This article is updated frequently with additional characters. Our current rogues gallery includes:
Peter "Godfather" Ackerman
Thomas "Coal Train" Sansonetti
Michael "The Fixer" and Kellen Arno
Will "WMD" Marshall
William "The Wire" Webster
David "Who?" Walker
Americans Elect Corporation’s ‘Who We Are’ web page presents an array of smiling portraits of AECorp’s executive officers, a terse listing of its Board of Directors members, and a who’s-who roster of its ‘Board of Advisors’ (which in previous versions of the page were termed its ‘Leadership’).
Brief bios accompany most of these names and faces (with the notable exception of AECorp chairman and founder Peter Ackerman, the man behind the curtain, about whom the less you know, the better). These bios are skillfully edited and finely crafted to leave the casual reader with the impression of an organization composed of bipartisan...perhaps one should say tripartisan...civic-minded, open-hearted do-gooders, rolling up their sleeves and banding together across the political (if not the financial) spectrum with no agendas other than a shared selfless commitment to cure what ails American politics.
In other words, pretty boring stuff. Society matrons, job-cremators, recovering academics, minor political hacks, and their minions; all the usual suspects. A list of folks who might not look out of place at a Rotary Club banquet or a children’s hospital benefit. Until you start to peel the onion, to discover the affiliations which AECorp sees fit to omit from its leaders’ bios. Then things start to get interesting.
Here follows that deeper and, we hope, rather more interesting list. Of necessity this article will be a work continuously in progress; we’ll add one new leader’s deep-dish profile to this article more-or-less daily, so please check back frequently for updates. AECorp’s leaders and their affiliations aren’t exactly a Churchillian riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but they’re kind-of close. And, unlike those leaders, we have day-jobs. So fully peeling this onion will take us some time. Thanks for your patience.
1. Peter Ackerman (AECorp founder, chairman, and multi-million-dollar donor)
What Americans Elect Tells You About Him: Nothing. Nada. Zip. Crickets. They could tell you, but then they’d have to kill you.
The Rest of the Story:
According to bloomberg.com, Ackerman made more than $300 million working with convicted felon Michael Milken at now-defunct Wall Street firm Drexel Burnham Lambert’s Beverly Hills office in the 1980s, during the firm’s notorious insider-trading and junk bond scandals (the latter of which contributed to the near-collapse of the savings and loan industry). Ackerman headed “Special Projects” at Drexel. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch reports that as part of the firm’s massive financial scandal Ackerman was sued for allegedly misappropriating and diverting investments, and settled by paying back $73 million according to court records.
Ackerman has a long and distinguished history of highly creative political activism. Also according to California Watch, “Ackerman’s lawyer at the time also hired a Sacramento lobbyist to get a bill introduced that would change state tax law. A Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee analysis noted that the bill, introduced in 2005 by state Sen. Bob Dutton, R–Rancho Cucamonga, appeared to solely benefit Ackerman, at a cost of $5 million to the state.”
According to James Joseph, Ackerman’s attorney, "Peter has lots of investments. They are very complex." The very few we know about, past and present (several of which are controlled by Ackerman), include:
FreshDirect: According to the Bloomberg article cited above, Ackerman is “the majority shareholder of FreshDirect Holdings Inc., a Web-based grocer operating around New York. Former FreshDirect Chief Executive Officer Rick Braddock says he saw another side of Ackerman in 2011 when Ackerman promoted a nephew as CEO after summarily ousting Braddock and three directors.... At FreshDirect, Ackerman has shown an autocratic side, former CEO Braddock says. Braddock sued the company in July, accusing Ackerman of breach of fiduciary duty. He says Ackerman has refused to pay him severance, unfreeze his $6.5 million investment or even talk of settlement. ‘Ackerman pulled out the rug,’ Braddock says. ‘Ackerman has his son heading Americans Elect and his nephew running FreshDirect. Nepotism has apparently worked for him.’”
