Yesterday, while helping the media to divine the truth as to whether or not Jon Huntsman intends to mount an independent run for the presidency (he does not), I noted that outsider candidate Buddy Roemer -- who's been shut out of the GOP debates and thus the discussion -- was flirting with using Americans Elect as his path to getting on the ballot. Not long after, I got a press release from the Roemer campaign making this official: "Today I officially announce that I will seek the Americans Elect nomination as a proud Republican but as an even prouder American."
Perhaps there's no better option available to a guy who's resolutely standing by his principles and refusing donations larger than $100 to make a splash in the 2012 campaign. And it's certainly unfortunate that the vagaries of debate rules have prevented him from having the opportunity to make his case and challenge the rest of the GOP field. But that said, Roemer is making a mistake. In the first place, one can't actually "seek" the Americans Elect nomination because Americans Elect is not a political party -- it's a pop-sociological experiment. But the real problem with Roemer tying his fortunes to Americans Elect is that Roemer has a clear, specific message, and Americans Elect has only a clear specific gimmick. In the resulting marriage, the latter completely neuters the former.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Americans Elect, here's the basic story. The organization, if we can call it that, purports to be the first political effort to create a "non-partisan" presidential ticket. Founded and advised by a Who's Who of Ivory Tower political thought-havers, the organization has reimagined the process of choosing a political candidate as something akin to online dating. Users sign up, assign priorities to broad issue portfolios, and then answer a seemingly endless series of questions about how they feel about various things. From there, it generates a profile that's supposed to help you match yourself with a candidate. Somehow, this whole she-bang is supposed to eventually spit out a consensus candidate and an agreed-upon platter of policy priorities, packaged as an official "Americans Elect" nominee that will actually appear on the ballot on Election Day.
And there are pages and pages of candidates to choose from! Including many people who are already running for president. In fact, the best way of describing the candidate roster that Americans Elect has assembled is that it mostly combines the people who are already running for president (Herman Cain! Ron Paul! Jon Huntsman! Barack Obama!) with people who would either be shocked to learn they'd been nominated for president (Can I interest you in some Scott DesJarlais?) or displeased to find themselves on a November ballot (Marco Rubio, Barney Frank).
But the fact that there are 50-plus pages of potential nominees is just one of the preposterous things about this project, which is trying to sell you the notion that if enough Americans contribute enough information about their political and personal views, then the country is just a step away from being set up on a four-year date with the Candidate Of Its Dreams. Politics does not work like eHarmony, I'm afraid. If your large priority is, say, protecting the environment, and you end up getting stuck with James Inhofe as your consensus nominee, you'll likely want to disavow the whole process. But in the eyes of Americans Elect, you are one of the "signatures" that says, "Yes. I want this guy I don't like and whose policies I don't support to be on the ballot, for some reason."
And when you dig into the way Americans Elect treats complicated issues, things get stupid in a hurry. When American Elect inquires into your foreign policy positions, it poses questions like this: "When you think about the US pursuing its interests abroad, which of the following is closest to your opinion?" And then you are forced to answer the question with one of the following responses:
The US should always act in its own interest regardless of what other countries think
The US should rarely listen to other countries
The US should listen to other countries more often than not
The US should always listen to other countries before pursuing its own interests
Those are your choices? Where's the nuance? Where's the respect for voters' basic intelligence? Where's the acknowledgment that the world is complicated place? To say that this is an infantile way of answering the question is insulting to the cognitive abilities of infants, but it's probably the best word we can use to describe this.
At this point, you're probably wondering what problem this project even intends to solve, since it surely isn't American foreign policy! The answer, of course, is that like the similarly minded "No Labels," Americans Elect proceeds from the premise that America's problems are all caused by the fact that our lawmakers aren't nicer to one another, and there's too much "partisanship." That's why this is touted as an amazing innovation by people like Thomas Friedman, who's convinced that our government's major failing is the nonexistence of a "Grand Bargain." Mind you, to Friedman, the actual terms of that "Grand Bargain" and its policy impact on the lives of ordinary Americans are subordinate concerns to whether or not Barack Obama and John Boehner will become friends and inspire America to buy itself a Coke.
Americans Elect gets downright comical about this. For example, they use Barney Frank's recent decision to retire as evidence that the need to rid the public square of partisanship is now so keenly understandable as the problem that grips America that even Barney Frank, superpartisan, knows this to be true. They cite an article in the Atlantic as support for their claims, leaving in all the Frank quotes that bolster their concept, while leaving aside stuff like this sentence from the original: "But, as one might expect with Frank, there was a bit more scorn heaped on Republicans." Barney Frank, partisan to the end!
