“Good day my friend! I must say, you certainly look like a smart and discerning voter! Have you lost weight recently? Hey, don’t those folks in Washington DC just make ya mad? Sayin’ they’ve just got your interest in mind while takin’ all that money from special interests and doin’ what’s best for them…when they’re not fightin’ with each other like stubborn brats, am I right? Don’t ya wish we could just get rid of both parties and just elect good people who’ll do everything we all want?
Well, my friend, it’s a good thing I ran into you. Ya see, just by chance I’ve got millions of dollars behind me just to make all your dreams come true. I can’t tell ya who the money’s from or who’s behind all of this, you’re just gonna have to trust me that I’ve only got your best interests in mind and I’m only doing this for you. Er, what’s your name again, friend?”
Basing a new, allegedly populist party on the old movie, “The Music Man” might work to fool some of the people in the short term but it wouldn’t seem to be sustainable. Especially when those trying to hide their involvement in such a venture are eventually exposed…which intrepid souls out there already have accomplished on the web though not really in the MSM yet. The fruits of their valuable labors (huge props are owed to Jim Cook at Irregular Times and Stephen Gowens’ “What’s Left” among others for being way ahead on this story and reporting many of the details provided below) will be shared later on and the picture that is painted is deserving of concern.
Americans Elect’s website (http://www.americanselect.org) is astoundingly devoid of meaningful information about who is financing their “populist” organization and the names of all those managing and overseeing it behind the scenes. In fact, they have openly stated that they have no obligation to inform the public as to who’s financing them…while also claiming “the people” are financing them…the latter will shortly be proven to be a gross misrepresentation.
They use the Get Satisfaction service for blog purposes, here are excerpts of the comments currently on the “Who’s Behind This” thread for Americans Elect (you can read the rest of the comments here):
- Americans Elect has blocked the viewing of the vast majority of responses by individuals to this thread with the line “Due to volume, only the 15 most recent replies are being displayed.”
- Mr. Levine, please stop the BS. It would take about 10 minutes and ZERO dollars to code an html page listing WHO is behind this organization and ftp it to your website. If you honestly don’t have ANYONE with those very minimal capabilities, please post your e-mail and I will spend the 10 minutes needed to code it and send it to you.
- Dimple B.’s initial answer is a non-answer. Joshua Levine asks us to “keep in mind that we have limited funds and resources to work on all this and we’re doing the best we can.” But Thomas Friedman tells us Americans Elect is funded by serious hedge fund money, and we’re informed that they’ve already spent enough to collect 1,600,000 signatures in California. They have enough money to gather over a million signatures, but not enough to type out the names of their Board of Directors and post it to their website? That just doesn’t make sense.
- The idea is good. But the fact that the organization is deliberately not mentioning the founders, shows bad faith. Transparency should be paramount for an internet based initiative.
- I have a very strong feeling that we are being played for chumps for someone with an vested interest in influencing the upcoming 2012 election towards one party or another. Without transparency, it is a reasonable assumption.
- I just don’t want another Tea Party/Koch brothers repeat, which is why it’s important to me to know who is behind the curtain funding/running this movement. I’d really hate to find out that “if it seems too good to be true, it usually is” applies here.
- Actually what I have found out is that those behind this are hedge fund managers. So if anything this is yet another faux grass roots effort funded by the same corporatists.
It is encouraging that people are seeing the disingenuous nature of an organization claiming to serve the public while keeping much of its organizational, operational and financing information as secret as possible.
We’ll get to the initial and central financier of Americans Elect shortly but thanks to the detective work of Jim Cook at Irregular Times, we are aware of at least one hedge fund manager who’s helping to finance this group:
Here’s the name of another Americans Elect contributor with special interests, plucked from the Piryx giving stream: Kirk T. Rostron of Alexandria, VA. Kirk Rostron is a co-founder and managing partner of The Mt. Vernon Group, a private capital investment firm situated in a choice spot just four blocks from the White House at 1101 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC. Rostron specializes in managing hedge funds, having done so previously at Merrill Lynch, Hovde Capital Advisors and HedgeCall.
As a hedge fund manager and managing partner of a private capital investment firm, Kirk Rostron has special interests in various aspects of American economic policy, from regulation to privatization to transparency to taxation. Curiously enough, of the seven areas of policy Americans Elect identifies as relevant, it overwhelmingly focuses on economic policy in its delegate process. Within the 64 policy questions Americans Elect has deployed to shape the selection of its 2012 presidential candidate, the largest subset — a full 17 questions — has to do with privatization, deregulation and taxes, fixating on policy issues in a manner highly compatible with the special interests of well-to-do private capital financiers like Kirk Rostron.
