Americans Elect Part IV: Paying Big Money for Signatures

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Arno Political Consultants

What’s a good scandal without a family dynasty?

In addition to being a political advisor to Republican presidential candidates, Michael Arno runs Arno Political Consultants, a signature gathering company. His company running the signature gathering operation for Americans Elect in numerous states, notably California and Oregon.

Kellen Arno works with Michael to run Arno Political Consultants. He was also hired as the Americans Election National Field Director. 

The Arno consulting company has a troubling history of accusations against it, including in Oregon.

From Stop Ballot Fraud:

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.

Peter Arno is the regional director of Americans Elect. Michael and Kellen Arno split their time between their Washington DC and California offices. And while Peter reportedly lives in Oregon, he is not an Oregon registered voter. 

According to a document obtained by Irregular Times, Americans Elect is paying Arno Political consultants $157,500 to gather 35,000 signatures in Oregon, and a whopping $10.1 million to gather signatures nationwide.

While that big money is paying for ballot access, it’s apparently not paying for honesty from Arno signature gatherers. There’s already a track record of circulators gathering signatures for Americans Elect and not exactly being forthright about what they’re trying to get people to sign.

California political blogger Sandi Behrns reported an encounter with a signature gatherer who told her the petition was to “insure that vote by mail & in-person voting remains available when online voting starts,” which isn’t true at all.

And in Fresno, California, Arno circulators got into trouble on the campus of Fresno City College, first by not requesting approval to set up shop on campus, and then by refusing to answer questions or giving misleading answers. From the FCC newspaper The Rampage:

Under their red tent, the petitioners asked students and faculty to sign to support Americans Elect’s cause, but were either unable or unwilling to explain what that was. Their explanation ranged from that they were trying to put a third party candidate on the ballot to that they were trying to support online voting. They would not answer additional questions.

Gerry Bill, retired professor of history, said the petitioners should not be on the FCC campus.  Bill said they “were gathering signatures under false pretenses. They were telling people that the petition was to put a measure for electronic voting on the California ballot. In reality, the petition made no mention of electronic voting.”

The petitioners had refused to answer questions from Rampage reporters about their actions. Gerry Bill said that the American Elect organization is known statewide for dubious activities.

The last time Arno Political Consultants was in Oregon (carrying petitions for multiple right-wing initiatives) they were found to be violating the state’s ban on payment per signature.

Alarmingly, because of a technicality in the rules governing signature gathering, Arno circulators will not be required to follow the same rules that initiative petition circulators have to follow. Arno can pay per signature, and there are few safeguards to prevent fraud and forgery on these petitions.

And Now They’re Back in Oregon

Perhaps you saw the KATU story singing Americans Elect’s praises? The featured signature gatherers are paid employees of Arno Political Consultants.

KATU writes: “Signature gatherers were outside the Central Library in downtown Portland Thursday. To earn a spot on Oregon’s ballot, Jinnie Joss and her Americans Elect colleagues need help from more than 21,000 registered voters… For frustrated voters like Joss, it’s a way to send a message that the two-party system isn’t working.”

Jinnie Joss, the “frustrated voter” in the KATU story, is actually not a registered voter, according to the Oregon state voter files. And her Americans Elect colleagues?

Irregular Times has the scoop:

We could look at Americans Elect’s own efforts to kick-start a “grassroots movement” in Oregon. Americans Elect has registered 94 Meetups across the country. To see them all, take the URL and plug in any number from 1 to 94. You’ll notice that for the huge majority of meetups, there’s only one “citizen” signed up as a member, and that “citizen” is the Americans Elect corporation. That’s not grassroots…

There is no meetup at all for Americans Elect in Portland, Oregon’s largest city. Meetups for Americans Elect have been registered in the smaller Oregon cities of Eugene and Ashland, but there are no actual residents of Eugene who have signed up, and only one resident of Ashland who’s signed up.”

Rather, they are paid signature gatherers, making $1 per signature – a practice that is actually illegal on initiative petitions in Oregon because of its inherent encouragement towards voter fraud. The Americans Elect team gets around the law on the mere technicality that Oregon never explicitly applied the law to "new political party creation."

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