Political Party/527

Unite America

Website:

www.uniteamerica.org

Formation:

2018

Type:

Center-Left Voting “Reform” PAC

Unite America (UA) is a political organization based in Denver, Colorado that supports moderate-left candidates for elective office and advocates for changes in laws affecting the election process that UA claims will benefit centrist candidates but that are also supported by left-of-center and radical-left interests. Unite America is a “hybrid political action committee” that allows it to operate as both as a Super PAC allowed to make unlimited, independent expenditures to help candidate campaigns and also as a traditional PAC that makes direct contributions to candidate campaigns. [1]

Unite America claims to support centrist independent candidates and moderate candidates from either major political party. Unite America’s board of directors, as individuals, overwhelmingly contribute to Democrat Party candidates over Republican Party and independent candidates for federal office. Unite America’s twelve-member board of advisors is more evenly divided, with six members having supported Democratic Party candidates for federal offices, five supporting Republican candidates, and one member with no campaign donation records. [2]

Unite America advocates for fundamental changes to the country’s electoral process, such as changing America’s congressional redistricting process, adopting ranked choice voting, requiring open primary elections, and expanding vote-by-mail. [3]  Unite America makes substantial donations to left-of-center groups that support UA’s agenda, including Alaskans for Better Elections, Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering, and Ranked Choice Voting 2020 (in Massachusetts). [4]

Unite America is very closely affiliated with Unite America Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that shares UA’s objectives, moderately left-of-center orientation, executive director, and largest donor. [5]

Funding

Unite America reported $5,138,040 in contributions to its PAC in 2019, the majority of which ($3,807,000) was donated by a single individual: Unite America board member Kathryn Murdoch, co-founder of the liberal Quadrivium Foundation and wife of James Murdoch, whose father is conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. [6] Other contributors to Unite America include Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill and Ron Shaich, founder of chain restaurant companies Au Bon Pain and Panera Bread. Unite America spent $3,831,045 in 2019 and reported an available balance of $1,394,341. [7]

History

Unite America was founded in 2013[8] as ‘The Centrist Project’ by economics professor Charles Wheelan[9] after his unsuccessful 2009 campaign for a Democratic Party nomination to the U.S. Congress from Illinois. [10]

The original strategy of Unite America was elect independent candidates to public office and to build a political movement beneficial to electing candidates not affiliated with the Republican or Democratic parties. [11] [12] Unite America’s stated goal was for a small number of independent elected officials to become “swing votes” in state legislatures that are closely divided between Democratic and Republican members. [13] [14]

In 2018, Unite America PAC became involved in supporting independent candidate campaigns for state legislatures in Colorado, Washington, Maine, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, and Alaska. [15]  Unite America was especially active in Colorado, where it spent substantial resources assisting five independent candidates running for state legislative seats. [16]

Victory for several of the five Colorado independents would help Unite America PAC establish a precedent of independent legislators becoming swing voting blocs in state legislatures. Unite America was accused of multiple violations of Colorado election laws and criticized for supporting the Colorado candidates with donations from mostly out-of-state contributors. [17] [18] [19] Unite America disputed the accusations of election law violations, yet several of the complaints were deemed credible by the Colorado Secretary of State and referred to an administrative law judge. [20] [21] All five Unite America-backed Colorado candidates lost. [22]

After the 2018 elections, Unite America concluded that its strategy had largely failed. [23] Of the 431 independent candidates that appeared on ballots in 2018, only 14 were elected and only one won a three-way race. [24]

Activities

Unite America conducted research into the reasons for the general failure of the strategy of electing independent candidates in the 2018 election cycle. [25] That research led to a new strategy for Unite America and its affiliated Institute that focuses on advancing so-called “democracy reforms” such as ranked-choice voting, automating voter registration, changing state laws that determine the boundaries of political districts, and allowing any voter to participate in primary elections or replacing party primaries with non-partisan primaries. [26] [27]

Unite America supports its new strategy through funding mostly left-of-center “partners” engaged in changing election laws. [28] In 2019, Unite America contributed $600,000 to Alaskans for Better Elections, which collected sufficient petition signatures to put election law changes before the state legislature in 2020. These proposed changes would require additional campaign donation disclosure, require primaries to allow voters without declared party affiliation to participate, and establish “ranked choice voting.” [29]

Unite America also donated $500,000 in 2019 to Represent.Us, which seeks to restrict financial participation in the election process by many groups affected by government regulations and actions and to subsidize politicians’ campaigns with tax dollars. [30] [31] UA spent $250,000 on Pennsylvanians Against Gerrymandering, which hires lobbyists to alter laws that decide how political districts are established[32] and gave $250,000 to Unite Virginia to advance its agenda in that state. A further $250,000 was contributed to the Ranked Choice Voting 2020 Committee, $250,000 to People Not Politicians to change state laws that establish political district boundaries in Oklahoma, $200,000 to With Honor Action for advancing UA’s agenda through military veterans active in politics[33] and $50,000 to Defending Democracy Together, which is an organization ostensibly for Republicans and conservatives who want to liberalize immigration laws, promote free trade policies, and endorse left-of-center electoral administration policies. [34] [35]

