No Labels Appears to Be Losing Board Members

Two more board members, with No Labels since 2009 and 2011, have been dropped from its roster as the dark money group readies a third-party presidential ticket.

No Labels Appears to Be Losing Board Members
Mark Penn at the No Labels 2017 Problem Solvers Conference in Washington, D.C.

Since it kicked off its work to secure a ballot line in all 50 states for a third-party presidential ticket, No Labels has lost three board members—one who broke publicly with the group over its plans, and two who were quietly removed from the group’s website.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow William A. Galston broke ties with No Labels in April, warning that a No Labels ticket would operate as a spoiler for President Biden’s re-election campaign and benefit Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine democracy. Galston, a Democrat, wrote soon after in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “if a No Labels ticket receives even a tiny share of the vote in key states, Mr. Trump could end up back in the Oval Office.” Galston had been a board member since 2016 of No Labels’ 501(c)3 arm, previously called the No Labels Foundation and then The New Center, according to its tax returns. 

Two other individuals were recently removed by No Labels from its legal board webpage: campaign finance lawyer Kenneth A. Gross, a senior political law counsel at lobbying firm Akin Gump; and Margie Fox, a partner at marketing agency Marine Lane. Neither responded to requests for comment. 

Ken Gross, who wrote a prominent handbook for companies on the laws pertaining to entertaining public officials and politicians, had been on the No Labels board since 2011. The law firm where he works, Akin Gump, has been one of the largest lobbying firms in D.C. in recent years, according to OpenSecrets, reporting more than $53.2 million in income in 2022 from clients like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, big business group the Business Roundtable, PhRMA, and others. 

Fox had been on the No Labels board for even longer, named on the group’s initial tax return covering the end of 2009 and the first half of 2010. Her former marketing clients included RCA, T-Mobile, and World Financial Center owners Brookfield Properties, according to industry press releases. Marine Lane did the branding and web design for No Labels, according to the agency’s site. Its other clients include American Express, BMW, Comcast, utilities ComEd and Exelon, and ad company Ogilvy, as well as The New Center.

No Labels did not respond to inquiries about its board members as it readies a third-party push or the reasons why Gross and Fox’s names were dropped. The webpage for No Labels’ board has been in flux this year, with Gross no longer listed as of early April and Fox no longer listed as of the following month, according to versions saved with the Internet Archive. The board page itself was taken offline in recent months, before being restored with a pared-down roster, and the corporate affiliations of the board members were removed after a Sludge report detailing the assets and roles of the directors. Lobbying firm Akin Gump and Marine Lane did not respond to questions about Gross and Fox’s roles at No Labels.

Among the six remaining members of the No Labels board is Charlie Black, longtime Republican lobbyist who co-founded the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly in 1980 with later Trump allies Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, and is now founding chairman of lobbying firm Prime Policy Group. Founder Nancy Jacobson has held a board seat and has been acting president, president, or CEO every year since 2010.

No Labels is holding an event on July 17 in New Hampshire that will be headlined by honorary co-chair Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican and former honorary co-chair. Both men have been suggested by pundits as possible No Labels presidential candidates, though the group has not formally announced its potential unity ticket ahead of an April convention in Dallas.

The group has already secured a ballot line in Arizona, Alaska, Colorado and Oregon. While No Labels does not release information about its funding sources, internal documents seen by The Daily Beast in 2018 showed its “reoccuring donors” included Republican megadonors like Trump supporter John Catsimatidis and hedge fund founder Nelson Peltz. The group’s ally Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), a heavily corporate-funded conservative Democrat who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan U.S. House group founded by No Labels, has expressed his opposition to the No Labels third-party plan, as have other centrist House Democrats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger (Va).

The vast majority of No Labels’ funding remains opaque: the c4 arm has received nearly $58.8 million in total revenue from 2010 through 2021, according to a tally of available tax returns. However, fractions of its donations from business trade associations can be found in tax documents. The group received a total of $40,000 in 2017 and 2018 from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), and a total of $50,000 in 2018 and 2019 from American Property Casualty Insurance Corporation, the trade association for home, auto, and business insurers.

A Nonprofit Arm Gone Dark

In a sign that its operations may have been quietly shuttered, No Labels’ 501(c)3 arm The New Center has not updated its blog or Twitter account since Nov. 29, 2022, and at least two of its former staff members say they ended their employment there last year. Policy analyst Peyton Lofton, a former chapter president of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA, has moved over to No Labels. Policy analyst Lilah Connell lists a new position on her LinkedIn profile, having left The New Center in December 2022. The New Center did not respond to inquiries on its status or its current board members.

The 501(c)3 arm was established in 2013 under the name the Across the Aisle Foundation, with the IRS letter of determination of its tax-exempt status addressed to Nancy Jacobson and Ezra W. Reese, then with law firm Perkins Coie LLP. Jacobson was the c3 organization’s president until 2017, when spouse Mark Penn, the founder of private equity fund The Stagwell Group, took over the role. From 2013 through 2016, the group filed its tax return under the name No Labels Foundation, adopting the name The New Center in 2017. Penn, a pundit and pollster whose portfolio company HarrisX has recently been paid for polling by No Labels, regularly promoted the group in media appearances. Though Penn recently claimed to have “no role” in No Labels or the presidential ticket effort, in February he attended a No Labels strategy session in Florida with Manchin, honorary co-chair Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), centrist ally Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), as well as national co-chair former Sen. Joe Lieberman and Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.

The New Center received nearly $10.6 million in total revenue from 2013 through 2021, according to its tax returns. Only glimpses of its donors are available in tax records: for example, the organization received $125,000 in 2016 from the Consumer Technology Association, whose members have included Amazon, AT&T, Google, Humana, Nvidia, Verizon, Walmart, and others. 

In 2021, Ambassador Stuart Holliday, a former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and CEO of the diplomacy center Meridian International Center, dropped off The New Center’s board, having joined in 2017. That same year, a new board member joined, according to its most recent tax return: Ambassador David A. Gross, a partner at D.C. law firm Wiley Rein LLP, and co-chair of the firm’s Telecom, Media & Technology practice. Gross worked on the 2000 Republican presidential campaign as national executive director of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney, whose members included future Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh, among other conservative legal luminaries.

A longtime telecommunications expert, David Gross registered with Wiley Rein in 2019 to lobby for mobile industry client GSM Association, contacting the Department of Commerce, his former employer the Department of State, and the White House on “Foreign supply chain issues; 5G development and deployment.” In 2021, when Gross joined The New Center’s board, Wiley Rein’s lobbying clients included numerous telecom industry groups, ranging from cellular companies AT&T and Verizon to Comcast and wireless trade group CTIA.

Amb. David Gross and Wiley Rein LLP did not respond to inquiries about his decision to join The New Center’s board or whether he was still involved with No Labels. 

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