortimer’s point.

    Jim Cook did not say here that working for a living gathering signatures is corrupt. What he said is that it is not the same thing as a grassroots movement. Having gathered plenty of signatures over the years, both professionally and as a volunteer, I know the difference. If the only sign of activity an organization has is paid signature gathering, it ain’t a grassroots movement any way you slice it – and that is in no way a slam against the working petitioners.

    Jim also pointed out that AE’s street level signature gatherers are being shafted on the money, with several dollars going to petition middlemen for every dollar going to the person actually getting the signature.

    If you look at the included chart, it works out to $7.50 per valid signature paid by AE, as opposed to maybe $1.50 or slightly less per valid signature to the workers.
    Workers have to maintain a minimum 75% validity rate or get docked on pay; some get higher validity, so the average is about 80%. The pay ranges from a dollar (and sometimes even less) to two dollars for those signatures, with most of it closer to one dollar than two. AE’s projections call for an average of 58% validity, with some states at or below 50%, and each signature paying $4 or 5.

    If you have done any significant amount of petitioning, you know it’s hard work. AE’s contractors, especially the top level (AE board member Arno and family) are making millions of dollars on this while paying petitioners barely enough to eat and have a place to sleep on the road.

    If you hope to make any money petitioning for AE, you should applaud him for publicizing this, because the more people know about it the more upward pressure there will be on Arno and their subs to give the petitioners a bigger slice of the pie. The fact is that this is no grassroots movement, they have plenty of money from some very wealthy people and the petition companies are making bank. They can, and should, pay their people better.

  • Lee Mortimer

    Paulie: I don’t think I’ve ever said Americans Elect is a “grassroots movement.” I have said AE is a ballot access campaign that could morph into a political party if and when it succeeds in getting on 51 ballots and then follows through with nominating a cross-partisan ticket.

    Neither do I recall Jim expressing any particular support for signature gatherers. He has disparaged AE’s campaign for using paid petitioners. My point was that he may be speaking from a position of financial security, and that a lot of unemployed folks like me, who are not so fortunate, might welcome a paying job gathering signatures.

    I don’t know what the pay level is. I’ve seen a range of estimates, including one you posted Sept. 21 on Independent Political Report saying, “The Americans Elect petitions could easily be paying $3 or more per signature on the street to the petition circulators.” So, I guess I’ll have to investigate and find out for myself.

  • Jim

    Thank you, Paulie, for reiterating that I am not denigrating paid petition gatherers, but pointing out Americans Elect’s false depiction of itself.

  • Paulie

    Lee,

    I don’t think I’ve ever said Americans Elect is a “grassroots movement.”

    Jim’s piece is about addressing AE propaganda wherein they portray themselves as a grassroots movement, and I thought it was dead on target.

    I don’t know what the pay level is. I’ve seen a range of estimates, including one you posted Sept. 21 on Independent Political Report saying, “The Americans Elect petitions could easily be paying $3 or more per signature on the street to the petition circulators.” So, I guess I’ll have to investigate and find out for myself.

    “Could easily be” in the above context means could afford to, not is actually doing. I do not know anywhere that AE has paid any petitioners even close to that much, even though the rates they are paying the petition companies would easily make that affordable to them.

    Have you worked as a petitioner before?

    If you want to investigate for yourself you can start at the top – call Arno Political Consultants and ask to be put in touch with petition coordinators. Or, you can call the subs such as JSM directly.

  • angloraven

    All this speculation about who’s behind Americans Elect and where the money’s coming from is just noise. What will count will be the Americans Elect presidential and vice presidential candidates. If they are centrists, they will appeal to moderates, independents, centrists, former undecideds, disgusted Democrats and Republicans and yes, even liberals! These voters could present a powerful bloc that might sweep a centrist team into the White House.

    • So, angloraven, you think that the American people’s interest in finding out about the people who are wielding political power in their names is irrelevant? I disagree. I find it to be extremely important. Indeed, it’s what informed democracy relies upon.

      For a voter to merely show up on Election Day without asking critical questions about political parties like Americans Elect is profoundly irresponsible.

      We need more tough questions in American politics, not fewer questions.

      What you derisively call noise, I call free speech. The citizens of the United States need to make more noise, not less. I don’t think that we should allow financial elites like the leaders of Americans Elect to do all the talking for us.

  • mcthorogood

    I wouldn’t be so worried about Americans Elect railroading the presidential, if there was a method to verify that their selection process is fully above water. The method would be akin to exit polling, except in this case the Americans Elect database of nominating voters/votes would have to be opened to independent scrutiny. The database could be signed with public key cryptography to prevent tampering after the fact. Then random votes would be examined and candidate selected could be verified via statistical sampling.

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