According to AlterNet, FreshDirect delivers groceries only to wealthier areas of Manhatten and Brooklyn, refusing to service, for example, the South Bronx area in which it currently seeks to build its new 500,000-square-foot taxpayer-subsidized facility. “We absolutely would be in the Bronx,” according to Ackerman’s nephew and FreshDirect CEO, except for the fact that “we've always felt that the Bronx has not wanted our service.” According to AlterNet, FreshDirect “is notorious for underpaying its workers [less than $9 per hour], has faced multiple accusations of discrimination and has been accused of using all sorts of shady tactics to block its workers from joining a union.”
RockPort Capital Partners, a venture capital firm.
Crown Capital Group, “a boutique investment firm dedicated to the investment, acquisition, management and dispositions of opportunistic and distressed assets.”
Upshot, Inc., a Chicago-based marketing firm. “By peeling back the layers of the human condition to reveal what really matters to a person, we can determine what will inspire them (sic).”
On the not-for-(direct)-profit scene, Ackerman has long served as Chairman of the Board of Overseers at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where, at its 2011 commencement ceremony, he advised new graduates, “It is not who you know, but what you know about who you know that matters,” apparently channeling J. Edgar Hoover. Ackerman’s role as chief overseer of the School is a particularly fortuitous one for him, as the School’s dean, Stephen W. Bosworth (who answers to the Board of Overseers), is a member of the Americans Elect Corporation board of directors, comprising the pivotal vote cementing Ackerman’s apparent 5-4 majority control of that board.
2. Tom Sansonetti (Co-Chair, Rules Committee; member, Board of Advisors)
What Americans Elect Tells You About Him: Partner, Holland & Hart; former General Counsel, Republican National Committee
The Rest of the Story:
Sansonetti is a lobbyist with the Washington lobbying firm of Holland & Hart, where he leads its Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Practice Group, “help[ing] clients permit and develop projects with potential obstacles....before a lawsuit can threaten a project”. OpenSecrets.org records Sansonetti’s major lobbying activities as representing the mining, oil and gas, chemical, casino, and other industries, earning a combined $53 million (the bulk of this from the mining industry alone). Sansonetti’s major clients include Peabody Energy (coal mining), El Paso Corporation (natural gas pipelines and production), Newmont Mining (gold mining), Royal Dutch Shell (oil and gas production), Arch Coal (coal mining), Rio Tinto Group (mining), and Harrah’s Entertainment (casinos), The National Mining Association, and the Fair Access To Energy Coalition.
In his lobbying efforts for the Fair Access To Energy Coalition (described as “a coalition of energy companies wanting to ensure ‘reasonable’ terms for transporting energy across tribal lands”), Mr. Sansonetti was quoted in 2006: “Should any Indian tribe — no matter how rich or poor — simply get to be the troll under the bridge and charge whatever they want and be a choke point that prevents the delivery of energy to American citizens?” in reply to the Attorney General of the Navajo Nation’s statement in a court filing that “Indian reservations were established for the benefit of the Indians, not the energy companies.”
3. Michael and Kellen Arno (Ballot Access Advisor and National Field Director, respectively; members, Board of Advisors)
What Americans Elect Tells You About Them: (Michael:) Arno Political Consultants; (Kellen:) Nothing.
The Rest of the Story:
Michael Arno founded Arno Political Consultants (APC) in 1979, and shares it with Kellen to this day. APC’s once extensive web site was replaced with an ‘Under Construction’ sign in the latter half of 2011 and remains down to this day. We take this to imply that APC is, for the time being, in all but name now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Americans Elect Corporation.
Despite APC’s current ‘dark’ status on the web we can still let them speak for themselves via the magic of archive.org’s Internet Archive Wayback Machine (which regularly stores snapshots of millions of web sites throughout time). The Wayback Machine’s last scan of the pre-takedown APC web site reveals these intriguing snippets:
“Our clients include world leaders, Fortune 500 corporations and elected officials at every level of government, thanks to our ‘can't miss’ reputation for signature gathering and inventive grassroots organizing.” [Our translation: If you’ve got the money, APC is your Go-To Team for delivering the rubes.]
