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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

American Action Network / American Action Forum

Political leanings: GOP/Right-Center

Spending target: Unknown

The American Action Network — a self-described “action tank” that advocates for “center-right policies” — was founded in February 2010 before the midterm congressional elections. The group focuses on jobs, the economy, defense and terrorism. It was started by Norm Coleman, a former Republican senator from Minnesota, and Fred Malek, a longtime Republican fundraiser and strategist. Malek is also the founder and chairman of the Thayer Capital Partners. Coleman serves as the group’s chairman and Malek sits on the board of directors. Brian O. Walsh, who previously worked as a senior strategist for the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2009-2010, is the group’s president.

The group is a 501(c)(4) organization and therefore does not have to disclose its donors. However, as we noted in our 2010 profile of American Action Network, its board of directors has a number of major GOP donors. Its policy arm and “sister organization,” the American Action Forum, is a 501(c)(3) organization and is also exempt from disclosing its donors. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, previously a senior policy adviser for John McCain’s 2008 presidential run, is the Forum’s current president.

American Action Network was heavily involved in the 2010 elections. The group hoped to raise and spend $25 million and it slightly exceeded that goal, topping out at $26 million. It was the second biggest spender among all outside spending groups in the 2010 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Most of that money was spent on TV ads and other forms of electioneering communications. The group got involved in 23 House and five Senate races. The group focused most of its resources in 2010 targeting Democratic candidates for defeat, particularly in the battleground states of Pennsylvania ($2.5 million) and Virginia ($2.3 million).

In 2011, the group spent nearly $100,000 in New York’s special House election to help Republican Jane Corwin in a three-way race with Democrat Kathleen Hochul and Tea Party candidate Jack Davis. Hochul won.

For the 2012 elections, the group is expected to spend “in the high tens of millions,” according to the National Journal. As we wrote in August, American Action Network spent close to $1 million on misleading newspaper ads and mailers attacking President Obama and Democrats on Medicare in 22 districts represented by Republicans in 14 states. Jim Landry, spokesman for both organizations, told us that the groups’ primary focus will be on health care and the economy.