Former “dark money” giant Americans for Job Security has walked out from the shadows, disclosing its donors last week following years of complaints and lawsuits filed by ethics watchdogs.
Between 2010 and 2012, the group raked in at least $65 million from billionaires, corporations and nebulous groups that don’t disclose their own sources of funding, recent filings show. Many of the group’s top donors have now lined up behind President Donald Trump, cutting big checks to his reelection bid.
The now-defunct conservative group was largely active in the 2012 election cycle, spending $15.2 million on political ads attacking then-Democratic President Barack Obama during his reelection bid. The group also spent almost $5 million on independent expenditures in the 2010 cycle targeting Democrats and promoting Republicans in congressional races.
Americans for Job Security’s political activities triggered a 2012 complaint by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group, alleging that the conservative business league acted — yet failed to register — as a political committee. The recent disclosure was prompted by several lawsuits the ethics group filed against the Federal Election Commission over the years and a September agreement requiring the dark money group to register as a political committee and reveal its donors.
“This is a major victory for transparency and the rule of law,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group, in a press release. “This is the first major release of dark money sources in the post-Citizens United era, a rare and long overdue victory in the fight against the illegal use of dark money in politics.”
Among the group’s biggest donors are billionaires with a history of bankrolling conservative causes, records show.
John Fisher, owner of the Oakland Athletics and son of Gap Inc. founders Donald and Doris Fisher, gave generously to the group, shelling out $5 million between 2010 and 2012. His mother and his two brothers, Robert and William Fisher, also combined to give the group another $5 million, making the Fisher family the group’s biggest donor.
The California philanthropist mostly gave to conservative causes in the past, doling out $416,400 to Republican candidates and parties last cycle. Spreading his fortune between the two major parties, Fisher also gave $2,800 each this year to several Democratic presidential hopefuls, including self-funded businessman John Delaney and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
Paypal executive Peter Thiel gave the conservative group $500,000. An outspoken Trump supporter and GOP donor, the venture capitalist gave a $1 million check last year to Club for Growth Action, a conservative super PAC, and $100,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee in 2017. He also gave a total of $500,000 to Trump’s joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory.
Many of the group’s top donors between 2010 and 2012 are now Trump allies.
Billionaire investor Charles Schwab delivered $8.8 million to the conservative group between 2010 and 2012. A longtime GOP donor, the brokerage firm chairman has given $9.4 million to conservative outside spending groups from 2011 to 2019. Schwab became a staunch Trump supporter in 2016, giving $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee and more than $100,000 to the Republican National Committee legal fund, which helps pay for Trump’s legal bills. Schwab and his wife Helen each gave $1 million to the pro-Trump super PAC Future45 last year.
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam also chipped in $250,000 to fuel the conservative group. Longtime Republican megadonors, the couple shelled out $122.3 million to conservative political groups in 2018, including $10 million to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. The couple doled out $20 million in 2016 to Future45 and gave $5 million to fund Trump’s inaugural festivities in 2017.
Adelson’s support for the president earned him a seat at the dining table at the White House with Trump, Jared Kushner and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, as well as closer access to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his casino bid in Japan, ProPublica reported.
Real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer, who gave Americans for Job Security almost $2 million between 2010 and 2012, has given America First Action a total of $6 million to support Trump since 2017. Palmer also gave $5 million to pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now and $765,200 to Trump Victory.
The late Richard and Helen DeVos, in-laws of current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, gave Americans for Job Security $2 million. The couple gave $2.8 million to conservative groups during the 2016 election cycle — right before their daughter-in-law became Trump’s appointee — with the entire DeVos family giving more than $10 million throughout the cycle.
Many other current and former Trump cabinet members are also among the group’s now disclosed donors. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, who was previously an investment banker, gave $5,000 to the group in 2012. Linda McMahon, formerly the head of the Small Business Administration under Trump, left the cabinet to chair America First Action in May. McMahon and her husband Vince gave Americans for Job Security $10,000 in 2012.
Americans for Job Security also attracted millions of dollars from corporations whose executives tend to give to Republicans.
Hensel Phelps Construction, one of the biggest construction managing companies in the country, coughed up $2.93 million to support the group. Since 1990, affiliates of the Colorado-based firm have combined to give $914,458 to political candidate campaigns, 94 percent of which went to support Republicans. Jeffrey Wenaas, the CEO of Hensel Phelps, gave exclusively to conservative causes over the years.
The dark money group also hauled in $3 million from oil and gas giant Devon Energy, whose PAC gave exclusively to conservative groups in the past. Texas-based Beal Bank also shelled out $1 million to fund the conservative group between 2010 and 2012. Andrew Beal, founder of Beal Bank, spent more than $300,000 to fund a Facebook meme campaign to support Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, CNBC reported.
While Americans for Job Security disclosed its sources of revenue, many of its donors are limited liability companies or tax-exempt organizations whose sources of income remain hidden under federal law. Some of those groups that donated to Americans for Job Security keep on giving large sums to other similar organizations, making the money flow among a network of conservative dark money groups virtually untraceable.
