With Reference to Lessig's Status as a Member of the Board of Advisors of Americans Elect and His Activism on Behalf of the Americans Elect Candidacy of Buddy Roemer
Over the last few months, I've done a good bit of writing about Americans Elect.
Rick Hasen called my essay "The Shadow Super PAC of 'Centrism'" a "must-read...on the continued internal democracy deficit at Americans Elect, and the serial violation of a neutrality pledge by Americans Elect’s leadership."
I have enormous respect for your body of work — especially for your work on open culture and on the
issue of money in politics.
But I do have to ask you how, as a member of the
Board of Advisors of Americans Elect, you continue to square your activism on behalf of the Americans Elect candidacy of Buddy Roemer — most memorably, in your treatise "One Way Forward"; in your appearances on "Morning Joe" (videos here and here); in your tweets; and in your recent Atlantic pieces (here and, today, here) — with the Americans Elect corporation's explicit policy on neutrality.
According to Section 10.0 of the Rules (pdf link) of Americans Elect (emphasis mine):
Until the Americans Elect ticket has been selected by majority vote of participating Delegates in the Nominating Round of voting, Americans Elect shall be neutral with respect to all Candidates and shall not endorse, oppose, advance, or advocate any particular Candidate.
You've highlighted the fact that your position as a member of the Board of Advisors of Americans Elect is "noncompensated" — but this, it seems to me, misses the point.
Surely, the straightforward, commonsense reading is
that Rule 10 is a broad mandate — that the "Americans
Elect" of the phrase "Americans Elect shall be neutral" includes both
the organization as a whole (as reflected in official decisions of the Board of Directors and the Board's committees)
the statements and actions of individual directors, executive staff and advisors of Americans Elect, i.e., those who — whether paid or unpaid — are officially and publicly signified by Americans Elect as supporters and representatives the organization.
Of course, one could argue that, no, Rule 10 applies only to (1); that directors and officers are bound by Sections 4.12 and 6.1 of the Bylaws (pdf link); and that advisors can say whatever they want.
But this seems more than a little Clintonian, as well as being a clear violation of the spirit, if not necessarily the letter, of Rule 10 — not least, because it implies (and creates) a loophole through which the Americans Elect corporation and its individual directors and officers can, by not expressing themselves directly, abide by the letter of the neutrality policy stated in the corporation's Rules and Bylaws, even as they violate the spirit of the policy by allowing and enabling various Americans Elect advisors to function as surrogates for expressing either the type of candidate or the specific candidate that
they — i.e., the corporation, or specific directors or officers or, for that matter, seed funders — prefer.
To be clear: I have no way of knowing whether you
are speaking for anyone else at Americans Elect, in advocating for Buddy Roemer (and, of late — albeit
more softly — for David Walker).
Absent being shown any evidence to the contrary, I assume that you are speaking only for yourself.
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The truth is, Americans Elect seems never to have enforced its neutrality policy — and it certainly isn't
going to start enforcing it now, desperate as it is for a candidate.
But that doesn't make your own position as an Americans Elect advisor campaigning for a specific candidate any less ethically compromised.
If you or other Americans Elect advisors — or, for that matter, Americans Elect directors or executive staff members — wish to campaign for specific Americans Elect candidates, in the way that you have for Buddy Roemer (and David Walker), you are more than free to do so.
But if you are going to engage in this activity while the Americans Elect neutrality policy embodied in Rule 10 and in Bylaws 4.12 and 6.1 remains in place, you should step down from Americans Elect.
You can't have your cake and eat it too.
The other, and even more honest, option is for Americans Elect simply to go ahead and kill its neutrality policy — which, in any case, has been a farce all along.
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Although I'd be gratified by a personal response to this query, the most useful place for you to address it would be on your public blog.
You can find a more comprehensive and integrated presentation — a "one-stop shop," if you like — of my own thoughts on this and other issues related to Americans Elect, in "The Super Shadow PAC of 'Centrism,'" the essay I link above.
I look forward to your response.
UPDATE: Lessig's response and my follow-up is here.