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More Scrutiny For An Organization Called Americans Elect

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On July 25, I explained that the Republi-Cratic Corporatist Party was being threatened by a new, Internet-based effort to nominate a presidential ticket, which would be placed on the 2012 ballot in all fifty states.  Last summer, that organization – Americans Elect – described itself in the following terms:

Americans Elect is the first-ever open nominating process.  We’re using the Internet to give every single voter – Democrat, Republican or independent – the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012.  The people will choose the issues. The people will choose the candidates.  And in a secure, online convention next June, the people will make history by putting their choice on the ballot in every state.

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We have no ties to any political group – left, right, or center.  We don’t promote any issues, ideology or candidates.  None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists.  Our only goal is to put a directly-nominated ticket on the ballot in 2012.

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The goal of Americans Elect is to nominate a presidential ticket that answers to the people – not the political system.  Like millions of American voters, we simply want leadership that will work together to tackle the challenges facing our country.  And we believe a direct nominating process will prove that America is ready for a competitive, nonpartisan ticket.

Since that time, there has been a good deal of scrutiny focused on Americans Elect.  Justin Elliott recently wrote a comprehensive piece for Salon, highlighting the numerous sources of criticism targeting Americans Elect.  Mr. Elliott provided this summary of the controversies surrounding the organization:

The group is hoping to raise $30 million for its effort. It has already raised an impressive $22 million as of last month.  So where is all that money coming from?  Americans Elect won’t say. In fact, the group changed how it is organized under the tax code last year in order to shield the identity of donors.  It is now a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” group whose contributors are not reported publicly.

What we do know about the donors, largely through news reports citing anonymous sources, suggests they are a handful of super-rich Americans who made fortunes in the finance industry. (More on this below.)  But it’s impossible to fully assess the donors’ motives and examine their backgrounds and entanglements – important parts of the democratic process – while their identities and the size of their donations remain secret.

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Americans Elect officials often tout their “revolutionary” online nominating convention, which will be open to any registered voter. But there’s a big catch.  Any ticket picked by participants will have to be approved by a Candidate Certification Committee, according to the group’s bylaws.

Among other things this committee will need to certify a “balanced ticket obligation”  – that the ticket consists of persons who are “responsive to the vast majority of citizens while remaining independent of special interests and the partisan interests of either major political party,” according to the current draft of Americans Elect rules.  Making these sorts of assessments is, of course, purely subjective.

Jim Cook of Irregular Times has been keeping a steady watch over Americans Elect, with almost-daily postings concerning the strange twists and turns that organization has taken since its inception (and incorporation).  Mr. Cook’s December 11 update provided this revelation:

The 501c4 corporation Americans Elect is arranging for the nation’s first-ever privately-run online nomination of candidates for President and Vice President of the United States in 2012.  As with any other corporation in the United States, it has a set of bylaws.  On November 18, 2011 the Americans Elect corporation held an unannounced meeting at which it amended its previous bylaws.

A month later, Americans Elect has not posted changes to the bylaws, or posted any notice of the changes, on its website for public review.  Furthermore, Americans Elect has generally made it a practice to post its documents as images that cannot be indexed by search engines or searched by keyword.  For these reasons, Irregular Times has retyped the bylaws into an easily searchable text format, based on a pdf file submitted to the Florida Secretary of State on November 22, 2011.  You can read the full text of the amended bylaws here.

Just a day earlier (on December 10) Jim Cook had been highlighting one of the many transparency controversies experienced by the group:

On the Americans Elect’s “Candidates” web page it rolled out last month, various numbers were tossed up without explanation.  A reference to a wildly error-prone slate of candidates’ supposed policies drawn up by Americans Elect contractor “On the Issues” appeared next to various politicians’ names, but the actual calculation by which Americans Elect came up with its “National Match” for each politician has never actually been published.  I’ll repeat that in bold:  Americans Elect’s system for calculating its numerical rankings of politicians was never shared with the public.

Another problem for Americans Elect concerns compliance with its bylaws by individual directors, and the lack of enforcement of those bylaws, as Cook’s December 9 posting demonstrates:

She’s done it five times before; this is the sixth.

The Americans Elect bylaws are very specific, as an Americans Elect Director, Christine Todd Whitman is not supposed to “communicate or act in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for President or Vice President at any time before the adjournment of the online nominating convention of Americans Elect.”

But here she is this week nevertheless, appearing on national television via FOX News to communicate in favor of presidential candidate Jon Huntsman   .   .   .

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The bylaws say that when the neutrality provision is violated, there must be some sort of sanction.  But Christine Todd Whitman is getting away with it again and again and again where the whole country can see it.  Is the Americans Elect corporation inclined to follow its own rules?  If not, how much trust should we place in it as it gets ready to run its own private presidential nomination in less than five months’ time?

