According to the IRS, members of the American public have the right to ask for the Form 990 annual financial disclosure from any Section 501(c) corporation. Those disclosures matter because they provide information the activities of corporations that most don’t disclose voluntarily. By looking at a Form 990, it’s possible to find out to some degree whether the public declarations of a corporation match private reality.
Anyone making a request in writing is supposed to receive the Form 990 within 30 days of a written request — but there’s a loophole: instead of filing its financial disclosures on time, a 501(c) corporation can request one automatic 3 month extension on financial disclosure deadlines. On top of that, such a corporation can get an additional 3 month extension on disclosure, as long as a representative of the corporation signs the request and supplies a reason for the delay.
Americans Elect is a 501(c)(4) corporation that planned to field a candidate for President of the United States and has declared the intention to nominate more candidates for public office through its own privatized election process:
Americans Elect CEO Kahlil Byrd: “We fully expect to continue to be on the ballot in 2013, 2014, and 2016. In ’13, we’ll go beyond the presidential campaign and focus on state level efforts. We hope this will yield candidates for governor, senator, congress, and below. This will be one of the most exciting phases of the next chapter of our work.”
The American people have the right to expect transparent disclosure from a corporation that plans to supplant public voting with its own proprietary and privatized voting system in elections across the country. But for years now, Americans Elect has refused to identify who is funding its multimillion-dollar operations. Last year, Americans Elect delayed its release of Form 990 financial disclosure by six months, explaining that although it had a budget in the millions of dollars and was in its second year of operations, it hadn’t hired anyone yet to check its bookkeeping.
Earlier this year, Kahlil Byrd made a public pledge that Americans Elect would release its 2011 financial disclosures “in June of 2012.” But when I filed a formal request for Americans Elect’s Form 990 disclosures after their due date in May 2012, Americans Elect replied that they’d decided to exercise a three-month extension. On August 16, a day after that three-month extension period had expired, I filed another written request for Americans Elect’s financial disclosure form.
Last night, I received the following reply:
“Dear Mr. Cook:
Thank you for your recent inquiry.
Americans Elect has not yet filed its 2011 Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. Americans Elect has filed a second Form 8868 with the Internal Revenue Service for an additional three month extension of the deadline to file its Form 990 and, therefore, Americans Elect will file its 2011 Form 990 by November 15, 2012.
Despite Kahlil Byrd’s pledge, Americans Elect has exercised a six-month delay in financial disclosure for the second year in a row.
This is not ubiquitous behavior. In stark contrast to Americans Elect, a similarly centrist spinoff called The Common Sense Coalition has rather promptly provided IRS disclosures to me despite having a smaller staff and smaller budget. Groups like The Common Sense Coalition should be commended for their relative transparency — especially when they promise (like The Common Sense Coalition has done) to reveal the names of their donors. Americans Elect is not following standard practice; it’s making the choice to remain as opaque as possible.
Postscript: Inadvertently, however, Americans Elect has revealed some information in its communications. You see, on its web page Americans Elect doesn’t provide any kind of standard e-mail address to which one could send a request for information. When filing requests with Americans Elect, therefore, I’ve had to make do with the various e-mail addresses that have leaked out here and there over the months of Americans Elect’s activities. When sending my request to the following e-mail addresses, I received an automated reply indicating that the accounts no longer existed:
Ainsley Perrien – Press Secretary
Wendy Drake – Secretary, Fundraiser, Chief Leadership Officer
Elliot Ackerman – Chief Operating Officer
Jim Jonas – various titles, on the founding team
Kate Cantwell – Regional Director
As Americans Elect moves on to its next chapter, it appears to be doing so with diminished capacity.