Americans for Job Security
Americans For Job Security (AJS) is a 501(c)(6) business league focused on promoting “free markets and pro-paycheck public policy.” AJS describes its primary focus as issue advocacy.
In practice this mission means producing harsh, negative advertising on targeted candidates nationwide. Published through television, radio, and press releases and commentary in news publications, the advertising focuses on blasting candidates for their “anti-business” votes, including those for Obamacare and raising the debt ceiling. In addition, according to the New York Times, “the group is largely a funnel for anonymous donations.”
A New York Times infographic details that “Though Americans for Job Security says it is not aligned with a political party, a close look shows that its connections and choice of campaigns resemble those of a Republican political operation.” For instance, AJS cofounder Michael Dubke also runs Crossroads Media and Black Rock Group, two groups AJS shares office space with. Both companies have consulted for high-profile Republican candidates and committees including John Boehner, Michelle Bachmann, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, as well as American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s PAC. Regarding the office arrangement, AJS’s president Stephen DeMaura argued, confusingly, “I work with them closely on a day-to-day basis, but we don’t discuss our work…”
AJS was founded in 1997 by Dubke, American Insurance Association president Robert Vagley, and David Carney, President George H.W. Bush’s political director. The Center for Public Integrity notes that Carney has “earned a reputation with some GOP heavyweights as a man who sometimes pushes the boundaries of campaign finance limits.” One GOP operative recalls a meeting with AJS where Carney told him if the operative sent donors, who face contribution limits, to AJS, AJS “would know what to do with [the money]” The GOP operative said that “sounded like it would be pushing the envelope on rules against coordination.”
Newsweek broke a similar story in the heart of the 2000 campaign season. Angered over a series of attack ads aimed at Sen. Spencer Abraham, Republican Senate majority leader Trent Lott called a group of tech lobbyists in with a request: he “wanted the lobbyists to pay for hard-hitting counterattack ads.” The lobbyists “got the message” and planned to “take care of it,” but “instead of instructing the lobbyists to send the money to Abraham’s campaign or to the Republican Party, Lott gave them the phone number and mailing address of an obscure organization few in the room had ever heard of … Americans for Job Security.”
Although Newsweek reported that “Abraham’s aides implored” the lobbyists to provide money, an Abraham spokesperson denied this, and Newsweek reported that Lott “checked with his Republican finance lawyer, Ben Ginsburg, to make sure that the meeting didn’t violate any rules. Ginsburg… knew all about the obscure Americans for Job Security – he’s its lawyer, too.”
According to the New York Times, AJS seems to have been explicitly “devised to sidestep campaign disclosure rules” and the Center for Public Integrity notes that “while the group says it is supported by membership dues, a review of its tax returns… found sharp fluctuations corresponding to political campaign years.” For instance, the group’s revenue went from $3.6 million in 2009 to $12.4 million in 2010 to $2.5 million in 2011 to $51 million in 2012. In 2012, AJS received $2 million from Crossroads GPS and gave more than $24.5 million to the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR), a secretive entity linked to the Koch brothers that funded a variety of groups that worked to elect Republicans in the 2012 election. In tax forms submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, AJS stated that it “seeks a Congress that is more receptive to the organization’s mission.”
AJS’s clear pattern of seeking to influence elections led to complaints with the FEC because 501(c)(6) organizations “are prohibited from engaging in efforts to influence elections as their primary purpose,” according to Public Citizen, which goes on to argue, “But AJS, which… appears to have only one employee, spends millions of dollars on advertisements to influence elections without appearing to engage in any other substantive efforts…” Despite a claim in the New York Times saying “Americans for Job Security says it is careful to hew to tax and campaign-finance laws: It may not spend the majority of its resources on political activity or coordinate with party committees,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also filed an FEC complaint, charging that AJS “spent almost three-fourths of its 2010 budget… on electioneering communications…”
The group’s alleged tendency to push the limits of the law has resulted in a series of investigations and, in some cases, penalties. In Alaska, a commission found that AJS “had violated state law by acting as an improper conduit” by funneling money from a donor to a campaign. In a report, the Alaska Public Offices Commission accused the group of having “no purpose other than to cover various money trails all over the country.” AJS paid a settlement without admitting guilt and agreed “not to help anyone make anonymous contributions in an election in Alaska” on the condition that this promise didn’t apply to any other state.
Additionally, AJS’s actions in California resulted in million-dollar fines for the Koch-linked CPPR (now known as American Encore) and Americans for Responsible Leadership. The California Attorney General explained what NPR called “the complex scheme”: AJS raised $28 million for issue advocacy primarily to defeat a tax increase in California. However, California law dictates that spending a certain sum of money close to the election triggers donor disclosure. AJS instead donated about $24.55 million to CPPR, which then donated some of that money to the American Future Fund, which sent that money to the California Future Fund, which then supported a proposition in the California election. CPPR also donated some of the money to ARL, which passed it along to the Small Business Action Committee, which then used it in the California election. The total deemed illegally donated was $15 million, and the two groups were required to pay $1 million in fines.