Americans Elect is an organization that aims to provide an alternative to the Democratic and Republican candidates in this year’s presidential elections. The group is conducting an Internet-based nominating process this spring, and it seeks to have a line on the November ballot in all 50 states.
Americans Elect presents itself as an antidote to excessive partisanship. Its nominating process is open to all registered voters, and the nominee could be a Democrat, Republican, independent or other. The organization’s rules require that its candidate select, as vice-presidential running mate, someone who is not of the same party.
The organization’s potential to shake up the 2012 race is considerable. For a candidate nominated by this new group to win the presidency this year is very unlikely — though in this volatile political season, not something to be ruled out altogether. But even short of winning, that candidacy could have a significant impact, influencing the debate and perhaps tilting the balance of electoral support from one major-party candidate to the other.
Private-equity executive Peter Ackerman founded Americans Elect in 2010, having led a predecessor effort called Unity08. In mid-2011 the group opened a website to start recruiting voters as delegates, and since early 2012 delegates have been voting to draft potential candidates. Among names the have risen high on the list are Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg.
Besides draftees, some hopefuls actively seek the Americans Elect nomination. One of these is former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, who recently abandoned a bid for the Republican nomination, and who is also running for the nomination of the Reform Party, Ross Perot’s old operation.
Another aspirant is Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff, who has been profiled at Research magazine and sister publication AdvisorOne.com several times for his contributions on fiscal policy, financial planning and other areas. (Disclosure: having met Kotlikoff and seeing him as an innovative thinker, I clicked my support for his nomination at the Americans Elect website.)
In February, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman touted as a potential candidate David Walker, former comptroller of the United States, who serves on an advisory board to Americans Elect. Walker responded with a statement that stopped short of asking for support but seemed to signal a willingness to serve if drafted.
Causing a Stir
It is a sign of Americans Elect’s prospective importance that the venture already is drawing a good deal of criticism, instead of just being ignored. Moreover, as the group was founded by one financial executive and has backing from others, it is getting caught up in the contentious politics swirling around anything related to Wall Street this year.
Skeptics point out that Americans Elect, while claiming to support a more open political system, allows its donors to remain anonymous; such non-disclosure is legal under the group’s 501(c)(4) designation as a social welfare organization. Americans Elect defends the practice as protecting large contributors, who may do business with the government, from retaliation by vindictive politicians of the major parties.
Also controversial is that the organization’s rules enable a “candidate certification” committee to block contenders who lack appropriate “stature.” The group sees this veto power (which can be overridden by delegates) as a shield against frivolous write-in efforts such as in California’s 2003 gubernatorial recall, when the ballot included a porn star and other dubious candidates.