As the 2008 election draws ever closer, New Hampshire voters will be seeing lots of political activity. Former Governor Jeanne Shaheen has been out talking to voters and running positive television ads describing the issues she will champion in the United States Senate, such as reducing gas prices, fixing the economy and brining our troops home from Iraq. Unfortunately, Republican operatives, hiding behind a front group named Americans for Job Security, have already spent over $250,000 attacking Shaheen on radio and in the mail, and they're employing the same sort of behavior that has prompted outrage among New Hampshire voters in the past. Shaheen is the top target for Republican attacks this year, and she'll need as much help as possible in responding: www.jeanneshaheen.org .
AJS is a non-profit organization that claims to be a trade association, yet according to a 2004 Washington Monthly story, it does not list its members. While political committees and candidates by law must disclose their contributors, groups like AJS pretend that they are engaging in "issues advocacy", educating the public. But a 2004 Texas Observer article (appropriate entitled "Meet the Attack Dogs") called AJS what it really is: "one of the nation's most vicious campaign hit teams, a secret outfit whose reach spreads all over the American political system. It specializes in attempted assassination of political careers under the guise of issue education...."
Furthermore, to qualify as an issues group, AJS must be independent of any campaign or candidate. Yet AJS has a long record of running attack ads in election years in states from Alaska to Texas to Minnesota to New Hampshire, and has a history of connections to the Sununu family and Republican politics. In 2002, for example, it ran over $1 million in anti-Shaheen ads. Its executive director at the time was longtime Sununu family confidante David Carney, who previously had run the draft Sununu effort. Benjamin Ginsburg, the attorney for the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, served as legal counsel to AJS. Former NHGOP executive director Steve DeMaura currently runs AJS.
AJS and people associated with AJS have a history voters should be aware of. For example, according to a report by the New Hampshire Attorney General, in 2002 Republican operatives discussed forming a committee to make "independent expenditures" in that year's primary elections. I stress the term "independent expenditure" because under the law, independent expenditures cannot be coordinated with candidates or their agents. One operative was quoted in the report stating that David Carney, at the time an aide to Republican gubernatorial candidate Gordon Humphey, told the others he could get $10,000 from the Republican Gubernatorial Association to help pay for calls encouraging Democratic voters to vote for Governor Shaheen's primary opponent. That plan did not go forward, but Carney was forced to apologize for baselessly accusing Governor Shaheen's campaign of anonymous telephone and postcard attacks on Humphrey, which were in fact arranged by Republicans.
In 2004, Norway Hill, a company owned by Carney, paid workers to obtain petition signature to put independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's name on the Granite State ballot. When asked by reporters about the effort, Carney claimed that Norway Hill had undertaken the effort at the behest of a group called "Choices for America", and that Norway Hill's activities were a donation to Choices for America. However, Choices for America representatives told Federal Elections Commission investigators that they had no knowledge of Norway Hill. The investigators concluded that Norway Hill had made a prohibited in kind corporate contribution to assist the Nader campaign. Unfortunately, the FEC commissioners stunningly decided to turn a blind eye to its own investigators' recommendations, letting Norway Hill off the hook following individual $2,000 payments made by Carney, his wife and a business associate to Norway Hill, and reported the payments as donations to the Nader campaign.
AJS itself has been the subject of several investigations. Last year, Public Citizen, a campaign finance watchdog group, filed complaints with both the FEC and the IRS against AJS. In 2002, the Alaska Public Offices Commission ruled that AJS violated state campaign laws. In 2004, AJS paid fines in Oklahoma for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (there they go with phones again!). And last week, the New Hampshire Democratic Party filed a complaint with the FEC because the AJS radio ads against Shaheen violate federal election law.
So, here we are, in 2008, and Americans for Job Security is running attack ads against a political candidate during an election year, yet claiming that it is not trying to influence an election, and refusing to release the names of its members or its donors. The difference this year is that New Hampshire voters have shown that they are tired of Republican operatives and organizations that refuse to play by the rules. The 2002 phone jamming conspiracy nearly bankrupted the state Republican Party. The harassing phone calls made by the National Republican Congressional Caucus in 2006 were the final nail in the coffin of Charlie Bass's failed re-election bid. It is time for the New Hampshire Republican Party and Republican candidates like John E. Sununu to show New Hampshire voters that they have learned their lesson, and that they reject the tired old tactics of past campaigns. They can do that by demanding that AJS disclose who its members are, where its money comes from, and that it stop its attack ads.