And yet, Americans Elect shamelessly states in interviews and on its website, “None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists. ” So hedge fund managers located a stone’s throw from the White House and Congress aren’t classified as “special interests” or “lobbyists”? This is very telling when it comes to considering Americans Elect’s true motives and veracity, no wonder they have withheld and tried to hide the identity of those financing this venture…hard to promote this as a grass roots group when most of its funding comes from the wealthiest Americans.
The Americans Elect process for nominating and running a candidate works hard to appear populist, the gimmick is that people who sign up with them become delegates and can nominate potential candidates but there is a sneaky little asterisk on that offer:
Americans Elect is the first truly open nominating process. Any constitutionally-eligible, qualified citizen—no matter their party—can seek the nomination, or be drafted by our delegates. We will never promote any candidate of our own—and the ultimate winner is decided only by American voters. To ensure the integrity of the process, all potential candidates must be certified by an independent committee and meet a set of standard qualification criteria such as background checks.
An independent committee will choose which candidates meet a set of standard qualifications. A red herring is thrown out by only naming background checks as one of the criteria but they also say elsewhere that a candidate must be considered someone of similar stature to our previous presidents. How many “real” people will fit that description and how subjective is a determination on this requirement? It appears to be just a facade of populism with mechanics that insure that only candidates who satisfy the management’s sensibilities will be qualified.
And who chooses the people who will make up this independent committee? Won’t that be a pivotal factor in which potential candidates are deemed “presidential enough”? Might that again be Americans Elect’s management who can stack the committee deck to get the deal they want?
It’s a neat trick to make up one’s own mandates and handpick one’s own “independent” panel that is required to follow those mandates then declare their decision to be “independent”.
BTW, Americans Elect isn’t a political party…unless they are a political party, it all depends on which interview, documentation or press release of theirs you happen to listen to. If you watched Elliot Ackerman on PBS’ Newshour this week, you would have heard him definitively stating that Americans Elect is not a third party. However, if you checked public records in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada, you would find that they have either registered themselves or have been classified by the state as a political party. Or you could have read a letter by their legal counsel in which they declared that Americans Elect is “qualified for ballot access as a ‘national party’”.
Why the deception about this? Well, when an organization is doing something that they aren’t legally allowed to do, they have to publicly say they’re not doing it.
Americans Elect is a 501 c4 which is a tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation classified under Civic Leagues, Social Welfare Organizations, and Local Associations of Employees.
One key provision of a 501 c4 is that they may lobby for legislation and may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as campaigning is not the organization’s primary purpose.
Which works just peachy for Americans Elect because…er…all they’re focused on doing is promoting, nominating and campaigning for a presidential candidate.
Lately, Americans Elect has been making the PR rounds on cable news and even Colbert’s show (readers of this article are invited to tweet or email Colbert to alert him to having unknowingly promoted this suspect group). Elliot Ackerman, young and fresh faced, has been doing the chores and makes a perfect front man. Who’s going to ask tough questions of a medal winning vet and risk appearing disrespectful of his service?
To try and get a handle on this slippery organization, let’s begin with the information they do provide.
Elliot Ackerman is the COO of Americans Elect, whose only biographical information that can be reasonably found is that he is an Iraq war veteran with a Silver Star (for some reason, the Medal of Honor awarded Sergeant Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate came to mind). Aside from providing a Hollywood-casting, tailor made populist image for this organization, how did that background alone qualify or position him to be the COO of a million dollar, rabidly ambitious, political organization?
Well…let’s ask his dad.
Elliot Ackerman’s father is Peter Ackerman who, in the 1980’s was Michael Milken’s top collaborator at Drexel Burnham Lambert. In 1988 for example, Ackerman received $165 million in salary and $38 million in bonuses while being an accomplice in Milken’s junk bond schemes that destroyed and bankrupted many financial institutions, investors and businesses…not to mention helping to crash the US economy which brought about a recession.
Milken of course was found guilty for securities fraud and sentenced to 10 years for what he was engaged in at that time. Ackerman was able to escape prosecution despite his direct involvement in many of the same junk bond deals Milken went to prison for and he walked away from the world of finance with his hundreds of millions while Milken went behind bars.
And so, the highly secretive and private Peter Ackerman, bailed out with his ill gotten gains from Wall Street, jumping from DBL just before it crashed into bankruptcy in 1990 and parachuting into academia, hoping to start anew and erase his past (though he has continued his dealings in the world of finance).
Perhaps he realized that he could use his experience in takeovers in the political world.
After leaving DBL, Peter Ackerman soon co-founded The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict which claims “to promote the study and utilization of nonmilitary strategies by civilian-based movements to establish and defend human rights, social justice and democracy.”