Rosebush Corp, a 501(c)(4) organization that was once denied tax-exempt status by the IRS, gave a $2 million grant to Americans for Job Security in 2012, as first disclosed in Rosebush’s tax filing. In 2011, the 501(c)(4) also gave a $750,000 grant to Americans for Limited Government, a dark money group led by real estate developer Howard Rich, which spent millions running ads against Democrats.
Like with the Center to Protect Patient Rights, money shuffled between the Rich-linked group and Americans for Job Security. Rich’s group received $10,000 from Americans for Job Security in 2011 and another $100,000 from the group in 2012, two years after it gave the dark money giant $60,000, recent filings show.
Wellspring Committee, another dark money group residing on the web of conservative tax-exempt organizations, gave Americans for Job Security $346,098 in 2010. OpenSecrets previously reported that the committee injected a total of nearly $3 million into the conservative group from 2008 to 2010 and gave out grants worth more than $17 million from 2008 to 2011. The group officially shut down in December 2018.
Reporter Karl Evers-Hillstrom and researchers Anna Massoglia and Alex Baumgart contributed to the report.
Edit 10/28/2019: The story has been edited to reflect that Betsy DeVos is the daughter-in-law of the late Richard and Helen DeVos.
|Donor(s)||Total Given (2010-2012)|
|John J. Fisher||$5,000,000|
|Center to Protect Patient Rights||$4,645,000|
|Hensel Phelps Construction||$2,930,000|
|Richard & Helen Devos||$2,000,000|
|Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies||$2,000,000|
|Workforce Fairness Institute||$1,500,000|
|Devon Energy Production Corp||$1,500,000|
|Retail Industry Leaders Assn||$1,361,000|
|Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility||$1,123,000|
|Geoffrey H. Palmer||$1,100,000|
|G.H. Palmer and Associates||$850,000|
|U.S. Sugar Corp||$750,000|
|Penn National Gaming||$737,000|
|DCI Group, LLC||$598,000|
|Select Management Resources||$590,000|
|New Majority CA||$500,000|
|Horizon Fremon Investors||$500,000|
|Greg and Carrie Penner||$500,000|
|Fair Oaks Finance||$500,000|
|Jesse and Mindy Rogers||$450,000|
|California American Council of Engineering Companies||$400,000|
|Mentzer Media Services||$321,562|
|Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America||$250,000|
|Dr. Miriam Adelson||$250,000|
|Nancy and Richard Kinder||$200,000|
|B/E Aerospace, Inc||$200,000|
|Elavon Merchant Services||$150,050|
|Farris & Jo Ann Wilks||$125,000|
|William Bloomfield Jr.||$100,000|
|Western National Contractors||$100,000|
|Tully Friedman Rev. Trust||$100,000|
|Mike and Mary Sue Shannon||$100,000|
|Lee Samson & Larry Feiger||$100,000|
|Idea Marketplace, LLC||$100,000|
|Frank and Mary Walsh||$100,000|
|Genstar Capital Management||$99,000|
|230 Meek Road LLC||$76,667|
|Dan or Staci Wilks||$63,200|
|Americans for Limited Government||$60,000|
|Montana Contractors Association||$50,000|
|Great Northern Properties||$50,000|
|Gordon Butte Wind, LLC||$50,000|
|Donald and Jette Laws||$50,000|
|Checksmart Financial Company||$50,000|
|Bass Pro Inc||$50,000|
|Ambassador Frank Baxter||$50,000|
|Alexander Dean and Catherine Cockrum Dean||$50,000|
|World Oil Corp||$30,000|
|Montana Hospital Assn||$30,000|
|WT Offshore Inc.||$25,000|
|Terence & Katrina Garnett||$25,000|
|Ray C Realty Corp||$25,000|
|Dr. and Mrs. Richard Robert||$25,000|
|Cheniere Energy Shared Services, Inc||$25,000|
|Barth Family Trust||$25,000|
|Kleinfelder West Inc||$22,700|
|Washington Capital Advisors||$20,000|
|The Made-Rite Company||$20,000|
|Shorenstein Realty Services||$20,000|
|Rikard and Christine Elestrand||$20,000|
|Nixon Peabody LLP||$18,325|
|Yates Petroleum Corporation||$15,000|
|Waxie Sanitary Supply||$10,000|
|Vincent and Linda McMahon||$10,000|
|Mines Management Inc||$10,000|
|ME-TEX Oil and Gas, Inc||$10,000|
|Legislative Education Action Drive||$10,000|
|Kootenai Resource Corporation||$10,000|
|J. Mark Grosvenor Foundation||$10,000|
|Erik and Kendra Ragatz||$10,000|
|Henry Resources, LLC||$7,500|
|Provost & Pritchard||$5,500|
|Strata Production Company||$5,000|
|Steven and Julie Durrett||$5,000|
|Parker J. Collier||$5,000|
|Joshua and Beth Friedman||$5,000|
|E&B Natural Resources MGMT Corp||$5,000|