Trump Cabinet Members Donated to Anti-Obama Dark Money Group

Trump Cabinet Members Donated to Anti-Obama Dark Money Group

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.

Between late 2011 and 2012, the group gave out $26.3 million in grants, most of which went to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, another dark money group with close ties to the Koch brothers.

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)
Charles Schwab $8,800,000
John J. Fisher $5,000,000
Center to Protect Patient Rights $4,645,000
Hensel Phelps Construction $2,930,000
William Fisher $2,000,000
Rosebush Corp $2,000,000
Richard & Helen Devos $2,000,000
Doris Fisher $2,000,000
Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies $2,000,000
Workforce Fairness Institute $1,500,000
Devon Energy Production Corp $1,500,000
Devon Energy $1,500,000
Involve America $1,400,000
Retail Industry Leaders Assn $1,361,000
Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility $1,123,000
Geoffrey H. Palmer $1,100,000
Robert McNair $1,000,000
Robert Fisher $1,000,000
Eli Broad $1,000,000
Continental Resources $1,000,000
Beal Bank $1,000,000
G.H. Palmer and Associates $850,000
Gene Haas $800,000
U.S. Sugar Corp $750,000
Penn National Gaming $737,000
DCI Group, LLC $598,000
Select Management Resources $590,000
James Heavener $575,000
Wynn Resorts $500,000
Peter Thiel $500,000
New Majority CA $500,000
Margaret Bloomfield $500,000
John Scully $500,000
Horizon Fremon Investors $500,000
Greg and Carrie Penner $500,000
Fair Oaks Finance $500,000
Brian Harvey $500,000
Wayne Hughes $450,000
Jesse and Mindy Rogers $450,000
California American Council of Engineering Companies $400,000
Wellspring Cmte $346,098
Mentzer Media Services $321,562
Sheldon Adelson $250,000
Quicken Loans $250,000
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America $250,000
HBI Financial $250,000
Edward Czuker $250,000
Dr. Miriam Adelson $250,000
Cognex Corp $250,000
Stephen Chazen $200,000
Nancy and Richard Kinder $200,000
John Kleinheinz $200,000
B/E Aerospace, Inc $200,000
Elavon Merchant Services $150,050
Leon Black $150,000
Glen Steams $150,000
Farris & Jo Ann Wilks $125,000
William Bloomfield Jr. $100,000
Western National Contractors $100,000
Tully Friedman Rev. Trust $100,000
Tracinda Corporation $100,000
Steven Romick $100,000
Stearns Lending $100,000
Smithfield Foods $100,000
Rufus Lumry $100,000
Robert Rodriguez $100,000
Richard Atwood $100,000
Mike and Mary Sue Shannon $100,000
Lee Samson & Larry Feiger $100,000
Jon Phelps $100,000
Idea Marketplace, LLC $100,000
Hitchcock Automotive $100,000
Frank and Mary Walsh $100,000
Dennis Washington $100,000
Christopher James $100,000
Anthony Pritzker $100,000
ACEC $100,000
Genstar Capital Management $99,000
230 Meek Road LLC $76,667
Prime Administration $75,000
Dan or Staci Wilks $63,200
Americans for Limited Government $60,000
Fred Sands $55,000
William Duhamel $50,000
Tom Olds $50,000
Thomas McKeman $50,000
Robert Shillman $50,000
Montana Contractors Association $50,000
Marc Stern $50,000
Larry Ruvo $50,000
John Phelps $50,000
John Morris $50,000
Great Northern Properties $50,000
Gordon Butte Wind, LLC $50,000
Gerald Parsky $50,000
Gary Wilson $50,000
Ed Haddock $50,000
Donald and Jette Laws $50,000
David Horowitz $50,000
Crow Holdings $50,000
Cottonwood Financial $50,000
Colin Lind $50,000
Checksmart Financial Company $50,000
Bass Pro Inc $50,000
Aveta $50,000
Ambassador Frank Baxter $50,000
Alexander Dean and Catherine Cockrum Dean $50,000
Andy Pudzer $48,652
Barron Hilton $40,800
LGM Management $33,333
World Oil Corp $30,000
Montana Hospital Assn $30,000
WT Offshore Inc. $25,000
Timothy Barnard $25,000
Terence & Katrina Garnett $25,000
Sletten Construction $25,000
Safra Catz $25,000
Robert Amott $25,000
Ray C Realty Corp $25,000
Molina Corporation $25,000
Matthew Barger $25,000
Life Technologies $25,000
John Kissick $25,000
Jeffrey Henley $25,000
Gregory Wendt $25,000
Dr. and Mrs. Richard Robert $25,000
Dennis Bryan $25,000
Cheniere Energy Shared Services, Inc $25,000
Bos Terra $25,000
Barth Family Trust $25,000
Anthony Ressler $25,000
Andrew Barth $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
BNSF $20,000
Nixon Peabody LLP $18,325
Yates Petroleum Corporation $15,000
Frank Haughton $15,000
Arch Coal $15,000
Waxie Sanitary Supply $10,000
Vincent and Linda McMahon $10,000
Tylin International $10,000
Thomas Hauptman $10,000
Robert Henske $10,000
Retamco Operating $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
Donald Beal $10,000
Cynthia Stone $10,000
Cash America $10,000
Michael Tennenbaum $8,000
Henry Resources, LLC $7,500
Provost & Pritchard $5,500
WIM Corporation $5,000
Strata Production Company $5,000
Steven Mnuchin $5,000
Steven and Julie Durrett $5,000
Sime Construction $5,000
Psomas $5,000
Parker J. Collier $5,000
Mark Davis $5,000
Joshua and Beth Friedman $5,000
Gary Lieberthal $5,000
E&B Natural Resources MGMT Corp $5,000
Century Companies $5,000