And here's where we consider the curious case of Buddy Roemer. See, Roemer has a very clear vision of what ails America, and it's not "partisanship." Rather, it's the corrupting influence of money in politics. That is the whole point of the Buddy Roemer candidacy. But if you visit Buddy Roemer's page at Americans Elect, you would be led to believe that his "highest priority" was education, and while his "core question answers" aren't out of step with his generic positions, there's not a blessed word about the issue that defines his candidacy. The essential political thought that pulses daily from his Twitter account, and which forms the basis of his entire run for the presidency, is nowhere to be found on Americans Elect, no matter how deep you go.
And that makes sense when you start to consider the people that Roemer is getting into bed with. Because while Americans Elect may nominally accommodate a candidate who won't take PAC money and limits his donations to amounts that normal people can afford, it is critical to point out that Americans Elect does not agree in any way shape or form with Buddy Roemer. On the matter of money in politics, Buddy Roemer and Americans Elect are at cross-purposes.
Let's recall that Buddy Roemer has been adamant in his support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, and smash cut to the people who are behind Americans Elect, who are essentially a bunch of hedge fund managers and lobbyists:
The group was started by Peter Ackerman, the chief of Rockport Capital, a wealth management firm. He put in at least $1.55 million of his own money to start the organization. (It was originally a 527 organization, which is required to disclose donors. It is now a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which isn’t required to disclose.)
According to various reports, Americans Elect has raised between $20 million and $30 million so far for its efforts. Other known funders are hedge fund manager Kirk Rostron and Melvin Andrews, president of Lakeside Capital Partners.
Another known funder is Jim Holbrook, president of Promotion Marketing Association, which is a trade association that does lobbying for the PR and marketing industry.
John Avlon, the founder of the corporate-backed "No Labels" group, wrote in the Daily Beast that Americans Elect has raised $20 million from just 50 people. That's an average of $400,000 per donor.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was invited to tour the Americans Elect offices in DC, which he described as "swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone's throw from the White House."
According to its website, Americans Elect's "leadership team" is composed largely of hedge fund operators and wealth managers, including Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who is married into the notorious Rothschild family.
In August, Americans Elect added five new names to its "Leadership" list (something like a board of advisors) -- all five are wealth managers.
Pretty much a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool one percenters. But we've only begun to examine the extent to which Americans Elect stifles Roemer's advocacy of Occupy Wall Street. Our own Dan Froomkin went to the organization's kick-off event at the National Press Club last month, and their disingenuous support for the "99 percent" was evident:
The group is clearly positioning itself to harness and channel the intense dissatisfaction voters currently have with the candidates the political parties have been offering them. But the goal seems to be more a centrist mash-up of the two parties than a dramatic alternative. The group's bylaws, for instance, appear to allow its leaders to veto any ticket they don't consider "balanced."
And while the group used pictures from the Occupy protests in its presentation on Tuesday, its chief strategist is Douglas Schoen, a pollster and Fox News political analyst who just a few weeks ago penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he asserted that the Occupy Wall Street protesters supported "radical left-wing policies" that "are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people."
And the co-chairs of Americans Elect's Rules Committee? Meet Tom Sansonetti and Chris Arterton. The former is a coal industry/casino lobbyist and the latter is a funder of Joe Lieberman's Reuniting Our Country PAC. Per the Roemer campaign, these are the sorts of people who are destroying the country.
On November 1, the Roemer campaign approvingly tweeted this quote from former Research Director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Keith Ashdown: "Transparency is the best disinfectant." Roemer should probably have a conversation with good-government watchdog Fred Wertheimer, who wrote the following about Americans Elect on these pages:
Americans Elect was registered as a federal political committee until last October, when it switched and claimed it was a "social welfare" organization under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. The reason for the switch appears quite clear: to keep secret from the American people the donors supporting its political activities.
Americans Elect correctly states on its website that "Americans are tired of politics as usual."
However, attempting to claim that a "political organization" is a "social welfare" organization for the apparent purpose of keeping secret from the American people the donors financing its political activities is classic "politics as usual."
I couldn't be more sympathetic to the uphill climb Buddy Roemer faces in this election. At every turn, he's been shut out, excluded and pushed from the stage -- all of which has only seemingly fueled his passion. Americans Elect dangles the intriguing possibility that Roemer might be able to circumvent a vicious process and get on the ballot. But in terms of Roemer's political identity, using Americans Elect as a solution to his problem is like prescribing pancreatic cancer to cure the flu. They don't share his values and they won't support his positions. They will neuter his message and diminish his credibility.
This is a big mistake.
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