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It's a Sham

Public Citizen filed a complaint last week with the IRS and the FEC against the non-profit Americans for Job Security (AJS) – a group that might better be called Corporations Influencing Elections. AJS uses a special type of non-profit status to conceal its funders while singing the praises of candidates it likes and dropping attack ads on those it opposes.

AJS typically targets its six-figure – and sometimes seven-figure – ad campaigns at the most hotly contested Senate races and at presidential races.

For example, the group spent an estimated $1.5 million to promote Sen. Rick Santorum’s unsuccessful reelection bid last year and poured more than a million into attack ads against Paul Wellstone in his Minnesota Senate race before he died in a tragic airplane crash in 2002.

AJS acknowledges that part of its strategy is to keep the identities of its funders secret because revealing them would distract from its message. But, as Washington Post campaign finance expert Jeff Birnbaum noted today in the Washington Post, such secrecy “runs counter to one of the basic tenets of modern-day election law – broad public disclosure.”

By keeping its donors under wraps, AJS is able to create an illusion that regular Americans are behind its ad campaigns. Of course, regular Americans *might* be behind the group – just like the erasure of the 18-and-a-half minutes on the Watergate tapes *might* have been an honest mistake.

AJS maintains no Web site, appears to have only one paid employee, and does not engage in any substantive efforts besides electioneering. Groups that are registered under section 501(c) of the tax code, like AJS, have a right to keep their contributors’ identities secret but they are prohibited from being primarily engaged in electioneering. That’s where AJS runs aground of the law.

AJS is required to disclose to the IRS how much it spends to influence elections. And if the group did so honestly, such disclosure would clearly show that most of its money is going toward electioneering. But AJS implausibly says it spends no money to influence elections, taking the stance that its ads are intended to influence the public’s views on issues, not candidates.

But the content of AJS’s ads shreds that myth. For example, one of the group’s paeans to Rick Santorum ended by asking viewers to “call and say thanks” because “Rick Santorum’s the one getting it done.” Such messages are known as sham issue ads.

We invite you to listen to the ads below to decide for yourself what AJS is really up to.
Other groups are following in AJS’s path. The Club for Growth, an electioneering group that previously operated under Section 527of the IRS code – which was created for political groups and requires disclosure of contributions and expenditures – is now switching to 501(c) status.

It is time to put a stop to groups like AJS violating the terms of their non-profit status. If you’d like to make some noise, we invite you to ask your members of Congress to press the IRS to crack down on sham 501(c) groups. Or tell the editor at your local paper about AJS’s antics and the rock-solid evidence against it.