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Long-time GOP operative David Carney is hardly a household name like Karl Rove. But among Republican strategists and fundraisers in Washington D.C., Texas, and other states, Carney is well-known as an aggressive and controversial figure who periodically operates under the radar.

Those qualities are also hallmarks of Americans for Job Security — a shadowy advocacy group that Carney, who is in his early 50s, founded in 1997. The group has poured almost $9 million dollars into negative ads this year to help Congressional candidates, putting it in the top tier of GOP-allied groups attracting big donors who want to remain secret.

Part of a broad, new phenomenon shaking up the 2010 mid-term election, Americans for Job Security is one of many well-organized groups that are not required to disclose donors’ names as they go on advertising spending sprees in selected races. Beyond that, though, Americans for Job Security’s track record suggests it has gone a bit further — proactively offering its help to donors who are seeking to cover their tracks. And its founder has earned a reputation with some GOP heavyweights as a man who sometimes pushes the boundaries of campaign finance limits.

Among Carney’s critics is Charlie Black, star GOP lobbyist and strategist. Black met with Carney in late 2009 after Black’s sister-in-law, Jane Norton, announced she was going to seek the Republican Party’s nomination to run for the Colorado Senate seat now held by Democrat Michael Bennet.

Black, who was also an adviser to Norton’s campaign, told the Center for Public Integrity that Carney and Stephen DeMaura, president of Americans for Job Security, came to chat with him one day in autumn 2009 at his lobbying firm, Prime Policy Group, in Washington. Carney “suggested in a meeting with me that if any long-time donors in Colorado wanted to give Americans for Job Security large contributions that they would know what to do with it,” Black recalled.

“If my sister-in-law wanted to send large donors from Colorado their way, the implication was that they would use the money to benefit her candidacy,” Black said.

Carney’s message “sounded like it would be pushing the envelope on the rules against coordination,” Black said, referring to Federal Election Commission rules barring candidates’ campaigns from working with outside groups that spend money to support them.

Neither Carney nor DeMaura returned multiple calls seeking comment.

Nothing ever came of the meeting, Black says. But, this spring and summer, Americans for Job Security ran hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads in a drive that helped to sink Norton and make her opponent, Ken Buck, the party’s Senate nominee.

Complaint filed with FEC

Americans for Job Security ultimately spent $976,000 on Colorado ads to help Buck in the primary, according to Public Citizen. The group’s name also surfaced in a May complaint filed by a Norton supporter with the Federal Election Commission. In the complaint, Charles Grice, a former Colorado state official, accused Buck’s campaign of coordinating with wealthy Colorado businessman Jerry Morgensen, who allegedly pledged at least $1 million to finance independent expenditure ads by Americans for Job Security and two other smaller groups.

In late summer, Grice announced he wanted to withdraw his complaint, saying he preferred Buck to the Democratic incumbent. Asked by the Center about FEC procedures for withdrawing complaints, an FEC press staffer said that “there’s no provision in our regulations for withdrawing a complaint once it has been filed.” Sources familiar with the complaint say it is almost certainly still pending.

Another Washington GOP operative told the Center that Carney also paid him a visit last year to make a similar proposal to what Black received.

“If you have a candidate, a campaign or an election that needs some help, we can be of some assistance,” was Carney’s message, according to the GOP source, who said he has known Carney for two decades and spoke on condition of anonymity because of his broad political ties. “What he was suggesting is, if you give us some money, we’ll spend it for you.”

The source added that Carney “was clearly putting his hands on the young protégé (DeMaura) and anointing him.” Similarly, Black emphasized that in his meeting, Carney “did the talking and was speaking for AJS.”

The Colorado work done by Americans for Job Security and the allegations of improper coordination are just a slice of the well-funded operations that the group has been engaged in this year.

#5 in spending by GOP-allied groups

Americans for Job Security has focused its advertising firepower this year in a mix of primaries and general election races, with recent ads popping up in about 10 House contests in states such as New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The group also ran ads to help Republican Scott Brown win his Massachusetts Senate seat and gave a big boost to moderate Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln in her primary campaign by running negative ads against her liberal challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

The group spent $9 million on ads from Jan. 1 through Oct. 25, making it the fifth biggest spender among GOP party allies, according to Public Citizen. Since its inception in 1997, Americans for Job Security says it has run about $60 million worth of ads in dozens of states, and the group boasts 1,000 dues-paying members, including businesses and entrepreneurs.

Historically, Carney has tapped others to run the group on a full-time basis while he works in the background, drumming up business, sources say.

