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Ten Questions for Americans Elect, February 2012

After almost two years of asking Americans Elect questions and not getting answers from them, I’m grateful to Kris McAlister of the new Americans Elect “Northwest Web Team”, who has written to me and very kindly solicited my questions so that those questions can be posed to the Americans Elect leadership through inside channels.

As you probably know if you’ve been reading Irregular Times lately, I’ve been asking Americans Elect lots and lots of questions. But if I had to pick the ten questions I’d most like Americans Elect to answer, I’d pick these. The following are the most central questions I’ve asked before, the 10 questions I’ve forwarded on to Kris McAlister for help:

1. What are the names of the people who have provided more than $1,000 worth of funding or other valued support to Americans Elect?

2. Americans Elect has indicated that it would pay back large-dollar funders from an anticipated large pool of small-dollar donations, “so that our candidates will answer only to the American people.” (source). The converse implication of this quote is that if the money is not paid back, candidates will not only be answering to the American people. The selection process for candidates to qualify for the Americans Elect ballot began on January 31, 2012. As of January 31, 2012, in an aggregate dollar amount, how much of these loans have been paid back? How much of these loans have not been paid back?

3. Americans Elect Political Director Darry Sragow has been quoted as saying (http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2011/12/21/americans_elect_no_molotov_cocktails_please.html) that “The folks running Americans Elect, they don’t know who the donors are.” But Americans Elect’s leadership also characterizes the motivations of the donors, that they “share a deep concern about our country’s broken political system, and a strong desire to do something about it. But they also know that it’s hard being among the first to publicly support something that challenges an entrenched and powerful establishment.” (Source) It is also publicly known that one of the largest multimillion funders of Americans Elect, Peter Ackerman, is its Chairman. Can Americans Elect explain these discrepancies?

4. I’ve always believed that the Golden Rule is a useful test for the ethics of a person or group.

Americans Elect: do you believe we should let the Republicans and Democrats take contributions of unlimited size without disclosure of the contributions’ source or amounts?

5. Without naming names, Americans Elect can disclose today:

a. The number of donations it has received, and the dollar amount of each donation.
b. The state or country of residence of each donor.
c. The principal occupation, if any of each donor.
d. The date of each donation.
e. The type of donation: loan, dollar donation, in-kind donation.
f. The amount of each loan that has been paid back by Americans Elect, as it said it would.
g. The number of the funders of Americans Elect who are also among the Americans Elect leadership.

Will Americans Elect please provide this information?

6. Americans Elect declares that “none of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.” But in his Sunday New York Times profile of Americans Elect, columnist Thomas Friedman describes “swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.”

Given recent special interest advocacy of hedge fund operators regarding the Dodd-Frank Act, these two statements appear to be inconsistent. Is Thomas Friedman’s statement regarding hedge fund contributions to Americans Elect inaccurate? Or has Americans Elect been accepting money from the operators of hedge funds?

7. Americans Elect declares publicly that “None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.” But according to the limited list from the Americans Elect Piryx giving stream, one of Americans Elect’s funders is Jim Holbrook. Jim Holbrook is the current Chair of the Promotion Marketing Association, which in its online material describes its role as furthering the interests of the promotion marketing industry.

How does this funding source jibe with Americans Elect’s pledge that it doesn’t take special interest money? If this source of funding doesn’t count as a special interest source, what would?

8. On Americans Elect’s “About” page, Americans Elect “None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.” But according to an incomplete list via the Americans Elect “giving stream” and Americans Elect disclosure documents from the time before it shifted to a no-disclosure, Peter Ackerman and Melvin Andrews and Kirk Rostron — all private capital investment executives — have provided funding the Americans Elect 501c4 corporation.

The private capital investment sector of the economy has been agitating politically in the last year for the government to make changes to the wording or interpretation of the Dodd-Frank Act to benefit their business’ bottom line. This means that private capital investment executives have special interests, by the dictionary definition of the term.

There appears to be a contradiction between Americans Elect’s claims and its practices. How would Americans Elect explain this contradiction?

