Democracy Managed: Sponheim campaign recording of Americans Elect reveals new strategy for Not Releasing Donor Names
Self-proclaimed “centrist” presidential candidate David Jon Sponheim and an associate have been live-streaming the proceedings of an Americans Elect “conference” being held in California. I put the word “conference” in quotes because there’s not much “co” to the proceedings. Facilitator Jake Brewer (a corporate communications professional) has been using phrases like “co-creation” and “all about you” and “this is your movement” all morning and into the afternoon, with promises to the 30 or so attendees that they are in charge. But the big pad of paper he’s brought to write on is already filled-in with insights to be shared — insights like the importance of a “rapid response” team to scour the internet and respond to negative remarks. The agenda was already set before the conference, and the proceedings for hours now has consisted of Jake Brewer standing in charge up front, asking directed questions, with everyone else responding and Brewer eventually moving on to a new point. So far, the individuals invited to attend haven’t actually been allowed to make any decisions for themselves.
There have been two moments when attendees tried to break away from the script. In one of these moments, Sarah Hart (Sponheim’s campaign manager) spoke up after about an hour of Brewer’s pep talk, challenging him to change the structure of the meeting so that he would no longer be in charge. Rather, attendees would break into groups on the basis of their interests and decide for themselves what they wanted Americans Elect to do.
Initially, Brewer responded to Hart in a positive manner, suggesting that in the afternoon there’d be plenty of time for just that sort of self-directed democratic action. But then, during a short break, Brewer approached Hart to suggest that if she wanted to do that sort of thing, she’d need to take it outside into the hall so the rest of the program could proceed. We’re well into the afternoon, and Jake Brewer is still up front, massaging the rank-and-file into form.
At another point, attendees started asking Brewer pointed questions about the financing of Americans Elect, wanting to know who the donors were. Brewer’s spoken response was nearly verbatim what you can read in his written thoughts here: that 1) he knew who some of the donors were and that they were good-hearted concerned people, that 2) none of the candidates would know who was behind Americans Elect, so they couldn’t try to return any favors, and that 3) Americans Elect would eventually reveal its spending, which is good, right? But those questions persisted, culminating in a question by someone identifying himself as “Bruce”:
Question: “Bruce here. How about something like a range of…[live stream cuts out]…some kind of an anonymous representation of the broadness of the grassroots effort, or absence thereof, in funding. Something without giving any names that would give us an idea of where the financing is coming from?
Jake Brewer: “So the idea of an audit board, typically of trusted Americans, potentially big names in addition to grassroots supporters, is something that we’ve talked about a lot. I think that is actually going to happen…. The idea to get Colin Powell and, you know, some other people who generally Americans trust to look at the actual donors and say: ‘there’s no corporations, there’s no PACs, there’s no political parties donating here, this is just individuals who want to change this country,’ is an idea that’s moving up because of people like you speaking up and saying this. So thank you. And know that, ha ha, yeah, thank you.”
Did you notice the difference between what Bruce asked for (a representation of what kind of people were giving to Americans Elect) and what Brewer characterized (an endorsed reiteration that Americans Elect doesn’t take money from corporations, parties or PACS)? If Brewer is right, we can expect to see such a blanket statement issued soon, accompanied by the names of one or two famous people, and stamped with the label “disclosure.”
P.S. After the debacle of 2003, who trusts Colin Powell?