“Our experienced grass roots team is able to collect unique and original letters on a face-to-face basis by assisting the letter writer in putting their own thoughts on paper.” [Our translation: If you’ve got the money, APC puts your words in the rubes’ mouths.]
“APC has been instrumental in building from scratch special interest organizations to add additional leverage to our client’s views and needs.” [Our translation: ...Oh heck, you don’t need our translation. You already see what’s going on here....]
“APC has a proven track record recruiting people to attend public meetings and either speak on our client’s behalf or just show support in numbers. APC also can bring props to a meeting or public event.” [‘Props’...like, you know, the rubes.]
To be fair, it must be said that the unsavory implications of the Arnos’ own words are only that – implications. Maybe we’ve got this all wrong. Maybe APC has been fighting the good fight for the past 33 years, struggling from within the belly of the beast to put an end to ‘politics as usual’. And maybe Santa will bring you a new bicycle for Christmas.
StopBallotFraud.org says of Arno Political Consultants, “Despite their impressive client list and years of experience, Arno is also known for something else: illegalities in their signature gathering practices.... Fraud allegations from attorneys general and boards of elections in five states that Arno has racked up since we began tracking signature fraud in 2004:
· hiring circulators who lied to the public;
· hiring circulators who are convicted felons;
· hiring circulators using false addresses;
· submitting fraudulent petitions;
· submitting petitions with signatures from the dead;
· illegally registering college students as Republicans;
· training circulators in "bait-and-switch" tactics;
· hosting a ‘fraud party' where circulators were taught to forge signatures onto petitions;
· circulating petitions that were different from the initiative submitted to the Secretary of state;
· violating a state's law that prohibits paying circulators by the number of signatures they collect.”
Americans Elect’s 2010 IRS Form 990 filing (the most recent available) reports that the corporation paid Arno Political Consultants $731,586 that year and collected 175,132 signatures on ballot access petitions ($4.18 per signature). At the time of writing of this article (4/6/12), the corporation claimed on its web site it had secured 2,504,357 signatures. At the pay rate calculated here, that would stuff a cool $10.5 million in the Arnos’ pockets. No one can say that Peter Ackerman doesn’t take care of his friends.
4. Will Marshall (Co-chairman, Platform of Questions Committee; member, Board of Advisors)
What Americans Elect Tells You About Him: President, Progressive Policy Institute
The Rest of the Story:
Americans Elect is nothing if not compulsive about demonstrating its non-partisan nature by placing both a Democratic and a Republican co-chair at the head of each of its committees, and Marshall puts the ‘D’ in Americans Elect’s Platform of Questions Committee (the fine folks whose self-answering questions we have recently reviewed). Astute readers may notice however that, strictly speaking, there really is no ‘d’ in ‘platform of questions committee.’
Marshall was a co-founder in 1985 of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which Howard Dean famously criticized as “the Republican wing of the Democratic Party,” and Kenneth Baer described in his book Reinventing Democrats as “an elite organization funded by elite corporate and private donors." According to John Nichols in The Progressive, the DLC accepted funding from Bank One, Citigroup, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Electric, Health Insurance Corporation, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Occidental Petroleum, and Raytheon
Regarding the DLC, Ralph Nader has said, “So right-wing is the DLC...that even opposing Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy...is considered ultra-liberal.”