9. According to Americans Elect Rule 2.2.1.1, there are two ways to qualify for a vote for Americans Elect ballot access. The first is to gain 10,000 “support” votes, and the second is to gain 50,000 “support” votes. Who gets into the easier 10,000 “support” vote tier? If you are a corporate executive leading 1,000 employees, you’re automatically in. If you’re a university president, you have to lead 4,000 students. And if you head up a labor union, you have to lead 100,000 union members. In the universe of political privilege that Americans Elect has constructed, a single employee is literally worth four students, and one employee is worth a hundred union members.

Why is that, Americans Elect?

10. Why did Americans Elect change its official Rules late in 2011? In the prior rules, delegates could at least hypothetically overrule any decision by the corporate-appointed Candidate Certification Committee to kick a candidate off the Americans Elect ballot. In the new rules, delegates can no longer overrule that decision if the Candidate Certification Committee acts unanimously.

Thanks again to Kris McAlister. I sincerely appreciate your outreach and hope you’re able to obtain and share answers from the Americans Elect leadership.

23 comments to Ten Questions for Americans Elect, February 2012

  • Bill

    A few more important questions:

    1. Will Americans Elect Corporation publicly release its very important Form 990 for the tax year ending Dec. 31, 2011 PRIOR to its online convention/vote so that delegates can fully understand the organization before deciding whether to participate? If not, why not?

    2. Americans Elect Corporation recently released its “Audited 2010 Financial Statements”. That statement merely contained the word “audited”, but provided no other information regarding the claimed audit. Normally, audited corporate financial statements identify the auditor by name, and include a statement of the auditor’s findings (i.e., whether the statement accurately reflects the corporation’s finances, etc.). Will AECorp provide the auditor’s name and statement? If not, why not?

    3. Will Americans Elect Corporation identify all members of all AE committees, and in the event of committee membership changes immediately publish these changes? If not, why not?

    • Jim Jensen

      Americans Elect is interested in empowering ordinary voters, not in constructing some new insidious political conspiracy. And it intends to do so in a legal and ethically clean manner. I have no knowledge of the documents you mention, nor AE’s intentions about any disclosures not required by law. A more effective means to getting answers to your specific questions might be to contact Elliot Ackerman directly.

  • Joshua

    What happens if fewer than six candidates meet the “1000 x 10 states” or “5000 x 10 states” supporter requirements to qualify for the nominating ballot, much less the final ballot? Currently none of them are on pace to qualify.

    • Jim Jensen

      For technical questions about the AE process, I’d suggest looking at the governance-related documents published on the AE website. If ambiguities remain, then AE will appreciate your pointing them out and get them cleaned up. If you have views on how AE should operate, we’d like your help. Join and participate.

      Jim Jensen

    • Mr. Jensen, look at the documents you yourself refer to, and you’ll see that Joshua’s question isn’t answered by them.

  • Jim Jensen

    The principal questions above seem mostly to relate to the confidentiality of Americans Elect financial donor information. I’ll try to answer, and begin with some background and comparisons between AE and the political parties.

    Congress’ approval rating is 13% and Obama’s is 48% according to Langer Research Associates as reported by ABC News. What more evidence is needed that our political system–dominated by Democrats and Republicans–is broken?

    Americans Elect has in common with the two Parties that it provides ballot access and chooses a presidential ticket. There the resemblance ends. The two Parties have preferred candidates, funnel campaign money to them, and enforce Party discipline on those incumbents they place in office. Further, the two Parties’ political ideologies and agendas are largely determined by the Party elite rather than by voting citizens. Lastly, the two Parties extort campaign contributions from corporate interests with a veiled threat that otherwise they will be cut out of partisan politically-driven quid pro quo–“access”, government contracts and relative freedom from harassment from Executive Branch government agencies. [Check with Jack Abramoff if you want details.] This oligarchic system works well for those in government having something to sell, those moneyed interests eager to buy, and those who broker the deals. But I submit this system self-evidently doesn’t work well for American citizens.

    Americans Elect, as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, has no opinion about who should be president; neither does it support any political ideology whether left, right or centrist. AE is a mechanism taking back democratic (small ‘d’) self-government from the two main Parties. AE members as individuals, however, do have political views, and as delegates we will draft candidates, support them, and will select a ticket offered alongside the Democratic and Republican ones for the November elections.

