US Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, is the Democrat the Bush administration loves to hate. White House political director Karl Rove personally selected Wellstone’s Republican challenger in the November 5 election, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, and Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush have visited Minnesota again and again on Coleman’s behalf.
But Minnesotans have not taken to the high-level pressure. Bush made a swing through the state last week on Coleman’s behalf, but it was Wellstone whose poll numbers went up. Actually, Wellstone’s numbers have been rising ever since he voted against the president’s request for blank-check authorization to launch a war with Iraq. After months of too-close-to-call poll numbers, the headline of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Sunday announced, “Wellstone edges into lead in U.S. Senate race.” The Star-Tribune’s latest poll found the two-term liberal Democratic senator to be ahead by a 47-41 margin among likely voters.
But that doesn’t mean Wellstone is sure to beat Bush, er, Coleman.After the poll results were released, a shadowy Virginia group that campaign finance analysts have linked to the Bush family and George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign — as well as to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and the Republican Party — made a record-breaking $1 million purchase of television and radio advertising time to attack Wellstone.
The deceptively named group Americans For Job Security is behind the big buy — which will likely exceed the amount of money the Wellstone campaign or the Democratic Party will spend in the final weeks before the election. Headquarted in Alexandria, Virginia, Americans for Security first came on the scene five years ago, when it got started with a $1 million contribution from the American Insurance Association. The American Forest and Paper Association chipped in another $1 million.
Described by the The Annenberg Public Policy Center as a “a tax-exempt conservative, business-backed pro-Republican organization formed in October 1997 to lobby for: reduced taxes, less government regulation, free trade, and downsizing government,” it has been linked with a previous initiative by the US Chamber of Commerce and business lobbies that spent $5 million in the 1996 election cycle.
In May, 2000, a Washington Post report raised the prospect that Trent Lott was pressuring high-tech lobbyists for contributions to the organization, which that year launched television advertising campaigns attacking the Democratic challengers to several vulnerable Republican senators. (Among the corporations reported to have contributed to Americans for Job Security following that meeting was Microsoft. More recently, pharmaceutical firms have been reported to be prime funders of the group.)
American for Job Security president Michael Dubke has refused to reveal the sources of the funding for this fall’s attack ads against Wellstone — nor for similar campaigns by the group against Democratic Senators Jean Carnahan and Tim Johnson, who are in tight races in Missouri and South Dakota, respectively. According to Dubke, his organization has “a very strong policy that we don’t discuss our members.” And elections laws do not appear to require him to do so.
Earlier this year, when Americans for Job Security launched a series of attacks on Wellstone, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party challenged the Virginia group’s tax status, In a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the party asked the IRS to determine whether Americans for Job Security was using its tax-exempt status to hide the sources of its funding.The group is registered as a trade association, a status that permits it to cloak the identities of its contributors. “This is a secret organization using its tax status to conceal its donors,” said DFL chair Mike Erlandson. “I believe Minnesotans have a right to know who’s contributing to this group.”
While the contributors are not identified, there is a good deal of information available to suggest that this group has ties to the Bush administration, the president and his family. Toward the close of the 2000 campaign, Americans for Job Security bought commercials in at least ten major media markets to attack the prescription drug plan of Bush’s opponent in the presidential race, Democrat Al Gore. According to The Brennan Center for Justice, Americans for Job Security spent $1.8 million on that attack advertising campaign, making it, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, “the most active (outside group) supporting Bush” in the 2000 campaign.
The Campaign Finance Institute has identified David Carney, a veteran political operative with long ties to the Bush family who served as the political director in George H. W. Bush’s White House, as the executive director of Americans for Job Security. Dubke is another alumnus of the Bush-Quayle campaign. Benjamin Ginsberg, who was counsel to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, serves as the group’s counsel.
Ginsberg earned a measure of prominence as a key player on the Bush legal team during the Florida recount fight following the 2000 election. He was the one who had to explain why the Bush campaign was so slow to file required forms detailing contributions ($13.8 million) and expenditures by the recount effort. The campaign did not submit the forms until July 15, the last day of an IRS amnesty program for groups that failed to comply with disclosure rules.
The pollster for Americans for Job Security is the Tarrance Group, which also conducts polls for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. That committee’s slogan for the campaign to regain Republican control of the Senate — by defeating Wellstone and other Democratic incumbents — is “Working to Elect a Bush Majority.”