The Institute for Policy Studies characterizes the now-shuttered DLC as a “corporation that for nearly three decades worked to push the Democratic Party to adopt more conservative domestic policies and remain supportive of hawkish Mideast policies.... DLC leaders were notorious for their support for the war in Iraq and other core aspects of the George W. Bush administration's ‘war on terror’.... Regarding foreign policy, the DLC attempted to resurrect the hardline anticommunism of Sen. Henry 'Scoop' Jackson but rejected the New Deal politics that Jackson and other traditional 'New Deal liberals' embraced. In the late 1980s, DLC Democrats supported aid to the Contras, applauded Reagan's ‘Evil Empire’ rhetoric, and offered their support to those militarists calling for missile defense and rejecting arms control negotiations.”
Also according to the Institute for Policy Studies, “On February 25, 2003, Marshall joined an array of neoconservatives marshaled by the Social Democrats/USA (SD/USA)—a wellspring of neoconservative strategy—to sign a letter to Bush calling for the invasion of Iraq.”
Today Marshall serves as president of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a ‘think-tank’ organized by Marshall within the old Democratic Leadership Council. Charity Navigator gives PPI its lowest possible score, zero out of 70, and zero stars, for its financial operations, and a hardly better 2 out of 70 and zero stars rating for accountability and transparency, based largely on “material diversion of assets,” lack of audited financials prepared by an independent accountant, and lack of publicly available governance and financial information. Administrative and fundraising expenses at PPI comprised over 80% of its total 2010 expenses (leaving less than 20% for its actual program activities – an unusually low program expenditure for a non-profit), and Marshall’s salary alone constituted almost 20% of PPI’s total 2010 expenditures.
5. William H. Webster (Co-Chairman, Candidate Certification Committee; member, Board of Advisors)
What Americans Elect Tells You About Him: Former director, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency; Chairman, Homeland Security Advisory Council; Retired Partner, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
The Rest of the Story:
Following a first career in government service (where he was the only American ever to head both the FBI and the CIA), Webster has since pursued a diverse, powerful and apparently lucrative career in industry.
Webster has presided over the fortunes of NextWave Wireless (originally NextWave Telecom) as a member of its Board of Directors since its founding in 1996. NextWave made business (and later legal) headlines in the ‘90s by outbidding other ‘small businesses’ with a winning $4.7 billion bid for a huge chunk of nationwide wireless spectrum at government auction. After making a 10% down payment on its bid NextWave filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and suspended further installment payments to the FCC. Over the next five years it prevailed against government efforts to cancel its license, through a series of court cases ultimately leading to the Supreme Court.
In his dissenting opinion to the 2003 Supreme Court judgment in favor of NextWave, Justice Breyer summarized the facts of the case: “NextWave bought broadcasting licenses from the FCC for just under $5 billion. It promised to pay the money under an installment plan....NextWave never made its installment payments. It entered bankruptcy.” Breyer further stated, “Every car salesman...every appliance company can threaten repossession of its product if a buyer does not pay.... Why should the government, and the government alone, find it impossible to repossess a product...when the buyer fails to make installment payments?”
But impossible it proved to be (on what some judge a technicality). Some years later, after paying lobbyists $3.8 million to defend its interests in Washington, the company sold those same spectrum licenses to Verizon, Cingular, and MetroPCS, emerging from bankruptcy as the re-named NextWave Wireless with over half a billion dollars in the bank. And in July of last year the company was reported to be on the verge of bankruptcy yet again.
Webster puts his past CIA leadership to good use by also serving as Chairman of the Board of Advisors of Diligence LLC, the ‘Spies R Us’ to the worlds of finance and industry. Diligence is a private ‘business intelligence’ firm founded in 2000 by past members of the CIA and Britain’s MI-5 intelligence agency. In its own words:
“Diligence works with a number of the World’s leading Private Banks and are able to use their discreet, intelligence gathering credentials to full effect in this sector....