    Regarding AE contributor confidentiality: since they support a much-needed mechanism for democratic (again, small ‘d’) self-government without pushing any candidate or political ideology, I’m personally unconcerned. My only regret is that I don’t know whom to thank. And I understand the involved individuals’ and business leaders’ reluctance to expose themselves to retaliation by the two Parties who currently dominate government.

    I’m sure we at AE would be happy to see the Democratic and Republican Parties withhold contributor information–just as soon as they drop their partisanship and thereby can do so legally.

    Jim Jensen
    AE Delegate Leader,
    Washington State

    • Mr. Jensen, with all due respect for your willingness to participate in the political system (and props for that) you’re a local volunteer, right? You’re not responding on behalf of or with the mandate of the leadership of the Americans Elect corporation, are you? It seems you’re just telling me what you think, as part of the Americans Elect “Rapid Response” strategy for using its local volunteers. Please correct me if I’m wrong in that regard.

      1. You write:

      “Congress’ approval rating is 13% and Obama’s is 48% according to Langer Research Associates as reported by ABC News. What more evidence is needed that our political system–dominated by Democrats and Republicans–is broken?”

      I didn’t ask whether the political system is broken. Disagreement is part of the political system when it works.

      2. You write:

      “Americans Elect has in common with the two Parties that it provides ballot access and chooses a presidential ticket. There the resemblance ends. The two Parties have preferred candidates, funnel campaign money to them, and enforce Party discipline on those incumbents they place in office.”

      Actually, Americans Elect has been holding meetings with centrist candidates, trying to cajole them into running. It demands of its candidates that they sign pledges regarding their conduct in office. And we have NO idea whether the funders of Americans Elect will also be funding the Americans Elect candidate — Americans Elect has made no pledge in that particular regard, and we have NO idea who the funders are, beyond the names of a few people whose identities have leaked out.

      3. You write:

      “Further, the two Parties’ political ideologies and agendas are largely determined by the Party elite rather than by voting citizens.”

      Americans Elect has openly declared its centrist ideology before turning around and openly declaring it has no ideology. And the Americans Elect agenda, from its bylaws to its rules to its website to its Platform of Questions (yes), have been determined every step of the way from the top down by corporate committees.

      4. You write:

      “Lastly, the two Parties extort campaign contributions from corporate interests with a veiled threat that otherwise they will be cut out of partisan politically-driven quid pro quo–”access”, government contracts and relative freedom from harassment from Executive Branch government agencies. [Check with Jack Abramoff if you want details.] This oligarchic system…”

      You’re trying to say that because the Democrats and the Republicans are problems, Americans Elect is not a problem. That’s rhetorically slippery and not logically respectable. Look again at the identity of the few people we know gave money to Americans Elect and complain about oligarchy again.

      By the way, the only question you answered — and apparently only for yourself — was #4. #1, #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, and #10 were not answered.

      • Jim Jensen

        Mr. Cook,

        I am a local volunteer, who is encouraged–after discussion with AE regional and national leadership–to answer questions such as you pose. My response is broadly consistent with the views I’ve heard so far from AE leadership. I may receive further guidance in the future. I’ll respond to your points to me in numbered paragraphs below:

        1. It’s true that you didn’t ask whether the political system is broken. However, I’m reminding you that it is (and broken well beyond mere “disagreements”). AE proposes what we feel is a better way to elect a president. If you disagree then you have other options.

        2. You ask about centrist candidates. I repeat that Americans Elect, as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, has no opinion about who should be president; neither does it support any political ideology whether left, right or centrist. You can either accept this as a statement of fact or not. Individual members have not forfeited their rights, however, to have political opinions, as I do, and will draft candidates. I think you will find a diversity of candidates being drafted. If you don’t like AE’s candidates, then by all means join up and draft somebody you most prefer.

        You continue to ask about confidentiality of AE contributors. The short answer is that it’s none of your business–according to the laws governing creation of AE as a as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization. Since when does privacy have to be defended when it is legal? I have already offered my own conjecture about a major reason for contributors desire to remain anonymous: the possibility of retaliation by Democrats and Republicans who currently dominate government.

