Sunday, December 18, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: A More Democratic Nomination Process or Just a Slick Shtick?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Dec. 18 2011

An organization that says it wants to take the "hyper-partisanship" and "special interests" out of presidential politics and change the way the U.S. nominates presidential candidates is gathering petition signatures in New Mexico in an effort to get on next year's general-election ballot. 

Americans Elect's goal is to get its presidential ticket on the ballots of all 50 states. And who are those candidates? That's to be determined by an online "convention" next summer. Every registered voter in the country is eligible to become a delegate. 

In an interview last week, Americans Elect's chief operating officer, Elliot Akerman, explained that the organization will determine a platform of issues, debated and voted on over the Internet. Delegates will determine which candidate best matches the platform. Finalists then must choose their vice presidents. A running mate cannot be someone who belongs to the same party of the presidential candidate. 

In June delegates will vote online to see who will be the Americans Elect standard bearer. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer — who like New Mexico's former Gov. Gary Johnson has been running as a Republican but is ignored by the GOP establishment — recently announced he would seek the nomination. And controversial billionaire Donald Trump last week said he might be interested too. 
Is this Buddy's best shot?

So far, the group has won a place on the ballots in 
11 states. Akerman said. Nearly 2.2 million people across the country have signed petitions for Americans Elect. To get on New Mexico's presidential ballot, a "minor party" needs only 6,028 signatures. 

Thomas Friedman in a July New York Times column bubbled, "What did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music ... Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly ..." 

But not all its press has been so glowing. recently ran a critical article under the headline "The slick shtick of Americans Elect," while Politico published a piece saying the group has a "democracy deficit." 

The National Journal noted last week that President Barack Obama's top political strategist David Axelrod criticized the fact that candidates chosen at the online convention must be approved by a Candidate Certification Committee. "It's like uber-democracy meets backroom bosses," Axelrod said. 

Is this The Donald's
best shot?
The members of the committee are Larry Diamond, a Democrat who is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank; James Thomson, an independent who was president of the RAND Corporation, a global policy think tank; and — here's one for the conspiracy buffs — former CIA and FBI director William Webster, a Republican. 

In response, the group issued a news release quoting its chief executive officer Kahlil Byrd saying that voters have lost faith in the government and "Washington is failing the American people and misinformed partisan attacks like these are a key reason why." 

The Salon piece was more harsh than Axelrod. "It's fueled by millions of dollars of secret money, there is a group of wealthy, well-connected board members who have control over Americans Elect's nominating process, and the group has myriad links to Wall Street." 

The organization is classified under the tax code as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" group, meaning its contributors are not reported publicly. 

Americans Elect adviser Darry Sragow, responding to such criticism, defended keeping contributors secret. "Cross those who hold power and you are banished to political Siberia, or targeted ... by unresponsive or hostile government actions," he wrote.