Focused on hedge fund decision-making and management, private equity investment, distressed debt purchases and commodities trading, Diligence is committed to making its clients the best-informed investors in the world. Diligence staff members pioneered the development of proprietary intelligence collection methodologies designed exclusively to support investment decision-making”
Diligence profited handsomely from the war in Iraq (which the reader may recall was launched partly on the strength of faulty CIA intelligence). According to SourceWatch.org, “Diligence first set up in Baghdad in July 2003. They started by providing payroll protection and delivery, personnel and facilities security, due diligence on potential Iraqi business ventures, training and management of personal security forces, and intelligence briefs...” in partnership with “the Al-Mal Investment Company, a Kuwaiti company chaired by Mohammed Al-Sagar, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Kuwaiti parliament. The new partnership provides clients with a range of services through out the Middle East and especially in Iraq."
An equal opportunity spook, Webster also serves on the Board of Advisors of Diligence’s competitor in the private intelligence industry, Global Options, Inc., which SourceWatch has described as: “a multi-disciplinary, international, risk management and business intelligence company. The staff of professionals includes former intelligence and law enforcement officers, veterans of America's elite military units, and legal and crisis communications specialists [providing] a broad spectrum of unique services and innovative solutions to commercial, government, and individual clients ... assembled under a single umbrella to provide a comprehensive approach to solving difficult business and government problems."
In 1988, Webster partially prevailed in the Supreme Court case “William H. Webster, Director of Central Intelligence, Petitioner v. John Doe,” in which a CIA technician who was discharged for being a homosexual sought relief.
6. David M Walker (member, Board of Advisors)
What Americans Elect Tells You About Him: Former Comptroller General of the United States
The Rest of the Story:
David Walker is in the unique position of being both an Americans Elect Corporation insider (a member of its Board of Advisors) and a candidate in AECorp’s Presidential nomination primary. Although his candidacy is as yet still undeclared (he is currently a ‘draft’ candidate in the AECorp derby), nonetheless his announcements of late seem designed to tantalize the media and potential followers regarding the possibility of a serious Walker run for President.
For example, at 8 AM on April 17th Politico published a statement from David Walker saying, in part, “I am not a candidate and don't expect to become one.” But by 10 PM that same day he had walked that back, tweeting: “I am not a candidate for public office but will seriously consider it if the Independent Draft Committee qualifies me for the AE ballot. DW”
The “Independent Draft Committee” Walker refers to in his peek-a-boo tweet, The Committee To Get Walker Running, was launched just days earlier by fellow Americans Elect Corporation insiders Nick Troiano (who nominally resigned as AE’s National Campus Director to lead this effort) and Solomon Kleinsmith. Given AECorp’s own recent (and potentially fraudulent?) efforts to uniquely lower the bar for a Walker candidacy, which we first chronicled two weeks ago, it seems reasonable to suspect that a good deal of behind-the-scenes effort is underway by Walker and others to set up his run for the nomination. So let’s meet the man.
In his 1990 Senate confirmation hearing statement for his appointment as a Social Security and Medicare trustee, David Walker spoke plainly and forthrightly, assuring the Senate panel “it is important the payment of Social Security benefits not be held hostage to the debt limit.”
But today Walker’s priorities appear to have shifted dramatically, leaving him not above raising the specter of a little Social Security hostage-taking himself. In a 2011 Connecticut Post article Walker wrote “if the federal government hits the debt ceiling ...dramatic and draconian actions will have to be taken .... it could even mean delaying payment of Social Security benefits.... Congress should increase the debt ceiling limit in exchange for...automatic spending cuts.” Walker did not propose any off-limits areas for his automatic spending cuts, which would thus, presumably, include cuts in Social Security benefits, in keeping with his repeated calls over the years to ‘cap’ (i.e. cut, but with plausible deniability) Social Security and Medicare expenditures.
