Where Are They Now?

In last year’s March issue of the Prospect, I profiled Americans Elect—an extravagantly funded but terminally confused organization that sought to create a centrist third party in American politics by funding signature-gathering operations in every state to qualify a presidential candidate for the ballot and creating an online primary in which people who affiliated the party could choose its nominee. As no major, or even prominent minor, political figures chose to throw their hats into Americans Elect’s ring, however, the effort was aborted—but not before the organization had raised roughly $40 million, chiefly from donors it declined to identify. (Like many super PACs, the group claimed a 501c4 “social welfare organization” status, which enables it to conceal its funders’ identities.) An online list of the organization’s “Leadership,” however, revealed that many of its leaders were, like the group’s founder, Peter Ackerman, hedge fund managers or other varieties of Wall Street rich guys. And in interviewing a number of the group’s leaders, including its president, Kahlil Byrd, I repeatedly encountered a Wall-Street-establishment diagnosis and prescription for what ails America: Not enough bipartisanship, not enough fiscal rectitude, and support for social liberalism and economic conservatism of the Simpson-Bowles variety.

All this was mercifully receding into the mists of memory when a press release popped up in my inbox last Friday announcing that Byrd and Americans Elect field director Kellen Arno had resurfaced as, respectively, the president and vice-president of membership for Students First, the “education reform” organization of former Washington D.C. schools chancellor and teacher-union-buster Michelle Rhee (who is the subject, coincidentally, of a PBS Frontline documentary to be aired tomorrow, which raises questions about the validity of the rising test scores in D.C. schools that Rhee claimed to have remade). In what is still a tight economy, it’s good to see that even the most dubious organizations of the center-right have a place for such eager apparatchiks as Byrd.

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