No Labels, the dark money group working to give Americans a centrist, third-party alternative for president this year, has generated reams of news headlines and significant agita among Democratic Party operatives. Attracting support from young people is another story.
On Tuesday, the organization hosted a “college outreach” seminar on Zoom to “celebrate our successful volunteer efforts and work together to plan more outreach to America’s commonsense youth.” The handful of attendees who showed up did not appear to be in their collegiate years, but in fact significantly older, according to a recording of the call obtained by Rolling Stone.
“For those of you who don’t know, we are really, really looking to add young people to our platform of concerned citizens,” said Bobbi Schwartz, a volunteer on the call who was described as leading No Labels’ college outreach program. “We need those youth desperately. If any of you know any college students, or young people –- even if they’ve graduated from college, or are older than college age, or college age but not in college, we are still very, very interested in all of those.”
Stewart Owen, vice chair of the No Labels Party of Utah, joked that he might be “guilty of just not working on my grandkids enough.” Owen promised to “start working on all these youngsters and see if we can get a few of them in on these meetings and see some young faces here. That’s what we need, I think.”
At one point, Schwartz’s feed froze, and the meeting sat in awkward silence for almost three minutes before Heather Herrygers, an organizer for Michigan’s chapter of former presidential candidate Andew Yang’s Forward Party, interjected to restore order. “Tech is not my thing… and I don’t know how to send you my email address,” Schwartz remarked when she was finally able to rejoin the conversation.
No Labels has pledged to raise $70 million on a campaign to secure ballot access around the country for a potential 2024 “unity” ticket, which would give voters an ostensibly moderate alternative to President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Such a ticket would involve one Democratic candidate and one Republican, or potentially one Republican candidate and one independent. No one knows, because they haven’t actually said who they are considering.
Democrats worry this “unity” ticket could help tip the election to Trump. Part of these suspicions stem from the fact that No Labels has refused to disclose its donors (and even if the group helps field a 2024 unity ticket, it will never be legally required to disclose who funded its ballot access campaign). On the other hand, as evidenced by No Labels’ “college outreach” session, it’s not clear that the organization’s “common sense” movement is gaining real traction among prospective voters.
Apart from its 2024 ballot access campaign, No Labels has largely operated as a corporate influence machine in Washington. During the Biden administration, No Labels has successfully worked hand-in-hand with conservative Democratic lawmakers to block key progressive policy priorities and any items that would involve raising taxes on the wealthy.
In an emailed statement to Rolling Stone, No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy wrote that the group “is not attempting to organize voters other than to gain ballot access,” and that “a healthy proportion of the more than 1 million voters who have signed up to get us on the ballot are young or college-aged.” Clancy did not provide specific metrics, but he stated that the group has “successfully gathered signatures on campuses throughout the country.”
Critics of No Labels believe the organization isn’t really interested in winning the presidency, so much as amassing both a wealth of cash and gaining influence over the outcome of 2024 — and thus leverage over policy.
According to a recording of a “No Labels 101” meeting obtained by Politico in August, Clancy told attendees that in the event “the No Labels ticket were to win electoral votes but not enough to get to 270, it’s actually possible they can use that as a bargaining chip for one of the major party nominees.”
A November investigation by CNBC found that the majority of funds collected by No Labels in 2022 came from wealthy donors contributing upwards of six figures to the group. Approximately $17 million of the $21 million amassed that year came from less than 100 individual donors. One past donor to No Labels is conservative billionaire Harlan Crow, who gave more than $130,000 to the group between 2019-2021. Crow is currently a central figure in the ethics scandal swirling around Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Other known donors to the group include Wall Street and finance executives.
No Labels’ connections to prominent Republican figures, including its work with Trump donor Allan Keen and former Fox News attorney Dan Webb have raised alarm among left-leaning groups. It doesn’t help that No Labels has slid away from its earlier suggestion that it would rely on a “flip of a coin” to decide whether a Democrat or Republican would head its presidential ticket, with the organization instead recently hinting a Democrat may not be included at all.
No Labels has recoiled from efforts to shine a light on its internal workings, and its desire to field a presidential ticket without the scrutiny typically placed on political parties and candidates came to head this week.
On Thursday, No Labels held a press conference where the group announced it had submitted a formal complaint to the Justice Department accusing “a group of activists, operatives, and party officials,” of engaging in an “unlawful conspiracy to subvert Americans’ voting rights, intimidate potential candidates and shut down the organization’s effort to secure ballot access for the 2024 presidential election.”
The complaint largely centers around efforts by a coalition of Democratic and left-leaning organizations to dissuade voters, donors, and potential candidates from supporting No Labels; the groups argue No Labels’ work amounts to a cash grab that will benefit Trump in the general election.
“We are exercising our constitutional rights and civil rights through this effort, the same as a nonpartisan voter registration drive. No one has the right to stop a nonpartisan voter registration drive, no matter how worried they may be that it will impact their preferred election outcome,” Clancy told Rolling Stone.
“It doesn’t bode well for No Labels’ national campaign effort that they can’t tell the difference between political campaigning and mafia tactics,” said Pat Dennis, president of the Democratic research organization American Bridge 21st Century, said in a statement responding to the No Labels complaint. “They have a weak chin if they think this is too much scrutiny for a national campaign.”
In a separate statement to Rolling Stone, Dennis added that No Labels’ “inability to appeal to a broad coalition of voters signals their doom before even a single vote is cast in the general election.”
“Whether it’s No Labels strategizing to use electoral votes as ‘bargaining chips’ because they know they can’t win the election, or kicking a Democrat off their sham unity ticket, every day it becomes more clear that they are a completely unserious organization whose only objective is to make a quick buck and help re-elect Donald Trump,” he added.
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