A mysteriously funded, highly organized effort to secure the ballot for a third party candidate in this year’s election has ties to President Obama and top Democrats, KleinOnline has learned.
The group, calling itself Americans Elect, or AE, seems designed to appear like a massive, grassroots effort involving millions of citizens acting to draft a third party candidate.
However, the organization’s voting process has been called into question while there are concerns that AE’s bylaws may allow the group’s own board members to bypass votes and nominate their own candidate.
AE seeks to hold its own nominating convention on the Internet this June to select an independent presidential and vice-presidential candidate. The group says any registered voter can sign up to participate in the June convention.
AE has reportedly raised more than $22 million so far and has already been certified to be placed on the ballot in 12 states, including California. To getting on state ballots, AE says it collected over 2 million signatures nationwide in its effort to get on state ballots.
KleinOnline found that two of AE’s board members, Kellen Arno and Michael Arno, were paid by the group for helping to run the massive signature gathering drive via their firm, Arno Political Consultants. Arno’s firm, APC, has previously reportedly been accused multiple times of forging signatures and collecting signatures using fraud.
AE’s funding has also been called into question. In late 2010, AE changed its tax status from a tax-exempt group to what is known as a 501(c)(4), or social-welfare organization, which is not required to show its donor list.
Capital Weekly reported that prior to the change, in the second and third quarters of 2010, AE’s more than $1.5 million in funding came from one person – venture capitalist, Unity08 activist and Obama donor, Peter Ackerman. Ackerman reportedly gave AE a total of at least $5 million in seed money. Many of AE’s other donors are unknown.
Finances and fraudulent signature are not the only sources of controversy. AE’s Internet voting system has been called into question as well. Pamela Smith, president of VerifiedVoting.org, a voters’ advocacy group, argues that AE’s reliance on Internet voting is insecure and difficult to audit.
Regardless of the results, there are concerns that current guidelines reportedly allow AE to anoint its own candidate. Candidates chosen by voters must be approved by a Candidate Certification Committee, which according to the group’s bylaws consist of AE’s board members.
KleinOnline reviewed AE’s board, finding multiple ties to Obama while some Republicans also belong to the committee.
Besides Ackerman, an Obama donor who gave money to help start AE, the advisory board includes Lawrence Lessig, an Obama technology adviser. Lessig has been mentioned as a future candidate to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He is an activist for reduced legal restrictions on copyright material and advised Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
AE’s CEO, Kahlil Byrd, has drawn scrutiny from conservatives because he formerly served as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s communications director. Patrick’s chief strategist was top Obama strategist David Axelrod.
AE board member W. Bowman Cutter is senior adviser to the Podesta Group lobbying and public relations firm, which was founded by John Podesta, who directed Obama’s transition into the White House in 2008. Podesta is currently director of the Center for American Progress, which is reportedly highly influential in helping to craft White House policy.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Worked With Obama At Harvard
ABC News commentator George Stephanopoulos has a previously undisclosed connection to President Obama – the two were part of a small group at Harvard University that met for a period of three years purportedly to promote involvement with U.S. community institutions.
Participants at the research project, which took place between 1997 and 2000, included scores of individuals with ties to Obama, including several activists who were later appointed to positions in the Obama administration. Other participants were instrumental in promoting Obama’s political career.
Stephanopoulos this week was the subject of conservative criticism for pointed questions he asked Republican presidential candidates while hosting Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate. Stephanopoulos has conducted a number of exclusive interviews with Obama.
An overlooked detail of Stephanopoulos’ work history is his participation alongside Obama in Harvard’s Saguaro Seminars, a long-term research project aimed at significantly increasing Americans’ connectedness to one another and to community institutions.
The project and its relationship with Obama was exposed in this reporter’s recently released book, Red Army: The Radical Network that Must be Defeated to Save America. In 1992 Obama served on the founding board of Public Allies, an organization dedicated to training a cadre of community organizers. Public Allies cofounders Vanessa Kirsch and Katrina Browne, at Obama’s suggestion, interviewed his wife, Michelle Obama, to head a new Chicago office. Michelle Obama served as executive director from spring 1993 until fall 1996.