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Gap Clothing Chain Founders Were Behind California 'Dark Money' Campaign

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WASHINGTON -- Well-known corporate chiefs funded illegal "dark money" contributions to groups in the Koch brothers' political network that were involved in Thursday's record campaign finance settlement in California, according to settlement documents.

Members of the Fisher family, founders of the Gap clothing chain, plowed more than $8 million into a dark money campaign in California's 2012 elections, partially redacted documents show. The money went toward defeating Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase, Proposition 30, and supporting the anti-union Proposition 32, according to the documents, which list donors to Americans for Job Security, a group that handled contributions in the campaign.

Those documents also show that Charles Schwab, founder of Charles Schwab Corp., donated $6.4 million through Americans for Job Security. Philanthropist Eli Broad, who publicly backed Brown's tax increase proposition, made a $500,000 contribution, according to the documents. Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave a combined $500,000. Crossroads GPS, the dark money nonprofit founded by Karl Rove, chipped in $2 million.

Requests for comment from Broad, Schwab and the Fisher family were not immediately returned. The Center for Responsive Politics uncovered the names of more big donors in the redacted documents, including Walmart's Greg Penner, Public Storage founder B. Wayne Hughes and the American Council of Engineering Companies of California, among others.

The donors were revealed in the documents after California's Fair Political Practices Commission announced a record $1 million settlement in its investigation into how $11 million in dark money made its way through a network of conservative nonprofits linked to the billionaire Koch brothers and into the coffers of the Small Business Action Committee. The investigation revealed an additional $4.04 million in dark money funneled to the California Future Fund to spend on the ballot initiative campaigns.

Donors to Americans for Job Security were not supposed to be disclosed under the settlement with the Fair Political Practices Commission, according to a statement from the nonprofit group.

“The California state authorities have determined that the conduct of Americans for Job Security was consistent with California law and did not require disclosure of our members," Americans for Job Security president Stephen DeMaura said. "We are gratified by these conclusions and agree with them. We cooperated in the investigation by producing documents and providing witness testimony, without disclosing the identities of our members. Americans for Job Security is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of its members.”

A redacted list of donors to Americans for Job Security's campaign on the California ballot initiatives was disclosed. Though the list had black lines drawn through some entries, it nevertheless provided easily viewable information revealing identities of the group's biggest donors.

The contributions were orchestrated by California political consultant Tony Russo to help big donors hide their identities when supporting his campaign against Proposition 30 and for Proposition 32. Those who wanted their contributions to be disclosed could give to the Small Business Action Committee, the group directly running the campaigns for the ballot initiatives. Those who did not want publicity were directed to give to Americans for Job Security, which planned an advertising campaign on the two ballot initiatives.

"Americans for Job Security is prepared to launch an issue advocacy effort to educate Californians about the tough issue facing the state and the choices Californians have to make in connection with the path forward," says a fundraising letter from Americans for Job Security released by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

The letter goes on to explain a $25 million fundraising target and says, "Funds for issue advocacy are not limited nor reportable."

The Americans for Job Security issue campaign did not spend all of its money before the deadline for California's disclosure period for issue advertising. The group sought to unload that money through a network of conservative groups run by political operatives connected to the Koch brothers.

Americans for Job Security sent $15.04 million from its issue advocacy campaign to the Center to Protect Patient Rights. That group, run by Koch operative Sean Noble, sent $11 million to Americans for Responsible Leadership and $4.04 million to American Future Fund. Americans for Responsible Leadership then gave that $11 million contribution to the Small Business Action Committee and the American Future Fund gave the $4.04 million to the California Future Fund.

The contributions were spotted by Common Cause California, which reported them to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

"This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors,” Ann Ravel, chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said at a press conference announcing the $1 million settlement on Thursday.

The commission levied the $1 million fine against the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership. There was no penalty against Americans for Job Security.

This article has been updated to include the contributions of Sheldon Adelson and his wife and Crossroads GPS, as well as the names of several other donors uncovered by the Center for Responsive Politics.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify that Americans for Job Security did not provide the settlement documents.

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