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The mysteriously funded, highly organized Americans Elect is now one step closer to its goal of getting on the ballot in all 50 states, purportedly to run an independent candidate for president.

The group has ties to President Obama and top Democrats, as WND documented.

On Friday, Americans Elect, or AE, was notified it was approved for the ballot in Oklahoma for the 2012 presidential election after filing nearly 90,000 signatures of Oklahoma voters one month earlier.

Oklahoma became the 21st state in which AE has been approved for ballot access, joining Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, Utah, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawaii and California.

“Americans Elect’s national online primary levels the playing field for both candidates and voters, and uses technology to reimagine the way Americans elect our leaders,” said Elliot Ackerman, COO of Americans Elect.

“We hope voters in Oklahoma and around the country will rally behind the idea that if we can change the way we elect our leaders, we can change the way they govern,” he said.

Currently, according to its own online polling, the leading declared candidate to get on AE’s ballot is former Louisiana Gov. Charles “Buddy” Roemer, who previously sought the GOP nomination.

The leading “draft” candidate – a politician whose name was submitted by online users – is Ron Paul, according to AE’s website.

Is this how an Obama win will be guaranteed?

Americans Elect, or AE, seems designed to appear like a massive, grassroots effort involving millions of citizens acting to draft a third-party candidate.

However, the organization’s voting process has been called into question. There are concerns AE’s bylaws may allow its own board members to bypass votes and nominate their own candidate.

AE describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit organization founded by Americans from across the political spectrum who are worried that our nation’s deep political divisions keep big problems from being solved.”

AE plans to hold its own nominating convention on the Internet this June to select an independent presidential and vice-presidential candidate. The group says any registered voter can sign up to participate in the June convention.

To get on state ballots, AE has been demonstrating mass-organizing skills. The group says it collected more than 2 million signatures nationwide in its effort to get on state ballots.

WND found that two AE board members, Kellen Arno and Michael Arno, were paid by the group to help run the massive signature-gathering drive through their firm, Arno Political Consultants.

The Arnos’ firm, APC, reportedly has been accused of forging signatures and collecting signatures using fraud.

In 2004, APC was accused of forging signatures on a petition to legalize slot machines in Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

The next year, Boston’s Fox television affiliate, WFXT, ran a feature interviewing paid signature collectors hired by APC through subcontractors. The interviewees said they were trained on how to trick people into signing a petition using fraud, including by switching the petition text after each signature was collected.

In 2007, APC reportedly hired JSM Inc., which in turn hired independent contractors who gave snacks and food to homeless people in exchange for signing petitions and registering to vote.

Then in 2009, APC gathered signatures to put the Ohio Casino Initiative on the Nov. 3, 2009, ballot, but a subsequent review reportedly found the overall validity of the signatures were certified at just under 51 percent.

AE, meanwhile, reportedly was originally associated with another group that sought an independent candidate. The organization, calling itself Unity08, eventually suspended operations citing organizing and fundraising issues.

Unity08 said it did not back any particular candidate, but two of its founders launched their own national effort to draft New York City Mayor Bloomberg to run for president

The Irregular Times documented how AE and Unity 08 shared the same Washington, D.C., address. Previously, Unity08 shared its address with the Draft Bloomberg Committee.

Irregular Times also found that the founders of Unity08 “registered the domain name draftmichaelbloomberg.com in 2007 at a time when Unity08 was insisting that it had no candidates in mind.”

Mysterious funding

AE’s funding has been called into question.

In late 2010, AE changed its tax status from a tax-exempt group to what is known as a 501(c)(4), or social-welfare organization, which is not required to show its donor list.

Capital Weekly reported that prior to the change, in the second and third quarters of 2010, AE’s more than $1.5 million in funding came from one person – venture capitalist, Unity08 activist and Obama donor, Peter Ackerman.

Ackerman reportedly gave AE a total of at least $5 million in seed money. Many of AE’s other donors are unknown.

AE officials have defended their secretive donor collection practices.

“We have to be able to raise significant amounts of money to be able to take on the status quo,” Kahlil Byrd, AE’s chief executive officer, told Mother Jones last November.

Byrd said that if his group were compelled to disclose its donors, there would be “a chilling effect … on people’s willingness to participate in this process.”

Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, two campaign finance watchdogs, requested in September that the IRS investigate the charge that Americans Elect may be violating nonprofit status by function like a political party.

Voting issues

Finances are not the only source of controversy.

Mother Jones reported that AE’s Internet voting system has been called into question.

Pamela Smith, president of VerifiedVoting.org, a voters’ advocacy group, argued AE’s Internet voting is insecure and difficult to audit.

“If you allow it to be used in public elections without assurance that the results are verifiably accurate, that is an extraordinary and unnecessary risk to democracy,” she said.

Regardless of the results, there reportedly are concerns that current guidelines allow AE brass to anoint their own candidate.

Salon.com reporter Justin Elliott noted candidates chosen by voters must be approved by a Candidate Certification Committee, which according to the group’s bylaws consist of AE’s board members.

The committee, according to the bylaws obtained by Salon, will need to certify a “balanced ticket obligation” consisting of candidates who are “responsive to the vast majority of citizens while remaining independent of special interests and the partisan interests of either major political party.”

In response, AE official Darry Sragow told Salon’s Elliot that his group’s guidelines are subject to change.

Sragow went on to defend AE’s board, even likening them to the Founding Fathers.

“While we don’t mean to put the board in the company of the Founding Fathers, we’d point out that nobody picked the Founding Fathers, either,” Sragow stated.

“They took it upon themselves to turn a popular dream into a shared reality. And they, too, had debates over how much control should be centralized. They knew that too much power in the hands of too few isn’t real democracy, but that power too diffuse is anarchy.”

Obama backers

WND reviewed AE’s board, finding ties to Obama while some Republicans also were on the committee.

Besides Ackerman, an Obama donor who gave money to help start AE, the advisory board includes Lawrence Lessig, an Obama technology adviser.

Lessig has been mentioned as a future candidate to head the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. He is an activist for reduced legal restrictions on copyright material and advised Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

AE’s CEO, Kahlil Byrd, has drawn scrutiny from conservatives because he formerly served as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s communications director. Patrick’s chief strategist was top Obama strategist David Axelrod.

AE board member W. Bowman Cutter is senior adviser to the Podesta Group lobbying and public relations firm, founded by John Podesta, who directed Obama’s transition into the White House in 2008.

Podesta is director of the Center for American Progress, which is reportedly highly influential in helping to craft White House policy.

A Time magazine article profiled the influence of Podesta’s Center for American Progress in the formation of the Obama administration, stating that “not since the Heritage Foundation helped guide Ronald Reagan’s transition in 1981 has a single outside group held so much sway.”

Meanwhile, AE’s board also includes former John McCain aide Mark McKinnon, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institute and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

AE also has ties to Hillary Clinton supporters.

Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a prominent Hillary Clinton backer, is on the board, as is Douglas Schoen, a former pollster and adviser to Bill Clinton.

Schoen was recently in the news after he teamed up with former Jimmy Carter aide Patrick Caddell to publish an editorial in the Wall Street Journal last month titled “The Hillary Moment,” in which they called for Clinton to throw her hat in the ring for the presidency.

The two wrote another piece at Politico.com calling for Democrat voters nationally – particularly in New Hampshire – to organize a write-in campaign for Clinton.

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