Richard Hansen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine Law School, wrote an essay for Politico, which was harshly critical of Americans Elect.  He concluded the piece with these observations:

But the biggest problem with Americans Elect is neither its secrecy nor the security of its election.  It is the problems with internal fairness and democracy.  To begin with, according to its draft rules, only those who can provide sufficient voter identification that will satisfy the organization – and, of course, who have Internet access – will be allowed to choose the candidate.  These will hardly be a cross section of American voters.

In addition, an unelected committee appointed by the board, the Candidates Certification Committee, will be able to veto a presidential/vice presidential ticket deemed not “balanced” – subject only to a two-thirds override by delegates.

It gets worse.  Under the group’s bylaws, that committee, along with the three other standing committees, serves at the pleasure of the board – and committee members can be removed without cause by the board.  The board members were not elected by delegates; they chose themselves in the organization’s articles of incorporation.

The bottom line:  If Americans Elect is successful, millions of people will have united to provide ballot access not for a candidate they necessarily believe in – like a Ross Perot or Ralph Nader – but for a candidate whose choice could be shaped largely by a handful of self-appointed leaders.

Despite the veneer of democracy created by having “delegates” choose a presidential candidate through a series of Internet votes, the unelected, unaccountable board of Americans Elect, funded by secret money, will control the process for choosing a presidential and vice presidential candidate – who could well appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

Forget about Tom Friedman’s breathlessly-enthusiastic New York Times commentary from last summer, gushing praise on Americans Elect.  It’s beginning to appear as though this movement is about to go off the rails, following the Cain Train into oblivion.


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Bye, Bayh!

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August 14, 2008

Rumors abound concerning the potential Vice-Presidential choices of both Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 Presidential campaign.  Recently, many prognosticators have been voicing their opinions that Obama will choose Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as his running mate.  (Bayh’s real name is Birch Evans Bayh, III.)  As this speculation heated up, so did the tempers of many Democrats.  These Democrats recalled that not only did Bayh vote in favor of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq, he co-sponsored it with John McCain and was part of the cozy, Rose Garden ceremony on October 2, 2002 when President Bush thanked Bayh and McCain for co-sponsoring the Resolution.  The rationale supporting Bayh’s viability as VP choice is based on his reputation for being a “centrist” Democrat and therefore, a good selection as Obama’s running mate.

On August 13, Ari Melber reported for The Washington Independent that a man named Steve Clemons, described by Melber as “a former Democratic Senate aide who sometimes traffics in Washington rumors”, provided this insider’s assessment of the outlook for an Obama – Bayh ticket:

Word has reached me that at Barack Obama’s Hawaii retreat, Evan Bayh’s chances to find himself the next Democratic VP candidate have moved to better than 50/50.

(Steve Clemons is actually the Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and he is the publisher of the political blog, The Washington Note.)  Ari Melber also pointed out that Mr. Clemons opposed the choice of Bayh and that Clemons “urged Democratic voters to contact the Obama campaign with their views on the potential pick”.  This wasn’t the first rumor making the rounds concerning the dreaded announcement that Bayh would get the nod to share the Democratic ticket.  As Melber reported:  “apprehension over the feared choice of Bayh has resulted in a new Facebook group called ‘100,000 Strong Against Evan Bayh for VP’”.

We often hear pundits recite the Cardinal Rule for Presidential candidates, in selecting their Vice-Presidential nominee, as: “Do No Harm”.  In other words:  Don’t screw up your campaign by choosing a controversial running mate.  It has become obvious that Obama would severely damage his campaign with the choice of Bayh as his VP.

Obama’s biggest campaign hurdle is his popularity with Independent voters, since they are more likely to scrutinize a candidate’s authenticity, due to the fact that they have no party allegiance.  When Obama voted in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill to avoid looking “weak” on national security, he shot himself right in the authenticity.  When the time came to take a stand on the issue of offshore drilling (to increase the supply of oil ten years from now, when we won’t need it) he repeated the same mistake.  The choice of Evan Bayh would be “Strike Three”.  Such a misstep would alienate the Democratic “base” and dilute whatever perceived measure of authenticity he has remaining, from the standpoint of Independent voters.

A crucial “negative” in considering Bayh as Obama’s running mate is Bayh’s wife:  Susan Breshears Bayh.  Four years before Evan followed in the footsteps of his father, Birch Bayh, to pursue a seat in the United States Senate, Susan launched a career sitting as a director on the boards of fourteen different corporations.  These corporations are involved in the pharmaceutical, broadcast, insurance, food-distribution and finance industries. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported on December 16, 2007 that Mrs. Bayh earns approximately one million dollars per year in director’s fees.  That article by Sylvia Smith, went on point out that as Senator, Evan Bayh cast many votes “on issues of keen interest” to those very industries.

Any Presidential candidate, whose campaign is based on the theme of “Change”, would degrade his authenticity with the selection of such a “second generation” Senator as his running mate.  As I have said before (on July 14): In the age of YouTube.com, authenticity has become a politician’s stock in trade.  For Obama, the choice of Evan Bayh as his running mate would be Barack’s third strike against his own authenticity.  Should Obama go that route, it would be time to say “Bye – Bayh!” to his chances of living in The White House.