Ohio approves virtual third party effort for 2012 ballot

Washington Bureau

Americans Elect, a nonprofit group that has set out this year to secure a spot on the ballot in all 50 states for an alternative to the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets, has gathered 1.9 million signatures from individuals who support the idea.

The group announced Wednesday that it has qualified for the Ohio ballot and is awaiting certification in California, Utah, Hawaii and Arkansas. It has already gained ballot access in three other key swing states – Florida, Michigan and Nevada – as well as Arizona, Alaska and Kansas.

“The American people are dissatisfied with the two-party system and the limited choice it offers,” Chief Operating Officer Elliot Ackerman said Wednesday at a news conference at the National Press Club.


Ackerman’s father, private investment executive Peter Ackerman, is one of the main financial backers of the effort. He also participated in a similar project four years ago.

The group has come under fire for its status as a nonprofit social welfare organization, which allows it to keep the names of its donors secret. We reported in July that the group had raised $20 million from between 300 and 400 donors, with no contribution exceeding $5 million.

In late September, campaign finance watchdog groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center sent a letter to the IRS asking that the service investigate Americans Elect and three other groups claiming social welfare status.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, raised the issue again Wednesday as Americans Elect was trumpeting its successes at the National Press Club.

“A political party is not entitled to be treated as a ‘social welfare’ organization under federal tax laws and is required to disclose its donors. Period,” Wertheimer said. “The idea that a political party – whose whole purpose is to nominate and elect candidates for office – can also be a ‘social welfare’ organization for tax purposes is an oxymoron.”

Americans Elect has argued that because the group is not actively promoting any political party or candidate, it can claim a ‘social welfare’ purpose.


“Consistent with the requirements for tax-exempt status under the law, Americans Elect does not and will not support or oppose any candidate or candidate committee – it simply provides the nominating process where the American people can participate directly,” Daniel B. Winslow, the group’s chief legal counsel, said in response to the IRS letter. “As a social service organization dedicated to providing a civic space for the American people, we are confident that Americans Elect is in full compliance with all legal requirements.”

The group plans to hold a Web-based national convention in June, through which participants will nominate a presidential candidate. A vice presidential candidate will also be chosen, but the group’s rules require that the candidates on the eventual ticket cannot share a party affiliation.