        In any case consider the following analogy: Let’s say there is some county or parish notorious for elections rigged by the local politicos–literal ballot stuffing and so forth. Somebody comes along and donates secure voting machines to the county, and thereby cleans up elections. Are you happy or unhappy? How concerned are you about who donated the machines? I’d be happy to have the machines in my county, and grateful to whomever donated them. I accept that others may feel differently.

        3. Here you’re repeating your issue regarding centrist candidates. See my response in 2. above. Also, if you have a problem with how AE’s rules are drafted–or their contents–please make some suggestions. Feel free to join us and contribute to making AE the best, most supportive of democratic self-government it can be.

        4. Don’t put words in my mouth. I haven’t claimed that AE is without problems or a perfect solution. What we’re trying to accomplish is brand-new, and not easy. Try it. Better yet, join us and help make AE the best it can be.

        And once again regarding oligarchy. Oligarchs rule, and exercise power in their own interest. AE has instead empowered ordinary citizens by creating a politically neutral (not centrist) machine that accepts as input candidate names, tallies votes and produces as output a presidential ticket. If this machine is not to your taste, then there are others to choose from.

        • Ralph

          “Since when does privacy have to be defended when it’s legal?”

          There’s a very simple answer to that: Legal privacy has to be defended when it’s unethical, when it looks like it might be covering up corruption, misrepresentation, or conflict of interest. (I’m not saying Americans Elect is guilty of any of these things. I can’t say one way or another, because they’re hiding so much.)

          It is inconsistent to say that the system is broken, then to go on and imply that the law–as we have it–is an adequate standard of ethical, open, and responsible behavior. (This is implicit in the incredulity that anyone should do anything the law doesn not require.)

          I’ve seen a number of these empty non-answer “responses” on here recently. It makes me wonder whether some corporate consultant is marketing a “rapid response” strategy. Hope they’re googling the results, it’s a real train wreck.

      • #1. Thanks for acknowledging that you’re a volunteer, not someone in administration who actually knows the answers to these questions. Americans Elect area volunteers are trained to try to answer questions the don’t know about in a public relations approach called “Rapid Response.” (See here and here). I';ve seen live broadcasts of the Americans Elect area recruitment conferences of the sort you’re referring to, so I’m familiar with what the Americans Elect PR representatives have asked you to do.

        #2. You’re doing an honest job when you provide answers that “it’s none of your business” to know who’s trying to construct a corporate presidential nomination system. That is indeed Americans Elect’s attitude.

        #3. You need to do more research if you’re going to keep claiming that Americans Elect has not adopted centrism. Watch this video to start http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZnCuw6yVMg — and there’s more documentation of Americans Elect’s centrism fetish available.

        #4. To make your county analogy accurate, you’d have to have a corporation come in, bring in voting machines, and then kick out the county board of elections and tell the local citizenry that the corporation would be counting the votes itself from now on, and writing the rules, and setting up its own political administrators. Doesn’t that start to make you a tad uncomfortable, Mr. Jensen?

        #5. Hon, I’ve been making suggestions directly to Americans Elect for nearly two years. They never return my calls, or letters, or e-mails…

        Do some more research before you come back. That’s not a command, but it is my sincere suggestion.

        • Jim Jensen

          #1. What you call “PR” is as factual as I know how to make it. AE is about democratic self-government, not some political agenda. If you’re not reassured on that point, I have nothing further to add.

          #2. You appear to have a problem with the law on this point, not AE.

          #3. If AE as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization adopts any sort of partisan view including centrism, then AE violates the terms of its incorporation. I say AE is politics-neutral. You say it isn’t. End of discussion on this point.

          #4. I feel more comfortable with the AE machine than I do with either the Democratic or Republican ones. Keep in mind that AE is nominating a president, not installing one.

          #5. Your condescension is noted. And since you’ve introduced the term “fetish”, I’d say you have a fetish about potential corporate conspiracy with regard to AE and are ignoring its empowerment of voting citizens.

          • #1. If Americans Elect is about democratic self-government, then then the current rules are a funny way of showing it, making it practically implausible for delegates to stop a self-appointed corporate board from excluding candidates from the ballot under some conditions and making it completely impossible under other conditions. Read Rule 2.2.1.2.

