Americans Elect: On the Ballot in California, and Still Hush-Hush About Its Dark Money

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 3:00 PM PST

Here comes Americans Elect! As I've reported, the upstart political reform group wants voters to nominate a third party presidential candidate over the Internet. But to make any sort of impact, it first has to get on the ballot in all fifty states. Difficult? Certainly. Inconceivable? Hardly. This week, the group secured a ballot line in California, a crucial state in what's clearly going to be a contentious presidential election.

To celebrate their emerging relevance, the Americans Elect braintrust held a celebratory conference call with reporters today, Dave Weigel reports. And they made some news, announcing that the group's influence is apparently so expansive that "labor leaders" are talking to them about running candidates on the AE ticket.

But lingering questions remain about who, exaclty, is bankrolling the group's efforts. In recent news reports, the group says it has raised some $20 million dollars. But because it's registered as a tax-exempt 501 (c)(4) group, it doesn't have to disclose its donors, inviting scrutiny from campaign finance reform groups who suspect that much of the money comes from wealthy hedge funders.

Of course, Americans Elect isn't going to let that slow them down. So said Darry Sragow, a strategist for the group:

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"The folks running Americans Elect, they don't know who the donors are," said Sragow, defending the secrecy. Another AE leader contradicted this a little bit. "I've participated in some of the meetings where people won't sign because of fear of retribution," he said. "We can have complete disclosure and fail, or we can succeed."

But hang on: What sort of retribution were we talking about? "My father, Peter Ackerman," offered the group's COO Elliot Ackerman. "He's been mischaracterized in the press frequently."

Sragow wasn't about to let this suggestion fly—this idea that working with AE wasn't dangerous. "Don't suggest that there is no retribution," he said. "Nobody who's spent 10 minutes in politics could think that." He'd been vilified for participating in the group. He'd been attacked and insulted. "Fortunately, in this country, we don't use molotov cocktails literally," he said. "We use them figuratively."

Well, this didn't jibe either. Occasionaly, AE leaders have suggested that their donors will come out on their own. When would that happen?

"We'll elect a president," said Sragow, "and people will be very proud."

Ackerman, et. al, continue to roll out this line that political donors' lives are at stake and that high rollers in the political spending game need...protection. Apparently, they made the choice that saying nothing at all about their donor base is better than saying things that voters won't like.

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