Americans Elect: A new political party that isn’t

At a recent visit to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and the neighborhood Savemart, paid signature-gathers sought support for a petition they said would grant ballot access to more political parties.

“Do you want just people on the ballot you believe in?” one signature-gatherer asked.

What these signature-gathers – paid by Arno Political Consultants of Carlsbad – are trying to accomplish is to place Americans Elect, a new political party that says it isn’t one, on the ballot in 2012.

“Americans Elect is a non-partisan, non-profit organization founded by Americans from across the political spectrum who are worried that our nation’s deep political divisions keep big problems from being solved,” says the group’s largely detail-free website.

The group aims to hold an Internet nominating convention in the summer of 2012 to select an independent presidential and vice-presidential candidate.

“They’re very secretive,” said Richard Winger, the long-time publisher of Ballot Access News. “I found out about their petition drive independent of them.”

Americans Elect, which became a 501(c) 4 corporation in September, can be as secretive as it wishes. As a 501(c) 4 it is not required to report who its contributors are.
However, prior to becoming a 501(c) 4, the group was required to divulge it’s sources of income.

In the second and third quarters of 2010, Americans Elect’s more than $1.5 million in funding came from one person – Peter Ackerman, managing director of Rockport Capital, a former principal at Drexel Burnham during Michael Milken’s tenure there and the founder of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

The March 21 letter to Secretary of State Debra Bowen saying Americans Elect intends to qualify for the ballot was signed by Ackerman and Kahlil Byrd, a Washington, D.C. political consultant who founded Sung Media Group.

Although Ackerman appears not to have one, Byrd’s Facebook page has links to the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the Council on Foreign Relations and Americans Elect.

Previously, Ackerman was a member of the board of directors of a group called Unity08, an abortive effort to query voters as to the most important issues facing the country, have candidates respond to those issues and, a la Americans Elect, then nominate – via the Internet – a bipartisan alternative to the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets.

Unity08 collapsed because of lack of funding. Two of its founders attempted to launch a national effort to draft New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for president.

Bloomberg, now 69, is the nation’s highest profile independent politician, having left the GOP in 2007. News reports show he still harbors presidential aspirations.

Donald Trump is also mentioned as a possible independent candidate for the presidency.

Americans Elect denies being a “stalking horse” for any candidate.

Whether Americans Elect is a “stalking horse” or not, as a non-profit corporation the group can only engage in education. No politics.

And, through a lawsuit filed by Unity08, the law does not require federal campaign contribution limits to be imposed if the group is not endorsing a specific candidate.

Those factors are likely reasons why Americans Elect does not have a platform nor does it endorse a particular candidate for president.

Nevertheless, the group is seeking ballot access as a “political party.”

As Americans Elect envisions the process, its candidates will be nominated only after they “completely answer” a “Platform of Questions,” formulated by “delegates” to Americans Elect’s convention.

Delegates at the convention can sign-up beginning in July 2011, the website says. The opportunity to be a delegate is open to any registered voter in the country regardless of party affiliation.

A statement by the group lists as contact person Kellen Arno, who can be reached at Arno Political Consultants.

The statement, regarding Americans Elect’s ballot access drive in California, largely mirrors information on the group’s website.

“Over the next few months, Americans Elect will talk with voters and build its capacity in preparation for a national public launch,” the statement says.

It also says Americans Elect wants to be on all 50 state ballots in 2012 – a handy platform for an independent presidential candidate.

Americans Elect has already qualified to be on the Nevada state ballot, turning in nearly 22,000 signatures – three times the amount needed.

California is more difficult. To qualify for the ballot a political party must either log a certain amount of members or gather signatures.

Both thresholds are based on the number of persons who voted in the last gubernatorial election Nov. 2, 2010. There were 10.3 million voters.
If a party gets 1 percent of that total to register – 103,004 – it secures a spot on the ballot.

Americans Elect is instead collecting signatures, a far more difficult and expensive process since the amount needed is 10 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election – 1,030,040.

To appear on the Feb. 7, 2012 presidential primary ballot at least that many valid signatures must be submitted 135 days prior – September 25.

The group is also collecting signatures to qualify for the Michigan ballot.

Jim Cook of Maine, who operates a website called Irregular Times which describes itself as a “cornucopia of irregular ideas and pictures scrawled across the page from a left-of-center perspective,” provides the most scrutiny of Americans Elect, posting their 2010 quarterly filings before the group became a 501(c) 4 and detailing the link between Ackerman and Unity08.

Unity 08 and Americans Elect, for a time, shared the same Washington D.C. address. Previously, Unity08 shared its address with the Draft Bloomberg Committee.
Cook also established that the founders of Unity08 “registered the domain name in 2007 at a time when Unity08 was insisting that it had no candidates in mind.”

The Report of Contributions and Expenditures filed by Americans Elect – then calling itself “Unity12 Task Force” – for the second quarter of 2010 shows contributions of $400,000 from Ackerman.

There are payments of $45,000 to Arno Political Consultants and $2,073 to Byrd for travel and meal reimbursements. Byrd is listed on the disclosure form as the “custodian of records.”  Byrd’s firm, Sung Media was paid $25,000 during the same period.

Washington, D.C. based The Webster Group received $60,000 in payments for “fundraising consulting.”

For the third quarter of 2010, the group changed its name to Americans Elect. The disclosure form shows additional contributions of $1.15 million from Ackerman and an August 27 contribution of $29,979 from Arno, which is listed as a “vendor refund.”

During the same period, Arno received payments of $172,150.

Byrd received $7,080 in reimbursements for travel and meals. Sung Media was paid $37,500 for “management consulting.”

The Webster Group received $90,000 during the same period.

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