It’s only 85 days until the first ballot of the Americans Elect presidential nomination, the first ever all-online presidential nomination in which a corporation will decide which candidates can run, the same corporation will run the election, and yes, the very same corporation is in charge of how the votes are counted. What else do we know, and what do we need to know?
We already know that, despite talk of democracy, the leadership of Americans Elect has a heavy influence on the selection of the eventual Americans Elect nominee. But we don’t know how much influence the big-money donors to Americans Elect will have, because the identity of those donors is being kept a secret. And although Americans Elect pledges that it will not intervene as a corporate body in the general presidential election, intervention by Americans Elect’s big money funders has not been ruled out. This gap in assurance should give us pause.
…One of the criticisms of the group, that it doesn’t disclose its donors, strikes me as somewhat beside the point. Were the group planning to fund its eventual unity ticket in the general election, the concern would be much greater. But [Kahlil] Byrd assures me that the $24 million it has raised so far is being used exclusively for ballot access and the tech infrastructure necessary to run its nominating process on the web.
Americans Elect reiterates in its own FAQ that it will not use its secretly-funded budget to support the chosen Americans Elect candidate:
No Americans Elect funds will be used to support our ticket even once one is chosen. It will be up to the AE candidate to fund his or her own campaign.
And that’s not just our policy. It’s the law. Because we’re a nonprofit, we’re not allowed to advocate for candidates or issues, so we don’t and never will.
But here’s what Americans Elect won’t pledge: it won’t pledge that the small, undisclosed set of people who have brought Americans Elect into existence with their big, undisclosed funding won’t go right ahead and support that ticket through another entity. It doesn’t pledge that the secret Americans Elect funders won’t create a second no-disclosure corporation to support the candidate. The small, undisclosed group of Americans Elect funders could go right ahead and do that while sticking to the letter of Americans Elect pledge; the new group would be just be called something different, like American Select or Pushing the Future or Xanax for All.
What’s worse, there is no way that you or I will be able to know whether this happens. How do you possibly verify that the Americans Elect funders aren’t forming a second group to support a particular candidate? You can’t, not when the identity of the Americans Elect funders is a secret. When funding sources for political campaigns go undisclosed, anything’s possible.
Is this some kind of crazy conspiracy theory disconnected from what actually happens in reality? Look around you for the answer. It’s not like the existence of parallel organizations is beyond the pale or unheard of: the Republican presidential nomination campaign is awash with them right now. In fact, the creation of parallel organizations is quickly becoming the standard operating model for a presidential campaign. The difference is that in the Republican nominating process, at least one organization with known funders exists. But neither Americans Elect nor any hypothetical “independent expenditure” group would disclose its donors. This makes funding in the primary stage and the general election stage of the Americans Elect process inscrutable.
The pledge Americans Elect has not made is the pledge that matters. It would read:
“Neither Americans Elect, nor its stated leaders, nor its unstated funders will spend any money or deploy any resources on behalf of the Americans Elect nominee, either through direct campaign contributions or independent expenditures.”
Will Americans Elect make this pledge, the pledge that really matters? Will Americans Elect create a mechanism by which the American people can verify its claim? Watch and see.