There are some who view the ICNC far differently than the altruistic description above would portray:
…it rejects overt CIA sponsorship to escape the taint of being associated with the CIA. Instead, it relies on funding channeled openly through Western government and ruling class foundations. Ackerman defines the technique as: “the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience”  in addition to mass protests  and even nonviolent sabotage, to disrupt the functioning of government  and make “a country ungovernable.”  NVR (non-violent resistance), then, is equivalent to the CIA-engineered destabilization used to help overthrow Chile’s leftist president, Salvador Allende.
(Peter) Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp are involved in some capacity in deploying Sharp’s destabilization techniques to countries the US government pressures diplomatically, militarily and economically: Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Myanmar, Iran, and formerly Georgia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia.
One thing that would not appear to be disputed is that the ICNC and Peter Ackerman are actively involved in undermining and changing the governments of which they disapprove.
Peter Ackerman was also a board member of Freedom House, described in “Manufacturing Dissent” by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky:
Freedom House, which dates back to the early 1940s, has had interlocks with AIM (Accuracy in Media), the World Anticommunist League, Resistance International, and U.S. government bodies such as Radio Free Europe and the CIA, and has long served as a virtual propaganda arm of the government and international right wing. It sent election monitors to the Rhodesian elections staged by Ian Smith in I979 and found them “fair,” whereas the I980 elections won by Mugabe under British supervision it found dubious. Its election monitors also found the Salvadoran elections of I982 admirable.
It has expended substantial resources in criticizing the media for insufficient sympathy with U.S. foreign-policy ventures and excessively harsh criticism of U.S. client states. Its most notable publication of this genre was Peter Braestrup’s Big Story, which contended that the media’s negative portrayal of the Tet offensive helped lose the war.
The work is a travesty of scholarship, but more interesting is its premise: that the mass media not only should support any national venture abroad, but should do so with enthusiasm, such enterprises being by definition noble. In I982, when the Reagan administration was having trouble containing media reporting of the systematic killing of civilians by the Salvadoran army, Freedom House came through with a denunciation of the “imbalance” in media reporting from El Salvador.
Here’s a very interesting graphic which is represented as a flow chart of Peter Ackerman’s involvements and entanglements, courtesy of AP’s blog at Quotha.net (yep, the Koch Brothers and Rand Corporation made the chart):
So why does Peter Ackerman matter when it comes to Americans Elect when it is his son, Elliot who is its COO?
Well…before gaining 501 c4 status, the finances of Americans Elect required disclosure and guess who not only fully financed Americans Elect to the tune of $1.55 million but also originally anointed himself as Director, President and Chairman of Americans Elect…yep, Peter Ackerman. Only after changing it to a 501 c4 did the current obfuscation become legal.
Peter Ackerman is nothing if not persistent. Prior to founding Americans Elect, he co-founded and co-chaired, Unity08, another alleged populist, non-partisan organization, described here by Jim Cook at Irregular Times:
New York Magazine’s John Heilemann spoke to Michael Bloomberg aide Kevin Sheekey in October and reports that the New York City mayor’s office has strong interest in using an Americans Elect presidential ballot line to run for President in 2012.
“One key factor, now as three years ago, is Bloomberg’s ability to get onto the ballot nationwide. Thus are Sheekey and others eagerly monitoring a new outfit called Americans Elect, which plans to launch early next year. Backed by a wealthy private investor, Peter Ackerman, the group says on its single-page website that it intends to hold a web-based convention to nominate a “balanced presidential ticket that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion” and place it “on the ballot in all 50 states.” Ackerman has already put $1.55 million into the project, with more to come.”
Americans Elect is in fact backed solely by Peter Ackerman’s contributions of $1.55 million in the second and 3rd quarters of 2010. Moreover, a dance between Bloomberg and Americans Elect would not be new. Americans Elect is, after all, the new incarnation of Unity08 — the two groups shared the same business address for a time. Before that, Unity08 shared its business address with the Draft Bloomberg Committee. Indeed, the founders of Unity08 registered the domain name draftmichaelbloomberg.com in June 2007, at a time when Unity08 was insisting that it had no candidates in mind, that the people would choose, and also at a time when Unity08 leaders were holding secret talks with the Bloomberg camp.
Okay…so let’s put some of these pieces together and see what the puzzle image here really is.
1. Peter Ackerman is a Wall Street exec who worked for and with Michael Milken while criminal frauds were conducted, that did severe harm to Americans and the American economy.
2. The altruistically-named International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which Peter Ackerman founded, is accused of using CIA-type tactics to undermine foreign governments albeit through nonviolent means, to put in power the government it wants.