People

Charles Wheelan

Charles Wheelan is an economics professor who founded Unite America in 2013 as ‘The Centrist Institute’. Wheelan is co-chair of Unite America and is also on the board of UA’s closely-affiliated Unite America Institute. [36]

Wheelan has authored several books promoting political centrism. In 2009, Wheelan unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party nomination to Illinois’ 5th congressional district. [37] [38]

Between 2003 and 2019, Wheelan contributed to ten different Democratic Party candidates for federal offices, including Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2003 and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in 2019. During that same period, Wheelan contributed to four different independent candidates for federal offices and to zero Republican Party candidates. [39]

Kathryn Murdoch

Kathryn Murdoch is a left-of-center political activist and donor to liberal causes who is on the boards of both the Unite America and the closely affiliated Unite America Institute. Murdoch is the largest donor to Unite America, having donated over $3.8 million in 2019. [40]  It is unknown how much Murdoch may have contributed to Unite America Institute, as 501(c)(3) organizations are not required to disclose their donors, but Murdoch has stated her support for raising $100 million to support Unite America’s 2020 objectives. [41]

Kathryn Murdoch is the daughter-in-law of Fox News co-founder and conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. She is co-founder and president of the Quadrivium Foundation and is married to James Murdoch, the former chairman of 21st Century Fox. Kathryn Murdoch has described herself as a “radical centrist”[42] motivated substantially by environmentalism. [43]

Despite Kathryn Murdoch’s declared centrism and membership on the board of Unite America, with its stated goal of promoting independent/centrist candidates for office, she has been a substantial donor to the Democratic Party and its candidates. Between 2016 and 2019, Kathryn Murdock donated to 26 different state Democratic Party organizations. [44] During that same period, Murdock also contributed to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, to the Democratic National Committee, and to multiple Democratic Party congressional candidates. She contributed to one Republican candidate in 2019. Murdoch contributed to the Republican Women for Progress PAC in 2018, which only supported Democratic Party candidates that year. [45]

Murdoch supported Pete Buttigieg’s (D) presidential campaign effort in 2019, but stated in January, 2020 that she was excited to support whichever Democratic Party presidential candidate emerged to oppose President Donald Trump. [46]

Shawn Riegsecker

Shawn Riegsecker is a co-chair of Unite America’s board and is the founder and CEO of an advertising company. [47] Between 2007 and 2014, Riegsecker contributed to seven different candidates for federal offices, including five Democratic Party candidates, two independent candidates, and no Republicans.  He made multiple contributions to Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and also donated to the Democratic National Committee Services Organization. [48] Riegsecker frequently tweets criticism of President Trump and other Republicans. [49]

Jeff Binder

Jeff Binder is a board member of Unite America[50] and an executive for a medical implant company. [51] Binder donated $50,000 to Unite America’s PAC in 2019. [52]

Katherine Gehl

Katherine Gehl is a board member of Unite America and former president and CEO of Gehl Foods. [53]

Between 2003 and 2018, Gehl contributed to 11 Democratic Party candidates for federal offices, including Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate and 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008. Gehl was also a fundraiser and a member of the National Finance Committee for the 2008 Obama campaign. [54] Gehl donated to one Republican candidate in 2003 and to two independent candidates. [55]

Gehl is a longstanding donor to the Democratic Party, having donated to the Democratic National Committee and to Democratic Party state organizations in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Florida. [56] Gehl has not donated to any Republican organizations. Gehl is co-author of a book scheduled for release in 2020 about ending “excessive partisanship.” [57]

Gehl donated $25,000 to Unite America’s PAC in 2019. [58]

Linda Killian

Linda Killian is a board member of Unite America,[59] an author, and a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. The Woodrow Wilson Center describes itself as “centrist” but 85% of its employees’ donations went to Democratic Party candidates between 2003 and 2010, according to a U.S. News & World Report analysis. [60]

Killian has authored several books about the impact of independent voters in elections. She has also authored columns in national publications that are harshly critical of President Donald Trump, writing in January 2019: “There are fresh affronts to democracy daily with Donald Trump in the White House…Trump’s disrespect for the rule of law and constitutional norms has hit a new high (or low). “[61]

In a February, 2017 column, Killian attributed white supremacist motivations to describe President Trump’s immigration policies, “The concept of Herrenvolk (master race) democracy is the idea of oppressing one or more racial groups while promoting the idea of equality among the white oppressors. For Trump, this involves Muslims and Mexicans who have become scapegoats for our national security threats and manufacturing job losses.” [62]

There is no record of Killian donating to federal elections candidates.

