Americans Elect -- a nonprofit organization aiming to create an alternative, independent presidential ticket -- announced today it has qualified for ballot access in California, marking a significant milestone in its quest to be a factor in the 2012 race.
California is the 12th state in which the group has earned a spot on the ballot, and it was the heaviest lift thus far for the nascent group. The effort to get on the state's ballot started last March and employed more than 1,500 people to collect more than 1.6 million signatures, the Tribune Washington Bureau reported in July
"Ballot access in California is a major milestone in achieving ballot access in all 50 states," said Kellen Arno, the group's director of ballot access, in a statement. "Submitting 1.62 million signatures in California, a politically complex and diverse state, is testimony to the fact that Californians are looking for a better choice in the electoral process and one that will put an end to partisan gridlock in Washington."
The group has a novel approach to circumventing the two-party system; it plans to hold an open, online nominating process next June, and the winning candidate must choose a running mate outside his or her party.
According to spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel, the group has raised around $22 million so far, including $5 million from investor Peter Ackerman, whose son Elliot is the group's chief operating officer. But because Americans Elect is a 501(c)4 organization -- a "social welfare" nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors to the IRS -- many of the group's funders remain a mystery.
The secrecy has prompted skepticism from campaign finance reform advocates, who have repeatedly urged the IRS to reevaluate the group's status.
"A group legally qualified in states as a political party in order to obtain ballot access to run a candidate for president cannot simultaneously be a tax-exempt 'social welfare' organization under section 501(c)4," said Fred Wertheimer, president of watchdog group Democracy 21, in a letter to the IRS last week. "Just as third party candidates decided the 2000 presidential race, a third party candidate representing Americans Elect could decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. If that were to happen and the IRS has failed to take action here, the agency would be responsible for allowing secret money and a secretly financed organization to decide who is elected to be our next president."
Wachtel, the group's spokeswoman, said there were no plans to change the group's status.
"We're not supporting candidates. We're not a political party," she said. "We're a nominating process that is creating a third option, so we will remain" a 501(c)4.