Americans Elect...to Pay Off Big Donors to Feckless Centrist Third Party

Buzzfeed sees something fishy in an announcement earlier this month from that not-setting-the-world-on-fire Internet-based centrist third party, Americans Elect, which is supposed to put the candidate that you-the-people-of-the-Net select:

The group made the shift public in a cryptic statement on its website on March 2:

The Board of Directors voted unanimously on 20 February 2012 to ensure that no supporter would cover more than 20% of the Americans Elect budget. In the event that any one supporter exceeds that percentage, there are provisions created to expedite repayments to that supporter.

Americans Elect, whose leaders have said they expect to spend $40 million this year getting on the ballot in 50 states and building a sophisticated platform for a secure online primary, casts the move as one in service of its populist goal of having no donor give more than $10,000. But its immediate effect may make it extremely difficult for the group, which is heavily bankrolled by its chairman, financier and philanthropist Peter Ackerman, to raise any more money at all, and particularly the kind of small, grassroots donations it seeks on its website.

"The first goal" of the new measure, spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel told BuzzFeed, is to begin repayment of any supporter who has provided more than 20% of the group's budget. The group does not disclose details of its funding, but she confirmed that repayment would begin immediately. "The ultimate goal for no one to have given more than 10,000," she said.

Ackerman had given $5.5 million to the group as of last November, his son Elliott — who is its chief operating officer — said on Hardball at the time. The group's fundraising and spending aren't public, but the new 20% threshold and the acknowledgement that repayment has begun suggests that he, or another donor, has given more than that.

The decision to begin repaying its wealthy backers makes its current fundraising pitch difficult to explain.....Americans Elect's executive director, Khalil Byrd, told BuzzFeed that the group's "core budget" for 2012 is $40 million....

Byrd also advised a reporter not to "get weedy" about the new rule, and said repeatedly, in response to questions about the new threshold, that the organization is "fully financed" and "transparent."

"We don't talk about how we’re financing things," he said. "We just want to make sure that people understand our aspiration."...

But the group's real issue may be the opposite: It's now fundraising entirely to repay the rich, a pitch which, if it's made clear, will likely mean that it's not doing any fundraising at all.

Americans Elect is on the ballot already in 17 states as of start of this month, according to Associated Press.

Alex Pareene writes amusingly of his experiences with Americans Elect at Salon. Pareene is a registered and confirmed Americans Elect delegate (and you can be too!)

As a delegate I have a very important role in selecting the Americans Elect candidate, and it involves some sort of eventual online caucus that Ron Paul will probably win. (Though the candidate has to actually commit to running under the Americans Elect banner, and make Web videos answering questions from delegates, and he or she eventually has to pick a running mate from a different political party. And the secretive Candidate Certification Committee, appointed by the Americans Elect board of directors, has veto power over the candidates. So maybe not Ron Paul.) Americans Elect CEO Kahil Byrd swears AE won’t overrule its delegates, but they created various complicated institutional hurdles making it more difficult for candidates not from the centrist political establishment to succeed.

From its rules for “automatic qualification” of potential candidates:

The Candidate Certification Committee shall automatically certify as qualified any natural person who is eligible to serve as President and who has served in any of the following positions without removal from office of current criminal indictment or conviction: Vice President, United States Senator, Member of Congress, Presidential Cabinet Member, Head of a federal agency, Governor, Mayor of any of the largest 100 cities in the United States, Chairman or Chief Executive Officer or President of any corporation or nonprofit corporation or philanthropic organization with 1,000 or more employees, President of a national labor union with 100,000 or more members, military officer who has attained flag rank, Ambassador, and President of an American-based university with more than 4,000 members.
This, though, was penned back when they were expecting a Michael Bloomberg to sign up for their effort. Now they can’t even manage an Olympia Snowe. Primary voting begins in less than two months, and the only declared candidate who actually meets those qualifications is … Buddy Roemer...

Pareene on the "we are raising money to repay our rich early donors" angle: 

AE swears, though, it never meant for a few rich people to fund the whole thing.