            #2. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean that something should be done. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not making a legal argument. I’m a citizen and I’m making an argument based on standards of participatory citizenship, which are by the way the standards the Americans Elect uses in its public relations. I’m asking Americans Elect to live up to its hype.

            #3. I have citations to sources on Americans Elect’s demonstrated penchant for centrism. Want another? Fine. Here’s another one: http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/2011/06/04/no-agendas-really-americans-elect-bylaws-specify-2012-ticket-with-centrist-principles/

            You don’t cite any sources whatsoever, and you don’t dispute my sources, because you can’t, because I’m citing primary source material.

            #4. If Americans Elect wins just one large state, the corporation explicitly envisions itself as taking the role of a broker to decide which major-party candidate is elected president. Read Article 9 of the Americans Elect corporate bylaws.

            #5. I never said anything about a conspiracy. You did. And if you don’t want to be condescended to, get your facts straight.

  • P.S. I’ll let everybody know if Kris McAlister gets back to me. If you don’t see a note here, it hasn’t happened.

    • Jim Jensen

      Clearly you and I are going to make no headway on specific issues regarding AE. But since I know you’re interested in disclosure, here’s mine:

      I’m a retired public servant living exclusively on state retirement and social security. I have no stocks or bonds. My after-tax income is around $3,200 per month. I own a modest home on 5 acres of forest.

      I’m registered as an Independent, and according to the Libertarian Party’s website self-inventorying quiz, I’m slightly left of center. I’m straight and clean, and atheist. I receive no compensation of any kind from Americans Elect. Other than being informed of AE’s goals, nobody there tells me what to think or write. I’ve given, so far, $50 to AE and some time.

      Now, I invite you to reciprocate. What are your influences–monetary and otherwise? How have you come to be primarily critical of AE instead of noting its potential benefits–or at least commenting on the corrupt state of our government and advocating for electoral reform? I’m not making an accusation because I have no facts, but were I in the Democratic or Republican Parties–who are clearly threatened by any populist movement having the potential to break these parties’ monopoly on government–I’d look to hire someone like you and give them marching orders to use a public forum in an attempt to discredit AE.

      On the other hand, if you would like to be viewed simply as a concerned citizen, then act like it: either you’re among the 13% who approve of Congress and the 48% who approve of Obama–or you’re not. If not; i.e. if you would like to see democratic self-government without the interference of the Democratic and Republican Parties–then invent it or join whose who are inventing it.

      • Boy, for someone who just accused me of holding a conspiracy theory, you’ve jumped pretty quickly onto the are-you-a-secret-agent bandwagon. 0 to 60!

        I don’t need to know your personal information, because that’s not germane to the subject, which is Americans Elect and a set of 10 Questions I have regarding Americans Elect. You aren’t answering those questions, you don’t have the authority or knowledge to answer them, and yet you’re on a mission to bring people on board to Americans Elect, so what are you gonna do? Change the subject.

        So, after a quick reminder that Americans Elect volunteer Jim Jensen is rather verbosely not answering the questions — and that Americans Elect leadership has not answered the questions either — let me knock these latest irrelevant distractions out of the way.

        My name is Jim Cook, just like I say it is. My address is 52 Conway Road, Camden ME 04843. My phone number if 207-230-0018. You can’t have my social security number. I have a dog. I’ve never been registered as either a Democrat or a Republican. Thanks to student loans, I owe more than I own. I make about $40K a year in income, all of which comes from work, none of which comes from investments, and none of which involves being paid by any political party, 501c4, 527, PAC, Super PAC, or any associated committee or leadership of any of those entities. Do you find yourself looking at that last sentence and thinking, boy, is there a loophole there? Well, there isn’t. I don’t earn any money, gifts, tickets, or anything else of value, period, from any political organization or politician. Irregular Times, likewise, isn’t paid any money by any political organization or politician, and as a blanket policy we don’t take money to espouse positions. We don’t take advertisers, either. I have been approached by people asking if I’d want to write a book about Americans Elect based on what I’ve written, and I’ve said no, because if I did people like you would say I’d been in it for the money. I am, in short, a fairly regular guy. I am going up against an organization run and funded by a billionaire and, to the limited extent that information has leaked out, by hedge fund wealth. I guess if they wanted to they could investigate me. I have no idea whether they have and I really don’t care, because I have no political skeletons to hide.

