The leading declared candidate, Buddy Roemer, Louisiana’s former governor whose GOP primary bid never took off, has garnered only 3,177 supporters on the Americans Elect Web site. Behind him is Rocky Anderson, once the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, who has 1,722 supporters. (There are also 300 or so “draft” candidates, nominated by any of the registered online voters.)
Still, Roemer said he has major reservations about the organization.
“Full disclosure is a paramount issue with me,” Roemer said. “Americans Elect does not meet this standard.”
If he gained the group’s nomination after three rounds of online primary voting, Roemer said he would work to pay back the $30 million Americans Elect has spent on its process so as not to be in business with donors he doesn’t know.
Jane Harman, a centrist Democrat who represented a Southern California House district before taking over the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, recently let Ackerman know that the secrecy was a problem. “People should know,” Harman said, “especially if his goal is to move the national parties to the center,” an aim she shares.
“I don’t feel threatened by [Americans Elect]. I am just bewildered by it,” said David Axelrod, one of President Obama’s top campaign strategists. “It seems a little incoherent to say to Americans, ‘You decide. But just in case we don’t like what you decide, we’ve appointed a board of elites to decide who you can choose from.’
“Why not fully disclose who is funding this,” Axelrod continued, “so people can judge who is behind this?”
Ackerman’s enlistment of advisers is formidable. Heavyweights on his Americans Elect boards include a former governor and cabinet member (Republican Christine Todd Whitman), a recent overseer of U.S. intelligence (John Negroponte), a former chief executive of Disney (Michael Eisner), and a Democratic pollster (Doug Schoen). Whitman said the organization is a savvy device to amplify centrist players. As a board member, she said, she understands why donors are nervous about going public.
“It’s a risk,” she said. “We’re all being perceived as bucking our respective parties.”
“The higher your position, the higher the risk,” said Darry Sragow, a Los Angeles lawyer and longtime Democratic activist.
Sragow recently resigned from serving as Americans Elect’s political director, in charge of candidate briefings. He was sanguine about what the association could still cost him: “I don’t think I’m going to get any of my friends nominated to the Naval Academy anytime soon. I don’t think I’m going to get invited to any of the receptions I normally get invited to.”
Byrd revealed little about those potential candidates waiting in the wings, except that the group had briefed “more than 100” who’ve “led as governors, as senators, military commands, corporations.”
And from those advisers may come Americans Elect’s face-saving option. In the past month, a small group of activists has emerged to recruit Dave Walker, an independent who once ran the Government Accountability Office, to run for president. Walker, who is on the Americans Elect board of advisers, said that he knew about the effort and that an Americans Elect employee had stepped down to lead the draft movement. Also in recent weeks, Americans Elect changed the requirements Walker needs to meet to win the nomination, revising the number of online supporters to 1,000 in 10 states instead of 5,000 in 10 states.
“This is an issue-oriented movement, and they’re trying to put a face to the movement,” Walker said in a phone interview. He said his mission has long been deficit reduction and the reorganization of the national debt. “For whatever reason, they believe I’m a person who symbolizes that. I guess they kind of view me as a means to an end.”
He remained, however, undecided: “My mama told me a long time ago you never say never.”