Walker’s change of heart regarding the importance of fulfilling Social Security’s contract without political brinksmanship may perhaps have had something to do with his recent years on the payroll of Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has said of David Walker’s boss, “Peterson has never been shy about using his Wall Street wealth to try to cut Social Security and Medicare.” U.S. Politics Today describes Peterson as “one of the driving forces behind President George W. Bush's abortive 2005 effort to privatize Social Security.” The Nation said of Peterson and his enmity for safety nets, “Peter Peterson, a Republican financier who made a fortune doing corporate takeover deals at Wall Street's Blackstone Group, is the Daddy Warbucks of the ‘fiscal responsibility’ crusade.... Peterson's proposal would essentially dismantle the Social Security entitlement.” Walker himself took umbrage at this dissing of his patron, responding to The Nation, “In my view, our country is deeply fortunate that Pete Peterson is willing to dedicate a significant portion of his net worth to help keep America strong and the American dream alive for future generations.”
In 1998 Walker swore an oath of office to serve a 15-year term in the top job at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as the Comptroller General of the United States. According to the GAO, the Comptroller General’s unusually long 15-year term “...gives GAO a continuity of leadership and independence that is rare within government. Both elements help to allow GAO to consider long-range and cross-governmental issues.” But just nine years into his promised 15-year term Walker chose to jump ship, the only Comptroller General ever to resign for reasons other than ill health. Walker’s transition out of government service may perhaps have been one of the more remunerative ‘revolving door’ transaction of all time, as he left GAO to become the founding CEO of the billion-dollar Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
Thanks to an unusual accounting arrangement which Walker (a certified public accountant) presided over at the Peterson Foundation, we cannot know just how much money was waved under the Comptroller General’s nose to recruit Walker into billionaire Peterson’s private service. Ordinarily, tax-exempt organizations such as the Peterson Foundation must publicly report their executives’ pay levels on IRS Form 990, but in Walker’s case his Peterson Foundation CEO salary is stonewalled behind the uninformative note in its Form 990 “Compensation and benefits were paid to Mr. Walker by Peterson Management LLC, an entity funded by Peter G. Peterson.” Because Peterson Management LLC is not a non-profit (and thus is not required to file and publish Form 990), Walker thereby escaped the potential embarrassment of advertising the price of his new-found loyalties.
We may, however, speculate that Walker’s pay for services rendered to Peterson may be very handsome, indeed. As a Congressional Research Service report has noted, the position of Comptroller General of the U.S. enjoys an “unequaled retirement system...by comparison with other government officials and employees. It provides that a CG [Comptroller General] who retires after at least 10 years in office is entitled to receive an annuity for life equal to the pay the Comptroller General is receiving,” [emphasis added] plus annual cost-of-living increases. By resigning from GAO after 9 years and 3 months on the job – just 9 months short of his 10-year anniversary there – Walker walked away from this extraordinary full-salary-for-life deal from the government. We are tempted to suspect that CPA Walker cranked the numbers and determined that Peterson’s support would be even more remunerative to him over a lifetime.
Walker left the Peterson Foundation in 2011, but not before taking advantage of its vast resources to create his next job, as founder and CEO of the ComeBack America Initiative (CAI). Under Walker’s reign at the head of the Peterson Foundation through 2010, the Foundation showered over $3 million in grants to fund the creation of CAI...grants of Peterson money Walker essentially made from himself in his old job, to himself in his next job. It appears that since the day he left government service in February of 2008 to this day, Walker has not seen a sunrise under which he wasn’t bankrolled, directly or indirectly, by Wall Street billionaire Peterson.
As an accountant with a one-trick policy focus on deficits, Walker’s tenure at the Government Accountability Office was marked by his tireless crusade against unaffordable increases in government spending, but apparently his alarm over ever-rising Federal budgets did not extend to his own position: Walker’s budget requests during his years as head of the GAO yielded a steady growth in its budget from $358 million to $546 million over a decade – a 53% growth rate over a period in which inflation grew at little more than half that rate, and during which GAO’s workforce experienced zero net growth. Walker’s tenure at GAO was not without other issues, as well. In 2007, GAO’s workforce voted by a two-to-one margin to unionize, out of “concerns over the implementation and impact” of new personnel programs Walker initiated and administered, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.