Marc Merrill

Marc Merrill is a board member of Unite America[63] and co-chair and co-founder of online gaming company, Riot Games. [64]

As co-chair of Riot Games, Merrill has faced high-profile allegations that the company engaged in rampant gender discrimination and sexual harassment against women. [65] The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing began an investigation enforcement suit in June of 2019 and alleged the company impeded the investigation and refused to provide information requested by the Department. [66] The company settled a class action gender discrimination lawsuit for $10 million in 2019. [67] Merrill distanced himself from reports and allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment, and a toxic work environment at the company through a Riot Games spokesperson, who told Business Insider that Merrill would recuse himself “from matters relating to the broad culture, diversity, and inclusion initiative.” [68]

Merrill donated $675,000 to Unite America between 2018 and 2019, including $125,000 to Unite America under a previous name, the Centrist Project Election Fund.  He has also contributed to two Democratic Party Candidates for federal offices, three independent candidates and to zero Republican candidates. [69]

Greg Orman

Greg Orman is a board member of Unite America and a business entrepreneur[70] who was an unsuccessful independent candidate for governor of Kansas in 2018 and also an unsuccessful independent candidate for US senate in Kansas in 2014. [71] Orman had also filed to run as a Democratic Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Kansas in 2008, but dropped out of the race. [72]

Orman’s 2014 campaign to represent Kansas in the US Senate was substantially funded by Democratic Party-aligned PACs (including the Senate Majority PAC run by aides to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)[73]) and by former New York City Mayor and unsuccessful 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. [74] [75]During the 2014 campaign, Orman expressed some political positions usually identified with the Republican Party and other positions usually identified with the Democratic Party. He also faced criticism for his business and personal relationships with Rajat Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs board member convicted in 2012 of insider trading who serving a prison sentence. [76]

In 2016, Orman released a book critical of partisanship in US politics and promoting strategies for independent voters and candidates to play a larger role in the political process. [77]

Between 2000 and 2018, Orman contributed 20 times to candidates running for federal offices. Sixteen of those donations were to Democratic Party candidates, including to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and to Al Franken’s US Senate campaign. One donation was to a Republican candidate in 2010 and three donations went to independent candidates. Orman also donated to the Kansas Democratic State Committee in 2009[78]

Lisa D. T. Rice

Lisa T. Rice is a board member of Unite America and a corporate and nonprofit public affairs representative. [79]

Neal Simon

Neal Simon is a board member of Unite America was a CEO of several wealth management and investment firms. He unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent candidate from Maryland in 2018. [80]

Between 2006 and 2019, Simon donated to seven different Democratic Party candidates for federal offices, including Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and also donated to a Democratic Party-affiliated PAC. He donated to three candidates running as Republicans, including to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Simon also donated to one independent candidate. [81]

Simon authored a book released in 2020 in which he proposes reforms he believes will improve the political process in the US, including limiting the terms of U.S. Senators, open primaries, changing the way boundaries of political districts are determined, “ranked choice voting”, and campaign contribution disclosure changes. [82]

Simon wrote a column in February of 2020 in which he described President Trump as a “political arsonist” and called for an independent ticket for president consisting of U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R – UT) and former New York City Mayor and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for president, Michael Bloomberg. [83]

Ron Shaich

Ron Shaich is a board member of Unite America and founder and chairman of the board of Panera Bread Company. [84] Shaich describes himself as leaning toward the Democratic Party[85] and, as of March 2020, had donated to four Democratic Party candidates for federal offices, one Republican candidate, and one independent. [86]

Shaich opposes the Trump presidency, having stated, “Trump is a human hand grenade to blow up a society that isn’t working for big swatches of America.” [87]  In February of 2020, Schaich tweeted his support of an opinion column calling on independents to unite with Democrats to prevent President Trump’s reelection. [88]

Shaich donated $180,000 to Unite America’s PAC between January, 2018 and December, 2019. [89]

Nick Troiano

Nick Troiano is the executive director of the Unite America and also the executive director of Unite America Institute. [90] [91] Troiano was an unsuccessful candidate for congress in 2014 when he ran as an independent candidate in Pennsylvania’s 10th district. [92]

In 2012, Troiano donated to an unsuccessful effort to recruit former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker to run as an independent candidate for president.  Troiano also donated to one independent candidate for federal office in 2015. [93] [94] In 2019, Troiano contributed to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s unsuccessful campaign. [95]

Tyler Fisher

Tyler Fisher is the deputy director of Unite America. He previously worked as a consultant for IBM, as a political consultant for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and as an intern for former U.S. Rep. Chris Collins (R- NY). [96]

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Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Ron Shaich
    Board Member and Major Donor
  2. Marc Merrill
    Board Member and Major Donor
  3. Kathryn Murdoch
    Co-chair of the Board, Major Donor

Child Organizations

  1. Unite Virginia (For-profit)
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