CREW Forces Historic Release of Dark Money Donors

Washington, Sept. 19, 2019 —  In a major victory for transparency, Americans for Job Security (AJS) will register as a political committee and release their donors—the first major release of dark money sources in the post-Citizens United era—following a complaint and several lawsuits from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

During the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, AJS was one of the top five dark money giants, spending more than $25 million on independent expenditures and electioneering communications. Despite failing to register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), AJS clearly functioned as a political committee, devoting most of its activities to campaign ads. However, in violation of the law, AJS kept the sources of its funding secret — until now.

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“Today’s announcement is a monumental win for transparency and voters across the country,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “Despite years of stonewalling from commissioners at the FEC, a major dark money group will be forced to register as a political committee, and the American public will finally learn the identities of those behind millions of dollars in political spending.”

In 2012, CREW filed an FEC complaint against AJS alleging it failed to register as a political committee despite AJS’s extensive campaign activity. More than two years later, after the FEC’s general counsel found that AJS had likely violated the law, three Republican commissioners still blocked enforcement by deadlocking the Commission. The deadlock led the FEC to dismiss CREW’s complaint. CREW then sued the FEC, and a court ordered the FEC to reopen the case in 2016. Over the next two years, CREW filed two additional lawsuits due to the FEC’s inaction. Last week, CREW received notice that the FEC reached a conciliation agreement with AJS, requiring them to register as a political committee and disclose their donors.

Notably, the conciliation agreement adopts CREW’s understanding of the law first laid out in its complaint six years ago: (1) that a group’s expenditures, including electioneering communications, can qualify it as a political committee, and (2) that a group’s activities in other years cannot block voters’ access to information when the group devotes an extensive amount of funds in one year to elections.

“For years, CREW has worked tirelessly to compel the FEC to hold AJS and other dark money groups accountable,” Bookbinder said. “Unfortunately, our work is far from over as other bad actors are bending over backwards to skirt campaign finance laws. CREW will continue our work to root out dark money in our elections process, even if it means dragging the FEC to do its job.”

In the post-Citizens United era, CREW has filed several complaints and lawsuits against many of the largest dark money groups. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order in CREW v. FEC and Crossroads GPS reinstating a disclosure that requires anyone making more than $250 in express advocacy ads — ads that tell viewers who to vote for or against — to disclose two broad sets of contributors. Just last month, CREW argued before the U.S. District Court in a pathbreaking citizen suit against American Action Network (AAN) to protect CREW’s right to obtain the information — including the names of AAN’s donors — that AAN was legally required to, but did not, disclose.

Click here to read the AJS settlement and the FEC’s legal analysis.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit www.citizensforethics.org