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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

American Action Network/American Action Forum

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: GOP/center-right

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. It was started by Norm Coleman, a former Republican senator from Minnesota, and Fred Malek, a longtime Republican fundraiser and strategist.

Malek is the founder and co-chairman of Thayer Lodging Group, a hotel investment firm. He also was the founder of Thayer Capital Partners, a private equity firm now managed by HCI Equity. 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 American Action Network is a 501(c)(4) organization and, therefore, does not have to disclose its donors. The group raised $22.6 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, and $24.4 million from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. Federal Election Commission records indicate that the American Action Network spent $11.1 million during the 2012 campaign on TV ads and other independent expenditures — placing it among the top 25 biggest outside spenders in that campaign cycle. But that was down from nearly $19 million in the 2010 cycle — the third highest amount spent in that cycle.

American Action Network spent most of its money in 2012 — nearly $9 million — on five House races. It spent more than $2 million, each, trying to defeat Democrats Carol Shea-Porter, a New Hampshire congresswoman, and Jose Hernandez of California, who was challenging GOP Rep. Jeff Denham. Shea-Porter narrowly won; Hernandez lost. It also spent more than $1 million, each, against Democrats Rick Nolan of Minnesota, who defeated incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack; David Gill of Illinois, who lost to Rodney Davis in an open race; and Val Demings of Florida, who lost to Rep. Dan Webster.

Additionally, American Action Network contributed a little more than $80,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to preserving the Republican House majority. The Congressional Leadership Fund shares several key board members with the American Action Network.

For the 2014 campaign cycle, American Action Network is again focusing on House races and, again, on Shea-Porter, the New Hampshire congresswoman.

In November 2013, the AAN spent $200,000 on a direct-mail campaign to seniors in three congressional districts. The organization stated that the mail campaign was intended to “educat[e] area seniors on how Obamacare is leading to higher costs, fewer jobs, and reduced access to care.” This was followed by two online ad campaigns in December 2013 with similar anti-ACA messages. Shea-Porter was the only member of Congress targeted by all three ad campaigns.

The group also has been involved in this year’s special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat. It released the first ad in a $500,000 advertising campaign against Democratic candidate Alex Sink on Feb. 4. Sink and Republican David Jolly are running to fill the seat of the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, a Republican, in a hotly contested race that has attracted millions in outside spending.

The American Action Network’s 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. Malek also serves as the group’s chairman. Other members of American Action Forum leadership include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Chao is now a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation. She is also married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Tax records indicate that the American Action Forum raised $4.9 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, and spent an equal amount during that time on “policy research and education.” The group’s website contains information on a number of topics, including the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage and immigration reform. FEC records show American Action Forum spent no money on independent expenditures in 2010 or 2012.