It’s just after 8 a.m. on Nov. 11, and Peter Ackerman is staring at red numbers flashing on an electronic board. He sees 2,008,069. “That’s 2 million Americans who have signed on to having another candidate on the presidential ballot,” he says, beaming, in the Manhattan offices of the marketing agency for Americans Elect, the group he’s backing with more than $5 million. Ackerman, 65, who made more than $300 million working alongside Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.’s Beverly Hills, California, offices in the 1980s, is Americans Elect’s chairman and top donor. He wants to circumvent U.S. politics-as-usual by letting voters choose a presidential candidate via the Internet who, with a running mate from a different political party, will appear on every state ballot for the 2012 election, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its February issue.
Americans Elect is the latest manifestation of Ackerman’s passion for grass-roots democracy Ñ an interest that has divided his attention during his career as a financier. At Drexel, he raised billions of dollars for junk-bond-fueled takeovers in the 1980s. He helped secure $5 billion for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.’s $31.3 billion buyout of RJR Nabisco Inc., the deal immortalized in “Barbarians at the Gate.”
Today, he’s the majority shareholder of FreshDirect Holdings Inc., a Web-based grocer operating around New York. Former FreshDirect Chief Executive Officer Rick Braddock says he saw another side of Ackerman in 2011 when Ackerman promoted a nephew as CEO after summarily ousting Braddock and three directors.