Americans Elect: an inevitable $35 million failure.

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"Wait, so I'm going to have to mount my own campaign? Damn."

The founders of Americans Elect had a dream: A 50-state presidential campaign that would upend, smash, destroy the two-party system. Today, these founders admitted that it wouldn’t work. No presidential candidate had survived the first round of the online primary. At least $35 million had been spent on absolutely nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. We have three new tips for the next coalition of enlightened people who want to save American democracy.

1) Do not launch by telling the New York Times you’ve got “serious hedge fund” money.

2 ) Do not rent “swank offices a stone’s throw from the White House.” (Avoiding the serious hedge fund money could probably help with this.)

3 ) Don’t confuse the good intentions of Tom Friedman with an idea that makes sense.

Just how badly have they failed? To survive the primary, a candidate needed at least 10,000 supporters, 1,000 each from 10 states. Americans Elect claimed to have 420,000 or so such supporters. But Buddy Roemer, the former Louisiana governor turned Occupy sympathizer, had surged to the top of the pack with around 6,000 declared supporters—total.

When I reached him on Tuesday, Roemer was doing his clap-for-Tinkerbell best for Americans Elect. “They aren’t giving up,” he told me. “They will decide Thursday from what I’m told. They can’t get rid of me that easily, man!”

Sure, but what if they disappear? The Americans Elect die-off comes just over four years after the great Unity08 collapse. Both organizations promised red-blue bipartisan-détente tickets. Both offered the chance to be “founding delegates” from the comfort of your home. Peter Ackerman, a Unity08 veteran, attempted to correct the funding problems that plagued Unity08 by putting $8 million into Americans Elect. The results: ballot access in 26 states, a South by Southwest Interactive award, and bupkis.

Pointless secrecy: Our two dominant political parties are easy to hate, but we know certain things about them. We know their donors. We know their local leaders. If we spend the time, we can meet their local precinct captains and delegates. They’re awful, but at least they’re obvious.

Americans Elect wasn’t. They would tell you that they were well-funded—rich enough to support more than 140 staffers in the D.C. office. But they wouldn’t tell you where the non-Ackerman money came from to fund this 501(c)(4). In a December conference call, Americans Elect strategist Darry Sragow explained that donors had to stay secret or they wouldn’t be safe.* “In this country, we don’t use Molotov cocktails literally,” he said. “We use them figuratively.” The donors would reveal themselves after they won the election. Really, this was what he said. Jim Cook, a reporter for Irregular Times, signed up as an Americans Elect delegate early on and published item after item about how the group bent its own rules by keeping them obscure…

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