Jake Jabs Courtesy of Montana State University
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Jacob “Jake” Jabs is not quite a national figure, but he is a celebrity in Colorado — so much so that he was featured in the animated comedy series “South Park,” which is set in the state.

A cartoon version of Jabs made a cameo appearance in 2007, according to Furniture Today. Kyle, one of the main characters, is at a party for high-rollers when he spots a man in a yellow suit with a white tiger in his lap.

“Look over there, it’s that Jake Jabs guy from American Furniture Warehouse commercials!”

Jabs, 81, owns Colorado’s largest furniture chain and is probably best known for his commercials featuring the big cats.

While his commercials are amusing, he is serious about his politics. A document from the Internal Revenue Service shows Jabs pledged $300,000 in seed money to American Tradition Partnership. ATP is a secretive pro-energy nonprofit that’s taken the state of Montana to court three times challenging the state’s campaign finance laws.

Jabs, through a spokesman, on Monday said he did not make a donation and has “never heard of” ATP or the group’s previous incarnation.

“He did not commit to the funds indicated by Athena Dalton in the filing so clearly he did not give them funds,” wrote Charlie Shaulis, director of communications for American Furniture Warehouse, Jabs’ company, in an email to I-News Network in Colorado.

Dalton wrote a letter to the IRS asking the agency to speed up the process for awarding it nonprofit status. The letter states that the approval was needed quickly, otherwise Jabs would not make a contribution. The agency gave it the thumbs up four days later.

In 2008, he paid for ads supporting a ballot initiative that would have made Colorado a “right-to-work” state, a measure opposed by unions. There were tigers in those ads, too.

Jabs said in a press conference posted on YouTube that he wanted to “hurt the pocketbooks of the unions so they don’t have the millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars to spend.”

He is a prolific Republican donor, having given about $150,000 to GOP candidates and parties since 1997, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The son of immigrants, Jabs grew up in rural Montana in a house without electricity, indoor plumbing or running water. His father had only a second-grade education.

Jabs tells his rags-to-riches story in his books, “An American Tiger” and “Thriving In Tough Times.” The cover of An American Tiger features Jabs with one of the animals.

His giving extends beyond politics.

In 2010, Jabs gave $3 million to the Montana State University’s business school. He is a 1952 alumnus of the university (then called Montana State College), where he studied vocational agriculture and was on the rodeo team.

Update (Oct . 22, 7:00 p.m.): This story was updated to reflect that Jabs, through a spokesman, denied making a contribution to ATP.

John Dunbar contributed to this report.

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you.