One of the most salient criticisms of Americans Elect — a group that bills itself as seeking to “open up the political process” and “change politics as usual” — is its dogged refusal, using the legal shield of its status as a 501c4 corporation, to disclose the names of its financial backers. This matters, in part, because Americans Elect got off the ground with $20 million of seed money given by only 50-some anonymous donors. That’s 50 nameless investors ponying up an average of $400,000 apiece, although, in one rare case in which the name is known, Americans Elect founder and CEO Peter Ackerman has given at least $1.55 million and, according to Bloomberg — the news organization, not the draft Americans Elect presidential candidate — more than $5 million.
(Sidebar: How is it that Lawrence Lessig, one of the most informed and eloquent critics of the undue influence of money over politics — and one of the most ardent and public advocates for financial transparency from elected officials, corporations and political institutions — winds up on the Board of Advisors, a.k.a. the Leadership, of a political group with such a shadowy financial pedigree?)
Americans Elect has sought to rationalize its financial secrecy, by assuring the public that all of its early high-dollar contributions are structured as loans that will be repaid, and that, when all is said and done, no single donor will have contributed more than $10,000.
SO IT WAS jarring to read the following new ruling of the Americans Elect Board of Directors, posted this morning to the Americans Elect Web site:
The Americans Elect Board unanimously voted to ensure that no supporter would cover more than 20% of AE’s budget. In the event that any one supporter exceeds that percentage, there are provisions created to expedite repayments to that supporter.
What this Board decision basically says is that as few as five people can fund the whole damned thing. As to the language about the “provisions created to expedite repayments” to any supporter whose financial contribution exceeds 20%, well — what “provisions,” pray? In fact, the provisions clause suggests the possibility of a loophole that would enable a 20% donor to exceed 20% by contributing to one or more other donors an additional sum — an offset that would bring the other donor’s contribution “up” or “down,” depending on the bookkeeping, but that Americans Elect could spin, in Clintonian fashion, as being not a donation to Americans Elect but a transaction between private individuals. This move by the Americans Elect board would seem to put even more pressure on Americans Elect to disclose who its funders are. (Are you listening, Lawrence?)