According to the Americans Elect model as originally designed, an eventual flood of passionate small donors would eventually cover most of the organization’s funding. The huge donations from rich people were loans, which would be paid back. This was supposed to be reassuring — secret millionaires will in the end have no more ownership over the process than regular folk! — but it actually meant that everyone giving Americans Elect money was effectively donating directly to a secret millionaire....

It is probably safe to assume that regular folk have not been lining up to send Americans Elect their cash. While AE has promised that no individual will have donated more than $10,000 once future donors help AE repay those multimillion-dollar “loans,” John Lumea noticed last week that the board of directors had introduced a rule change suggesting they were going to relax that limit.

No supporter may cover more than 20 percent of the budget. Or, in other words, five supporters may cover 100 percent of the budget. (And, as Lumea notes, one supporter could put up the money too: “In fact, the provisions clause suggests the possibility of a loophole that would enable a 20 percent donor to exceed 20 percent by contributing to one or more other donors an additional sum — an offset that would bring the other donor’s contribution “up” or “down,” depending on the bookkeeping.)

Americans Elect is all about you, the delegate! Sort of. Pareene explains exactly how you can object to and change things coming down from the top

AE delegate/gadfly Jim Cook, of Irregular Times, attempted to formally object to this rule change, which is his right as a delegate. He had 72 hours to respond. Then he had 48 hours to get 10,000 delegates to join his objection. There is no means of contacting AE delegates en masse. AE posted his objection on its website — under the “About” tab, and then under a link titled “Board Decisions.” By the time the window for objections closed, on Friday night, about a dozen delegates had managed to click through and register their complaint. The board's decision stands.

Americans Elect decides, then Americans Elect!

The Nation tries to explain what Americans Elect is all about, at length.

Matt Welch mentioned Americans Elect in his epic December 2011 cover story on the dangers of American simplistic centrism, "The Simpletons."

Note those who would use its name in vain: Americans Elect is now a trademark.

I casually mocked the 2008 version of this centrist third party dream, Unity08, back in February 2007.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Joe M||

    I registered at the site months ago, mostly for the lolz. That investment is paying off.

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  • Joe M||

    Do you wanna look for some bilover to hook up tonight?

    No.

  • robc||

    I understand the rationale for their qualifications, but did they not consider that the starter/owner of a very successful small business might not be even more qualified than a CEO?

    If you start a business from scratch and grow it to 150 employees (for example), I think that is a better qualification than being CEO of a 1500 employee company.

    But then again, that small business guy has a fairly high chance of being hardcore anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-government.

  • Joe M||

    that small business guy has a fairly high chance of being hardcore anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-government.

    Can't have that in your mindless, mushy centrism.

  • mr simple||

    but it actually meant that everyone giving Americans Elect money was effectively donating directly to a secret millionaire....

    No, it means everyone giving Americans Elect money was donating money to the group, who was then using it to cover loans it had taken. This isn't some ponzi scheme that is making the millionaires better off. It's a shitty organization that can't raise money the way its idiotic, arrogant founders thought it could.

  • CE||

    Looks like a second chance for Ron Paul, since the Republican primary voters dropped the ball.

  • ||

    The path to a centerist government is through a change in the electoral laws. With something like approval voting, centerists could get elected. With two parties and primaries centerists are doomed from the start. Since established Pols of both parties benefit from the current arrangement, it will take a MASS movement to get anywhere. That means a lot of people have to get a lot more aware. ARGHH

  • Hacha Cha||

    Its worth the small amount of time to sign up and try and vote for a Ron Paul-Gary Johnson ticket. Why not take advantage of it? If it works, it works, if it doesn't, it doesn't.

  • ||

    Americans Elect sounds like a party run by Daleks.

    "We will select the most logical choice to be your president!"
    "Americans will elect our candidate because he is the most logical choice!"
    "We have created the perfect pure electoral system, based entirely on logic!"
    "Exterminate! Exterminate!"

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