Shadowy group pours $1.5 million into Arkansas primary
A shadowy group presumed to be funded by business interests has spent as much as $1.5 million on behalf of conservative Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in her attempt to fend off a primary challenge from current Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter.
According to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Americans for Job Security (AJS) has spent that amount on two ads accusing Halter of having outsourced American jobs to India when he was on the board of directors of WebMethods, a tech company that opened a Bangalore office in 2004. Halter denies that any company on whose board he served has transferred jobs oversees.
The Service Employees International Union has now released an ad of its own, mocking AJS for hiring Indian actors to make its racially-tinged ad attacking outsourcing. “It was Blanche Lincoln who voted to ship our jobs to Mexico and China, helping corporations and hurting us,” the SEIU ad charges.
Lincoln has denounced the AJS ads but has no control over the group, which is not required to reveal its funders. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” Sargent writes, “that this group’s spending could help decide this Senate primary — without us ever knowing where the money came from, or who the group is even pulling for. That’s a pretty big deal.”
It is unclear whether the intent of the ads is to help Lincoln or to make things easier for a Republican challenger next November, but AJS is well known as a corporate front group that regularly supports conservative Republicans. In an email exchange with blogger Markos Moulitsas, the US Chamber of Commerce has denied funding the Arkansas attack ads, but it does appear that corporate backers of some sort must be involved.
AJS was created in 1997 as a spinoff from a group founded by the Chamber of Commerce to counteract soft money spending by labor unions. It played a prominent role in the 2002 elections, when it spent heavily on ads attacking Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) in the weeks prior to his death in a plane crash on October 25.
One day earlier, on October 24, Salon’s Joe Conason had written, “Americans for Job Security [is] a mysterious group with ties to the Republican congressional leadership and big business that intervenes in political races around the country, always on behalf of conservatives. It first gained notoriety a few years ago when Trent Lott, then the Senate majority leader, shook down a group of Washington lobbyists to donate money to the organization, which was helping a Republican senatorial candidate in Michigan. This year, the same outfit has targeted Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone with radio and TV ads of dubious accuracy. In fact, AJS is spending a million dollars attacking the Democrat during the weeks leading up to Election Day.”
“AJS bills itself for tax and regulatory purposes as a ‘nonpolitical trade organization,'” Conason explained. “As such, AJS is forbidden from partisan activity on behalf of a candidate; legally, it can only run issue-oriented advertising. But the AJS advertising against Wellstone has gone way over that blurry line.”
This same behavior led the watchdog group Public Citizen to charge in complaints filed in 2007 with the IRS and the FEC that AJS had violated both its tax status and federal election law.
“Americans for Job Security is registered under Section 501(c)(6) of the tax code, the category reserved for business leagues and trade associations,” an accompanying press release explained. “Groups that are registered under this section are prohibited from engaging in efforts to influence elections as their primary purpose. But AJS, which maintains no Web site and appears to have only one paid employee, spends millions of dollars on advertisements to influence elections without appearing to engage in any other substantive efforts.”
It appears that the same pattern is now at work in Arkansas in 2010.