DeMaura, 25, the current president, was formerly executive director of the New Hampshire GOP. Americans for Job Security leases office space in Alexandria from Crossroads Media, a GOP consulting firm run by Carney and Mike Dubke, a previous president of Americans for Job Security. Crossroads Media also does work for the Republican National Committee and other GOP organizations.

Americans for Job Security is a tax-exempt 501(c)(6) group, named after a section of the U.S. tax code for non-profit business leagues that aim to promote the common business interests of members. Membership dues to the organization are not tax-deductible as charitable contributions or business expenses.

The group does not have to disclose its donors, saying on its website, “too often politicians or the media define an organization or message not by the merits of the argument, but rather by the perception of the people associated with it.” The website does not identify any board members or executives other than DeMaura.

The website also says Americans for Job Security spends 95 percent of its membership dues on “direct issue advocacy” or grassroots lobbying. While the group says it is supported by membership dues, a review of its tax returns by The New York Times found sharp fluctuations corresponding to political campaign years. For example, the group reported zero revenue for 2007 and then $12.2 million in the election year of 2008.

Over the course of a varied political career, Carney has worked both as deputy chief of staff to then-New Hampshire Governor John Sununu and as White House political director under President George H.W. Bush. “He’s smart and he’s tough,” says another D.C. lobbyist and fundraiser whose ties to Carney go back many years. The source added that “Carney is an integral part of both the political and fundraising operations of AJS.”

In addition to his roles at Americans for Job Security and Crossroads Media, Carney for more than a decade has been a top consultant to the campaigns of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

This year, Carney helped Perry defeat a primary challenger and is now advising Perry in a closer-than-expected Nov. 2 contest against former Houston Mayor Bill White, his Democratic opponent.

Two GOP consultants with links to Carney have been involved in an ultimately successful drive to get the Green Party gubernatorial candidate, Deb Shafto, on the Texas gubernatorial ballot, a move that’s likely to help Perry on Election Day by diverting a small percentage of votes from White.

Shafto’s name was put on the ballot over the summer after an anonymous donor kicked in $532,000 for a signature drive led by a Missouri-based consulting firm, Take Initiative America. That consulting firm tapped a Chicago petition-gathering firm, Free and Equal, to round up 92,000 signatures to get the Green Party’s candidate on the ballot. The effort was reportedly spearheaded by Republican consultant, Tim Mooney, who worked with Carney in 2004 in New Hampshire to help get Ralph Nader on the ballot as the Green Party’s presidential candidate. In June, Carney told The Wall Street Journal he has not had contact with Mooney in years and had no knowledge of “what he was doing with the Green Party.”

Intriguing details about an unsuccessful earlier attempt to get Shafto on the ballot emerged this summer after Texas Democrats filed a lawsuit. A University of Texas student named Garrett Mize, who ran the initial signature drive, disclosed in testimony that he was paid $2,000 a month for several months by Texas lobbyist Mike Toomey, a former chief of staff to Perry and no stranger to Carney.

Since 2005, Toomey and Carney and two others have jointly owned a luxurious vacation property on Parker Island in Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H., according to corporate property records filed in Concord, N.H. with the Secretary of State. A Parker Island website indicates that their house rents for $10,000 a week.

In his testimony, Mize said he quit the signature drive in April 2010 when he discovered that it was not being paid for by wind energy advocates, but by “interests that did not want Democrats to do well.”

The Democrats’ lawsuit in Texas alleged that illegal corporate funds were used to pay for the petition drive to get the Green Party’s candidate for governor on the ballot.

Pattern of ethical controversies

The legal and ethical controversies swirling around Americans for Job Security are part of a pattern that goes back years.

In 2008, after Public Citizen filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, the agency’s general counsel recommended that the FEC find “reason to believe” that Americans for Job Security violated federal campaign law by, among other things, failing to register as a political committee and failing to disclose its donors.

But the three Republican members on the commission voted against taking action, which blocked the six-member agency from pursuing the case.

Other charges were leveled at Americans for Job Security in Alaska, where the group spent $1.6 million two years ago to promote a referendum to curb development of a gold and copper mine.

In response to a complaint filed by the mine’s supporters, it was revealed that most of the financing for the Americans for Job Security drive came from a local businessman, Robert Gillam, who was worried that a fishing lodge he owned would suffer financially, as first reported by The New York Times.

Last year, the staff of the Alaska Public Offices Commission wrote that “Americans for Job Security has no purpose other than to cover various money trails all over the country.”

Americans for Job Security took issue with the conclusions of the Alaskan commission but in the end made a $20,000 settlement with the state. The settlement did not include any admission of wrongdoing, and the group promised to never help promote the use of anonymous donations in an Alaskan election.

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