American Action Network is born
On June 30, 2009, Norm Coleman conceded the fierce race for his Minnesota Senate seat to Al Franken. On July 8, 2009, Franken was sworn in. On July 23, 2009, Coleman took the helm of a new non-profit entity seeded with over two million dollars in grants, courtesy of his billionaires.
Coleman's entity is the American Action Network, self-branded as an "action tank" to create, encourage and promote center right policies".
On the required filings for tax-exempt status with the IRS, AAN stated it would put a minor emphasis on political campaign intervention, seeking to focus instead on policies and creation of "educational materials." It also claimed its priority was to educate "the public on values and policies that will promote prosperity, freedom and security, and advocating legislation that will do the same." They went on to state that "express political advocacy by the Network will be ancillary and will not become the Network's primary activity."
Those statements were signed under penalty of perjury by Norm Coleman on February 20, 2010.
American Action Network in action
In its first reporting year (July 23, 2009 to June 30, 2010) AAN received over $2.75 million in grants. Two of the grants were for a million dollars each. None of them were less than $25,000.00. In the second reporting year, (July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011) AAN received $27.5 million in grants.
In between its beginning and the end of the second reporting period, midterm elections took place in November, 2010. American Action Network spent $26 million on ads similar to the 2012 version at the top of this post.
In 2012, American Action Network reported federal independent expenditures of $10,747,500 and gave another $178,000 or so to the Congressional Leadership Fund to cover payroll and office expenses. The two organizations targeted Democratic Congressional candidates across the nation.
Donors to AAN for the 2012 election cycle, discovered via investigation by CREW, Open Secrets and ProPublica include PhRMA, American Natural Gas Alliance, and Crossroads GPS. Here's the list with amounts donated:
Currently, the only way to discover the amounts received from other organizations is to wait for them to file their disclosures and then use those to identify "grants" made from one organization to another. And as we've seen with some organizations, they do everything they can to avoid transparency requirements, including using weird acronyms, "forgetting" to add taxpayer ID numbers, shortening the address so it cannot be matched up, and other similar tactics. Add to that the delay in getting reports filed and it's a hit-or-miss proposition, but so far this is what has been revealed.
The other large donor listed there, the Republican Jewish Coalition, is Sheldon Adelson's 501c4 organization. Surprise!
AAN's place in the puzzle
AAN seems to function as the Congressional race arm of the Karl Rove/Haley Barbour funding network. This would explain the higher expenditures in 2010 during the midterms, when a higher concentration of money can be put toward buying the House of Representatives. It's clearly a favorite of Sheldon Adelson and other Rove cohorts. Despite the claim that it exists to "educate" the public, it's clear that its sole purpose for existence is to be the conduit for high-rolling donors who don't want to be identified.
It's worth noting that Fred Malek, Mitt Romney's finance chair serves on the AAN board along with C Boyden Gray, late of FreedomWorks. I'm sure there was no coordination going on there, of course. Other board members include Vin Weber, billionaire B. Wayne Hughes, Jr., George Allen, Mel Martinez, and Home Depot co-founder and financier Ken Langone.
As we roll toward the 2014 midterms, watch the ads. I'm willing to bet AAN will play big for any district where Democrats are running. It's not just the gerrymandering that costs us the House; it's the huge money poured into those districts.