3. Freedom House which for which Peter Ackerman served as a board member, is described as being intertwined with the US government and the right wing establishment, acting as their propaganda tool on matters of internal politics in other countries.
4. Peter Ackerman co-founded and co-chaired Unity08 which claimed the same goals as Americans Elect but stealthily prepared itself to be a vehicle for Michael Bloomberg to run as an independent for President.
5. Peter Ackerman invested $1.55 million to start up and was originally the sole executive of Americans Elect, later installing his son in that role and obscuring his involvement. Like Unity08, Americans Elect is positioned as an ideal vehicle for someone such as Michael Bloomberg to run as an independent, only allowing a candidate who is considered to be someone of similar stature to our previous presidents, to be their candidate.
Think about it, how many potential candidates that the well meaning, regular members of this enterprise support will be of similar stature to past presidents? Stature…a threshold that only a Michael Bloomberg, Jon Huntsman, other established pols or Wall Street/corporate CEOs could satisfy. Is that what they’re advertising? Do people joining up know that the eventual candidate will be just another professional politician or a millionaire/billionaire businessman?
As may not be surprising, the bulk of those attracted to Americans Elect are more on the Progressive and Indie side. If Americans Elect was to run a candidate that appeals to such folks and would attract their votes, who would that hurt most and who would it help?
MY ADMITTEDLY SUBJECTIVE CONCLUSION:
A massively wealthy individual with a background of unprincipled greed for money and power, who has used seemingly altruistic organizations to quietly undermine existing governments and replace them with governments he would rather see in place, has created Americans Elect to do the same.
An independent run for president by a moderate of presidential stature would seem intended to undermine the more moderate major party candidate, President Obama, to the benefit of whomever the GOP was to run. The goal apparently being another 2000 result where Nader drained enough votes from Gore to allow Bush room to claim the presidency (despite, after his anointment by the SCOTUS, a recount proved Bush did lose in FL).
Americans Elect feels like a Koch-Brothers-type Tea Partying of the Left and Indies. Exploit the anger and frustration of the constituency and drive them together under a populist tent…that’s in fact owned by the wealthy…and use it to splinter the power of the majority so that the power and party of the minority, the wealthy and corporations, can continue to dominate.
What will Peter Ackerman’s income tax be on hundreds of millions of dollars under a tax cutting, corporate-loyal President Perry or President Romney, compared with a President Obama who reflects the popular sentiment of raising taxes on the wealthy? Is this Wall Street, junk bond mercenary really not interested in money and just an altruistic soul?
And who would be most powerful in shaping policy and tax laws under a Republican president as opposed to a Democratic president? Corporations and the uber-wealthy like Peter Ackerman or all those unemployed and under-employed Americans Elect voters?
Do such secretive, evasive and deceptive policies of Americans Elect truly support democracy and put it in more hands or end up accomplishing the exact opposite?
My answer to these questions is no doubt apparent. To those who feel similarly, I would urge you to link to this article elsewhere and to Irregular Times and What’s Left to get the word out on what seems to be a new wolf in sheep’s clothing in our political system. In the current atmosphere of Purist Dems and Repubs-posing-as-Dems all attacking Obama as the enemy, such a fraud could gain a startling amount of traction.
Also, here is a link to the terrific archive of Irregular Times’ articles on Americans Elect, highly recommended and very enlightening.
Personally, I am supportive of having a more open and diverse democracy and a viable third party, as well as giving voters more of a voice in the nomination process so candidates are more reflective of what people want in their representatives.
All of these would be positive things for our democracy but Americans Elect seems to me to be using democratic empowerment as sheep’s clothing, under which, this wolf licks its chops as it sneaks up on its unsuspecting prey.
The good folks at Irregular Times have uncovered that one of the Chairs of their committee that will choose their candidate is a GOP Lobbyist and a major player in ALEC, the Koch Brothers financed organization that writes legislation and uses Republican stooges in government to get it passed:
Tom Sansonetti is currently Partner at Holland and Hart LLC, a major corporate law firm, representing “business entities of all sizes, including more than 100 of the Fortune 500 companies.” Tom Sansonetti is head of Holland and Hart’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Practice. He is a major contributorto the Holland and Hart Political Action Committee.
A search of the House Lobbying Disclosure database reveals that over the last election cycle of 2009-2010, Tom Sansonetti has been active as a lobbyist for Peabody Energy Corporation, which is the largest private coal corporation in the world and a chief participant in ALEC, a consortium of corporations that writes pro-business legislation that are introduced and passed by corporate-sponsored state legislators and members of Congress.