But unlike legitimate third party efforts, Americans Elect is highly secretive, funded entirely by massive donations from hedge fund managers, and is run by a self-selected board of directors that has extraordinary control over who the party nominates.
And now they’re in Oregon gathering signatures in an attempt to qualify as a political party. (See this fawning report from KATU, in which the reporter failed to ask a single critical question.)
What is Americans Elect?
Americans Elect bills itself as a new way of nominating a candidate for president—through the internet.
Publicly, here’s how it works: You sign up to be a “delegate” at their website, after filling out a questionnaire about your political beliefs.
According to Americans Elect, members will be able to propose presidential candidates and ultimately will cast the votes to officially nominate that candidate as Americans Elect’s nominee. Their goal is to be on the ballot in all 50 states.
Here’s how the group describes itself:
Americans Elect is the first nonpartisan nomination. We’re using the Internet to break the gridlock in Washington, open up the political process and give every single voter—Democrat, Republican or independent—the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012. Your voice matters. You decide the issues. You choose the candidates. And in a secure, online convention next June, you will make history by putting the Americans Elect ticket on the ballot in every state.
With Americans Elect, you have the power to choose leadership that puts country before party, and America’s interests before special interests. You have the power to change politics as usual.
Americans Elect claims that it receives no funding from “special interests or lobbyists.” Even though the group has refused to disclose its list of funders, there is enough evidence to show that this statement is patently false. (Most of this evidence has been indispensably collected by Jim Cook at Irregular Times.)
The group was started by Peter Ackerman, the chief of Rockport Capital, a wealth management firm. He put in at least $1.55 million of his own money to start the organization. (It was originally a 527 organization, which is required to disclose donors. It is now a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which isn’t required to disclose.)
According to various reports, Americans Elect has raised between $20 million and $30 million so far for its efforts. Other known funders are hedge fund manager Kirk Rostron and Melvin Andrews, president of Lakeside Capital Partners.
Another known funder is Jim Holbrook, president of Promotion Marketing Association, which is a trade association that does lobbying for the PR and marketing industry.
John Avlon, the founder of the corporate-backed “No Labels” group, wrote in the Daily Beast that Americans Elect has raised $20 million from just 50 people. That’s an average of $400,000 per donor.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was invited to tour the Americans Elect offices in DC, which he described as “swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.”
According to its website, Americans Elect’s “leadership team” is composed largely of hedge fund operators and wealth managers, including Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who is married into the notorious Rothschild family.
Again, this group has—repeatedly—refused to disclose who is funding it, but plenty of evidence shows that it is funded almost exclusively through large donations from leaders in the financial industry.
That makes this statement on its website completely laughable: “[Americans Elect] is funded exclusively by individual contributions—and not from corporate, labor, special interest, foreign, or lobbyist sources.”
By the way, the group claims that it will be paying back its initial funders, so that no one donor will have given more than $10,000. That means that if you give money to Americans Elect, your donation will likely be going right back into the pockets of the multimillionaires who are funding the project.
Why Does it Matter Who’s Funding Them?
501(c)(4) organizations are not required to disclose their donors, and there are plenty of legitimate reasons why real nonprofits would decline to publicize their funding.
But Americans Elect isn’t acting as a nonprofit; it’s a political committee. Its sole function is to nominate candidates for president and vice president of the United States, and then get them as many votes as possible. Nonprofits abiding by IRS regulations may not engage in political candidate activities as their primary activity. (Rev. Rul. 81-95, 1981-1 C.B. 332; Sec. 1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(i-ii)).
Americans Elect has enough money to potentially sway the presidential election, likely by siphoning off votes from one of the two major parties. Doesn’t the public have a right to know who’s backing this political party?
Perhaps even more disturbing, Americans Elect’s own bylaws undermine their claim that the process and decisions are up to the public. Join us back here for follow-up posts on the “extraordinary” authority of the board of directors and more information about who’s behind this group—including troubling information about who’s gathering their signatures in Oregon.