Legitimacy is integral to voters, political candidates and organizations identifying, advocating or pursuing independent solutions to the partisan deficiencies of our current political climate. Those outside the two-party system face incredible odds.
Americans Elect is a well-funded organization who's goal is "to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to voters-not the political system". They aim to host an online convention in June, where users will vote for a presidential ticket to appear on the November ballot in all 50 states.
They are also freaking a lot of people out. The Americans Elect platform is not attracting participants like many predicted. Nationally recognizable candidates who have agreed to be involved are limited. They claim to be above the common political influences, like lobbyists and corporations, yet their leadership is comprised of individuals from these entities. Then, there's that weird Candidate Certification Committee.
But their website is nice.
Whether Americans Elect finds itself fading from relevancy or a giant crash-and-burn failure, it will hurt everyone: Americans Elect organizers, other organizations and groups advocating similar goals, and most importantly, the American electorate. A closer look at details concerning Americans Elect has revealed multiple troubling concerns.
"We are not a political party."
Actually, Americans Elect is a political party. It's a simple fact of election law.
"We will attract millions of registered voters."
While there is still over 6 months before Election Day, Americans Elect hasn't drawn as much interest as they will need in order to live up to their name--even if they did win SXSW's "People's Choice" Award. There are about 400,000 users on the site now, including one Slate reporter attempting to draft Joseph Kony and rapper Lil B.
"We will attract serious, qualified presidential candidates."
The most well-supported candidates who have declared they would run on an Americans Elect ticket are not household names. Buddy Roemer, former Louisiana governor, is in the lead with 2,600 supporters. He's followed by Rocky Anderson, former Mayor of Salt Lake City, with 1,140 supporters. Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor, is third with 748 supporters.
Dr. Ron Paul, who is running as a Republican and expressed zero interest joining Americans Elect, is the most popular candidate on the platform with over 6,900 supporters. Similarly uninterested former governor of Utah, John Huntsman, has 2,517 supporters.
What, according to Americans Elect, is a "serious" and "qualified" presidential candidate? Who decides? Not the American people, or the limited number of Americans Elect members, but the Candidate Certification Committee.
"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."
"It is funded exclusively by individual contributions—and not from corporate, labor, special interest, foreign, or lobbyist sources."
No one actually knows for sure where any of their funding comes from, because they don't disclose that information. Further, a simple glance at their "Leadership" shows a list of wealth managers and former CEO's at prominent US firms and corporations.
This year $40 million will be spent on gaining access to ballots in all 50 states and supporting their online platform. The group is privately funded while simultaneously soliciting donations from online supporters.
Then there is this gem, found under "Board Decisions" on their website:
"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."
As BuzzFeed reports, Americans Elect spokeswoman Illeana Wachtel confirmed funds would be used to repay people like Peter Ackerman, Americans Elect chairman and wealth manager himself, who has given the group over $5 million. John Avlon, co-founder of NoLabels.org wrote for The Daily Beast:
"He and some 50 other initial donors have loaned the organization $20 million, out of an eventual $30 million budgeted, to be repaid if small donors join on. (Their eventual goal: No single individual will give more than $10,000. The group does not accept donations from PACs, political parties, or industry associations.)"
There is also the curious connection to Unity08, as well as Republican campaigns and public relations firms. An interesting overlap of priorities which could manifest itself if the November election is close and an Americans Elect candidate wins even a few electoral votes.
"Our only goal is to put a directly-nominated ticket on the ballot in 2012."
This is actually true, which is sad, since many people probably do not realize its significance.
Americans Elect purpose is solely ballot access, not actually electing whomever is chosen by their online convention. That will be entirely up to the candidate themselves. A fact probably not as big of a deal when there was a chance Michael Bloomberg would be drafted to run. But with no nationally recognizable names currently expressing interest in running on an Americans Elect ticket, whoever the eventual nominee is, they will face incredible challenges to organize, fund and run a viable national campaign.
There is nothing about Americans Elect, their stated purpose, their stated goals, or their organization, intended to elect someone as the President of the United States.
"We anticipate that our success in 2012 will spur further innovation at the local, state and national levels."
Americans Elect has shown very little desire to spread their efforts on a state and local level. Where they are fundamentally failing the most is utterly disregarding the power of the grassroots. Their approach is DC-centric, top-down, and reeks of corporate influences. Elections, even the national ones, are inherently local.
Their involvement on a state level has consisted of gathering necessary signatures and filing paperwork in order to qualify for ballot access. Americans Elect has not partnered or worked with local or state organizations in a way one would expect a group who the New York Times claims to represent the "radical center".
Whether misplaced strategy, or concerted effort, all signs at this moment point to Americans Elect actually strengthening the two-party duopoly they claim to oppose. Through failure, lack of transparency and ignorance of facilitating actual grassroots movement, their mark on the 2012 election could likely be the opposite of what many frustrated Americans would like to see happen.