Americans for Job Security avoids disclosure by reporting all its revenue as “membership dues.” It claims more than 1,000 members. But a review of its tax returns shows membership revenue fluctuating wildly depending on election cycles — similar to the fund-raising of political committees that escalates during campaign season.
“Membership dues and assessments” totaled $7 million in the 2004 presidential election, and dipped to $1.2 million the following year before climbing back to $3.9 million for the 2006 midterm elections. Then, in 2007, they plunged to zero before shooting up to $12.2 million for the 2008 presidential race.
Asked how it could have collected no dues in 2007, neither Mr. Dubke nor Mr. DeMaura offered an answer. Mr. DeMaura said that there is no set membership fee and that members are not required to pay annually.
“They can if they want,” he said.
A Hidden Hand in Alaska
Probably the most extensive look at the operations of Americans for Job Security came during the inquiry in Alaska. Through a public information request, The New York Times obtained records from the investigation, including the group’s internal e-mails and memorandums, as well as the sworn testimony of Mr. Dubke and others.
The group ended up in Alaska through Mr. Dubke’s work for opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine, led by an Alaska financier, Robert Gillam, whose private fishing lodge could be affected. The opponents said the mine would endanger commercial fishing and pushed a ballot initiative aimed at imposing clean-water restrictions on it; its backers said the mine would create jobs.
Mr. Dubke’s work for Mr. Gillam was called Operation Trenchcoat, documents show, and involved finding out who was behind a pro-mine Web site called Bob Gillam Can’t Buy Alaska. Mr. Gillam testified that he spoke with Mr. Dubke about Americans for Job Security, and decided to join by giving $2 million in “membership fees,” and that he “had high hopes” the money would be used to oppose the mine. (The ballot initiative ultimately failed.)
State investigators found that the advocacy group quickly passed almost all the money to another nonprofit, Alaskans for Clean Water, set up to campaign for the referendum by a group that included Art Hackney, a local Republican consultant and board member of Americans for Job Security. Mr. DeMaura told investigators that while he may have talked to Mr. Dubke about the mine issue, he decided to spend the money “based upon his own research and judgment,” and that there was no prior agreement with Mr. Gillam or Mr. Dubke.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission’s staff report called this “completely implausible” and concluded that Americans for Job Security had violated state law by acting as an improper conduit. It also took a shot at the group’s explanation that it protects its members’ identities so they can speak out without fear of reprisals.
“One would hardly expect reprisals for ‘promoting a healthy and vibrant economy,’ ” the report said.
The group’s lawyers accused the staff of making “reckless and baseless” accusations and of “misrepresenting a respected entity like A.J.S., known nationally for its skill and sophistication in conducting educational and issue-related campaigns.” In a legal filing, they also worried that the allegations could be noticed “by the local, and potentially national, press.”
Americans for Job Security eventually paid a $20,000 settlement without admitting guilt and agreed not to help anyone make anonymous contributions in an election in Alaska — with the condition that its pledge “does not apply to any other jurisdiction which may have laws dissimilar to the state.”