        My “influences” are a belief in the Constitution, real participation, and an aversion to fake-participation schemes by the rich and powerful. To find out how I have come to be primarily critical of Americans Elect, read the set of articles linked to from the categories “Unity08″ and “Americans Elect.” See the left-hand side of this page. You will find how I, over the course of the last six years, have followed this one group (Americans Elect shared office space and leadership with Unity08) and discovered that over and over and over what this group claims about itself turns out to be the opposite of what it does.

        As Unity08, it decried the influence of big money in politics, said small-money donations were the solution to fix American democracy, said it would only take small-money funding, and demanded that Democratic and Republican presidential candidates take a “Clean Money Pledge” to promise to rely on small-money donations too. But at the same time it was suing the federal government for the right to take contributions of unlimited size without sharing the identity of its contributors. The reason they gave in the lawsuit wasn’t one of “retribution,” although that’s their excuse now. The reason they gave for needed big money contributions from a small number of people was that they couldn’t get enough money to be successful from a large number of small contributions.

        Unity08 swore up and down in public that it had no presidential favorites in mind, even while reports described meetings between Unity08 and Michael Bloomberg. Then the leaders and senior staffers of Unity08 abruptly jumped ship to a committee to draft Michael Bloomberg for president. The two shared office space. Unity08 even gave the draft Bloomberg committee a campaign contribution. And then it turned out that Unity08 had registered the website draftmichaelbloomberg.com a year before this went down. Whoops. And then Unity08 shared office space with the Unity12 Task Force, which renamed itself Americans Elect.

        Americans Elect has taken to the airwaves over and over again to declare in unequivocal terms that it is “not a political party,” when it is one in multiple states, and in more than one state (see documents for Florida and Arizona the state party is reported to be an affiliate of a “national party.”)

        Read the articles in the links provided to the left. Primary-source documentation of this is all in there.

        In short, it is the repeated history of less-than-credible behavior of Unity08 and Americans Elect that has led me to a stance of asking questions rather than waving my little flag like the people in the stock photos Americans Elect bought, smiling in uncritical support. Those are my “influences.” None of them are a secret. I have taken pains to ask my questions of Americans Elect so that it has the opportunity to answer. But Americans Elect does not answer. It does not speak to me (and as we’ve established, you don’t know the answers because you’re not Americans Elect).

        Regarding your final paragraph of artificial dichotomy: If I want to be a concerned citizen and act like one, I should join Americans Elect? Oh, give me a break. How silly. There are other choices, you know. Choices like deciding to be really, truly independent and to ask questions before jumping on a bandwagon that bathes itself in vast swaths of red, white and blue.

        There. Answered your question.

        Everybody else, remember the central point, which isn’t Jim Jensen and which isn’t me.

        The central point is that some very basic questions of disclosure, questions of the sort that the Democratic and Republican parties answer in regular reports as a matter of course, have gone unanswered by Americans Elect.

        I’m looking forward to that call from Elliot Ackerman with the answers, Mr. Jensen. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

        • Jim Jensen

          Thank you very much for your disclosure. I truly appreciate it.

          Finally, and regarding your “primary source documentation”. I’ve checked a couple out: “Rule 2.2.1.2″ presents a problem for democracy only in your mind. And I see in “Article 9″ nothing to support your claim of “brokering”. It’s one thing to cite a “primary source”, and another to understand it and present it accurately.

    • Update: Kris McAlister has written back, clarifying that s/he is a volunteer, not an official representative of Americans Elect. McAlister has been very honest, forthright, and sharing, but does not have access to answers from the Americans Elect organization itself. Answers from the organization itself do not appear to be forthcoming at this time. Should that change, I’ll let you know.

  • Further update: still no answers on these questions from Americans Elect. I am submitting them yet again to the Americans Elect leadership using my personal twitter account and the hashtag #3wayrace, as Americans Elect has said it would answer “any questions” at its 6 pm online town hall tonight. Let’s see whether Americans Elect follows through.

  • Update: no answers ever came from Americans Elect through either Jim Jensen or Kris McAlister. I have no further knowledge regarding this particular matter.

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