You just can't keep a good 501(c)4 corporation down.
You just can’t keep a good 501(c)4 corporation down.

A “new” national organization focused on the 2012 presidential election uncloaked their semi-stealth operation over the weekend. After receiving special access to the organization, columnists Tom Friedman and John Avlon were released from their press embargo and obligingly wrote fawning reviews. Others were a bit more circumspect.

Americans Elect is a 501(c)4 corporation. This means they are not required to disclose donors. The reader may be more familiar with this particular corporate classification within the context of the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision. Citizens United was a 501(c)4 corporation.

Taken at face value, the objectives of the organization are novel, ambitious and exciting. They intend to qualify for the 2012 Presidential Ballot in all 50 states, then field a presidential slate that is nominated through an open process on the internet by means of a virtual on-line convention.

Getting on the ballot in fifty states for any third party is a Herculean task. Kudos to Americans Elect for taking the challenge on. Given the legislative roadblocks and partisan landmines used by the the two party duopoly to ambush third party electoral efforts, it is easy to rationalize the need for well-heeled donors to kick start the effort. As it turns out, Americans Elect secured some well heeled New York donors to kick start the effort. We don’t know who they all are because, you know, Americans Elect is a 501(c)4 corporation and they are not telling us.

Taken at face value and considered in a vacuum while looking at them sideways and squinting slightly, one could get excited about this new high-concept high-tech initiative to reinvent our political process. Problem being, this is really not a new organization, and we have some recent history to consider, and considering that recent history, we learn we cannot take what they say at face value.

Americans Elect is Unity08, or more precisely – they would have been Unity12 until they got the shiny new name. Unity08 started at about the same time as I started my blog. I subsequently burned a few posts chronicling the Unity08 journey through the ’06 midterms and the run up to the 2008 presidential election.

In early 2008, well before a promised internet convention to nominate a “unity ticket” for the presidential election, Unity08 suddenly went up in flames and shuttered their site. Miraculously, only days later, the site emerged phoenix-like from the ashes, using the same address, infrastructure, a domain purchased a year earlier by Unity08, and staffed by many of the same people. This led some to speculate that the entire enterprise was nothing more than a Bloomberg stalking horse from the beginning. Cynics. Anyway, after Unityo8’s rather unseemly demise (chronicled at the Donk here and here – be sure to check the particularly entertaining comments), I considered them dead and buried. Certainly I did not expect to see or hear from them again.


Jim Cook of the Irregular Times has been obsessively stalking this particular white whale since it’s inception, and brings us up to date:

  • The corporate address reported by Unity08 in the first half of 2009: 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue Suite 1212, Washington DC 20006
  • The corporate address reported by the Unity12 Task Force in the second quarter of 2010: 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue Suite 1212, Washington DC 20006
  • The corporate address reported by the renamed Americans Elect in the third quarter of 2010: 1775 Pennsylvania Avenue Suite 1212, Washington DC 20006
  • Americans Elect is the intentional extension of Unity08, as Americans Elect Chair and Unity08 Director Peter Ackerman made clear when sitting for a deposition in a lawsuit filed by Unity08: “If Unity08 is successful in this litigation, Unity08 has a clear and definite intent to resume its activities — renamed ‘Unity12’ — for the 2012 presidential election. The ‘Unity’ mission remains as critical today for the 2012 presidential election as it was in 2006 for the 2008 presidential election.” The only matter Ackerman didn’t anticipate was the name change from ‘Unity12’ to ‘Americans Elect.’

So here we are. Americans Elect, backed by a bucket load of New York mystery money, is hiring petition gatherers, fighting expensive legal battles, and doing the hard grunt work necessary to get on the ballot in all fifty states. All in order to field a presidential candidate – To Be Named Later. So – if you are considering putting your idealistic heart and soul into this brave new political operation, make sure you understand exactly what you are getting into.

Americans Elect is almost certainly the Mike Bloomberg for President campaign. They probably need to maintain the Americans Elect facade to keep their 501(c)4 status. But if Mike Bloomberg is not heading their ticket in 2012, I expect Americans Elect will go the way of Unity08. Now, if you want to see Bloomberg run as a spoiler in 2012, by all means – sign up. As for me, my views about this organization has not changed since January, 2008:

“Unity08 had over 120,000 members and raised about a million dollars. Not much by presidential campaign standards, not as much as they wanted, but nothing to scoff at. Actually, I liked the idea of a Hagel/Bloomberg Unity08 candidacy, which is why, although dubious, I signed up as a “delegate”. I feel bad for those who put their heart and soul into the effort, as they have been treated rather shabbily by the organization. The whole thing smells so manipulative, so contrived and betrays such cynical contempt for the Unity08 supporters that I would find it difficult to support Bloomberg now.”

Look – I like Mike Bloomberg. Under the right circumstances, I might even be tempted to vote for him for President. But not as a 3rd Party candidate in 2012. He could not win but he could garner significant support and, like all “successful” 3rd party presidential candidates, function as a spoiler.

My guess is that in 2012 he would be more likely to pull votes from Obama than the Republican candidate. I’d have preferred that scenario in 2008, as we might have avoided the subsequent disastrous two years of Democratic One Party Rule. However, I am also not interested in seeing a return to equally disastrous One Party Republican Rule in 2013. The GOP will probably take control of the Senate in the 2012 election. Reelecting Obama is the only sure way to retain our happily divided government.

Sorry Mike. Let me know when you start hanging around with a better class of 501(c)4 corporations.

X-posted from “Divided We Stand United We Fall”

  • kranky kritter

    What’s to spoil? –John Bayard Anderson

  • mw

    Well. There is that.

  • Agnostick

    Getting on the ballot in all 50 states is a “Herculean task” for a lackluster organization with a milquetoast candidate that can only give mild inspiration to apathetic and skeptical voters.

    On the other hand, for a focused, determined group of voters, inspired and aroused by an exciting candidate, it might be easier than you think.

    They could do it without the internet, or text messages. Hell, their candidate doesn’t even need to be white anymore. Doesn’t necessarily have to be male, either.


  • cranky critter

    I don’t want luster. I want substance.