Members of No Labels rally against extreme partisanship on the West Lawn of the Capitol in July.
Congressional job approval is at an all-time low, and there’s no shortage of anger aimed at the Beltway. There’s also no shortage of people looking to take advantage of the unpopularity of both Republicans and Democrats.
On the surface, Americans Elect, No Labels and Ruck.us might look like similar groups, complaining about hyper-partisanship and gridlock while trying to dislodge the two-party system. But a closer examination reveals that each group is prescribing its own cure for the country’s problems.
“These organizations are all distinct with unique missions,” said veteran media consultant Mark McKinnon, a Ruck.us advisory board member and No Labels co-founder. “What they have in common is a belief that the current system has become so highly polarized it has paralyzed our ability to function and, therefore, voters are looking for alternative ways in which they can have an impact and a voice.”
No Labels made a splash last winter with a New York City launch that included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican and oft-mentioned potential third-party candidate for president. No Labels isn’t trying to become a third party but instead aims to force the two parties to work better together.
“For better or for worse, our basic structure dictates a two-party system,” said Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, veteran Democratic adviser and another of No Labels’ 30 co-founders. According to Galston, their group is trying to “re-create a two-party system that functions in the national interest” by fostering a “nationwide citizen movement to try and provide concrete incentives to search harder for common ground.”
The plan is to organize No Labels chapters (groups of Republicans, Democrats and independents) in all 435 Congressional districts by the end of the year and have a “presence on the ground” that politicians can’t ignore. In addition, Galston said No Labels may also get involved in primaries next year in order to support candidates who align with its philosophy of cooperation.
No Labels, which is a nonprofit 501(c)(4), also tries to affect the national conversation with regular news releases and even made a small cable television ad buy in the Washington, D.C., market earlier this month. Although the group doesn’t espouse a specific ideology, its push toward compromise and “practical solutions” promotes a centrist philosophy.
No Labels co-founders are a collection of public and private sector leaders including former Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.), Al Wynn (D-Md.) and Nick Lampson (D-Texas), but veteran Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson is regarded as the one with the initial idea. The group is not required to disclose its contributors and declined to do so for this article.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.