The idea of a centrist, third-party candidate for 2024 is an appealing one. But the reality might not live up to the ideal.
The lobbying group No Labels — which markets itself as bipartisan — is pursuing ballot access in as many states as possible to run a “Unity” ticket for the 2024 presidential election, with at least $70 million at its disposal for the effort. According to its website: “Since 2009, No Labels has worked tirelessly to give a voice to America’s commonsense majority. We’ve made a notable impact in Congress by creating the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and connecting them with an allied Senate group through regular bicameral meetings.”
No Labels has yet to declare who would run on that ticket, but possible candidates include Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), former Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and our own Sen. Joe Manchin. Essentially, all right-leaning, corporate politicians.
Which makes sense. As much as No Labels’ website proclaims its pseudo-party is a place for centrists who can stand neither the current Republican nor Democratic parties, its history as a lobbying group and the actions of its political arms reveal No Labels’ true interests: pro-big business, corporate welfare and anti-regulation. As one legal expert told NPR, No Labels is “the epitome of a dark money group.”
Here’s the other problem with No Labels: It’s trying to have it both ways by insisting it’s a nonprofit corporation, even as it tries to act as a political party. A political party must disclose its donors; a political nonprofit does not.
The Arizona Democratic Party is suing the secretary of state after No Labels got on the ballot as the No Labels Party. That ballot access comes with the assumption that the entity is a political party and must therefore follow all the same campaign finance rules as other established parties. The state’s Democratic Party argues that No Labels can’t be a recognized party on the ballot if it won’t follow disclosure rules.
Maine’s secretary of state sent No Labels a cease-and-desist letter over concerns its canvassers misled voters: Some signers thought they were signing a petition of support, when they were actually switching their party affiliation to the No Labels Party. (This would indicate No Labels is, in fact, a political party and not just a nonprofit.)
If it’s trying to run a presidential ticket aimed at moderates of both parties, we can certainly understand why No Labels would want to keep its donors secret.
The New Republic, a left-leaning but factually reliable publication, obtained documents showing Harlan Crow is one of No Labels’ biggest individual donors, and he has “steered” almost two dozen other donors to the group. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Crow is the benefactor of Clarence Thomas, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Supreme Court justice in the form of real estate purchases, tuition payments for family members and luxury vacations for Thomas and his wife. None of which Thomas disclosed.
The progressive More Perfect Union says it was able to trace donations to No Labels back to corporations Coca-Cola, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson and Pioneer Natural Resources; the Consumer Technology Association, whose 1,300-plus members include big businesses ranging from Amazon and Walmart to Humana; hedge-fund CEOs Stephen Schwarzman (Blackstone) and Louis Bacon (Moore Capital Management) and Trump-backer Nelson Peltz (Trian Partners), the latter two of whom also made generous donations to the Republican Party; and James Rupert Murdoch, son of Fox News’ Rupert Murdoch.
No Labels is right that a sizeable portion of the electorate is sick of both major political parties and would like to see politics move back toward the center. But No Labels isn’t the moderate party of the Average Joe it portrays itself to be.