If a prominent U.S. citizen mounts an independent bid for the presidency, that candidate will find an ally in Better for America, a new group working to secure a spot on the ballot this fall for an alternative to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
John Kingston, a GOP donor and Mitt Romney supporter in 2012, founded the group and is ramping up its efforts to build the infrastructure a dark horse candidate would need to succeed. While individual states' ballot-access deadlines for independents have begun passing and several more loom on the horizon, Kingston is confident his team will meet the requirements.
"It's a misunderstanding that we're missing the chance on many state ballots," Kingston said. "All the ones that are possible to get on the ballots for going forward, we'll get on those and then ... the ones we haven't gotten on the ballots for, we expect to get on the ballot through legal avenues."
The organization's late start — it formed in June — means it has some catching up to do. Deadlines for Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina have already passed, but Kingston said his group will file equal protection claims if it fails to get on the ballot.
But Kingston, who declined to be a GOP delegate in 2016, does not think he faces a disadvantage because of the timing.
"I'm a late convert to this," Kingston said. "In May, found a remarkable brigade, a very broad network of lawyers, ballot access professionals that were already functioning around the country, preparing the way to get on the ballots in all the states. If I hadn't found them, I wouldn't have done anything at all, but I found them."
In recent days, Better for America has brought in additional ballot-access experts and public affairs professionals as it prepares for November. But it has yet to find a candidate and Kingston said he believes his group can get on about half of the states' ballots without naming any candidate.
Kingston, who was an executive producer of the Netflix documentary "Mitt" about the 2012 GOP nominee, was mum about naming prospective candidates, but insisted "this will not be a deeply partisan play." He added that his effort wasn't simply part of the Never Trump movement, as he said he would tolerate a Democratic candidate who exemplified the leadership skills and characteristics of a candidate who unites people.
And Better for America will need to find more funding quickly, if it wants to play to win and not just make a point. Kingston said he made a 'seven-figure investment' into the project, but it could take millions more to secure a spot on ballots all across the country.
"For today, I define success as getting on all the ballots and we're looking to win," he said. "I think this American crisis is such that I think at the last possible moment, people are going to be sorting this for themselves and thinking, testing their own consciences and thinking am I the right person to address this?"
In the meantime, his team has also set its sights on laying the groundwork for someone other than Clinton and Trump to appear on the debate stage in the fall. Better for America joined a federal district court lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission to open up the presidential debates to more than two candidates.
"The current regulatory framework serves only the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties, helping these two parties maintain a duopoly over presidential debates," Better for America said in a statement. "It relies on polls that are biased against third party and independent candidates and are grossly inaccurate in predicting a three-way race. Non-partisans should have equal access to the debate stage. It is crucial to creating more choices for the American people not only in this election, but for those in the future."
Any third-party or independent bid for the presidency in 2016 remains a long-shot, but voters' dissatisfaction with both major party candidates provides an opportunity for a third challenger unlike any election in recent memory.