Wall Street's Third Party - Will Americans Elect upend the presidential election? [View all]
This November, when Barack Obama faces off against his Republican opponent, there will be a third candidate in the race, too. This candidate has already qualified for the ballot in 14 states, including California. The campaign to ensure the candidate’s ballot access in all 50 states has raised $22 million (more than the campaigns of every Republican presidential candidate except Mitt Romney), with which it has employed 3,000 paid signature gatherers and enlisted 3,000 volunteers.
This third candidate probably doesn’t have to do all that well to affect the outcome of the presidential election. Most polling shows that the general election will be close, both nationally and in a number of swing states. It takes no great imaginative leap to envision a scenario in which this third candidate tips a key state to Obama or his GOP opponent, much as Ralph Nader tipped Florida to George W. Bush in 2000.
Only this time around, there’s one signal difference: We have no idea who that third candidate will be or what he or she stands for. For that matter, we also have no idea who the donors of that $22 million are, though the organization they’ve given to has published a list of “leaders” chock-full of private-equity executives and hedge-fund managers.
The group that is working to put this yet-to-be-identified worthy before us come November is called Americans Elect. It is the creation of financier Peter Ackerman, a 65-year-old private-equity executive who made his fortune working alongside Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert in the 1980s—and who is also a leading advocate for and financial supporter of Gandhian nonviolent political change around the world. Like Ackerman himself, Americans Elect seems to have two distinct identities clumped into one. On the one hand, it seeks to update the nominee-selection process for the digital age through online voting. On the other, it looks to create a political vehicle for the socially tolerant, fiscally conservative financial establishment that Ackerman, and the colleagues he’s persuaded to join the organization’s leadership, personify.