A billboard appeared in New York City’s Times Square on Wednesday attacking New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for opposing the now-scuttled deal between Amazon and state officials. The sponsor: a corporate-backed and billionaire-founded nonprofit called Job Creators Network (JCN).
Although JCN, a nonprofit that seeks to “educate Americans on the vital role of free enterprise and entrepreneurship,” claims on its website to be on the side of Main Street, it’s in fact a front group for the interests of wealthy business executives. The nonprofit is linked to and funded by several wealthy corporate leaders who are also Republican political megadonors and oppose workers’ rights, including collective bargaining. A deleted page on the group’s website showed dozens of CEOs who partnered with JCN.
Ocasio-Cortez was right when she tweeted on Thursday that two of the biggest funders of JCN are Home Depot co-founder and billionaire Bernie Marcus and Donald Trump megadonor and billionaire Robert Mercer.
The most prominent conservative donors in the U.S., the Koch brothers, are also tied to JCN through their political nonprofits, and their North Carolina ally, Art Pope, is a major donor.
Charles and David Koch are lifelong libertarians, each worth $52 billion, who created a massive right-wing political network over the last few decades. They and their allies fiercely oppose government spending and regulation, and have been key funders of climate disinformation and anti-clean energy campaigns as well as political campaigns, ad campaigns on corporate tax cuts, and ideological free-market higher education programs.
Koch Industries, which Charles Koch leads, is a large, private conglomerate that owns an oil extraction and refining subsidiary as well as a chemical manufacturer. The company is one of the nation’s biggest air and water polluters. Koch businesses have paid close to $750,000 in fines, most of it due to environmental violations, but also for workplace safety, employment discrimination, and labor violations.
The billboard attacks Ocasio-Cortez for her alleged role in the Amazon deal collapsing, but JCN supporters, such as Charles Koch, are also strong opponents of her Green New Deal plan, despite it promising to create millions of new jobs.
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Marcus recently went on Fox to rail against socialism and another of Ocasio-Cortez’s policy proposals, a 70 percent income tax on the richest Americans.
‘The Voice of Main Street?’
JCN claims in bold on its website, “We are the voice of Main Street.” But a modicum of research shows that’s not the case.
Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, North Carolina, and an expert on Pope’s political influence, explained to Sludge that JCN emerged around the time that the anti-corporate movement Occupy Wall Street was taking place.
“Corporate America was watching with fear as protestors and the media talked about stagnating wages, persistent poverty and the growing chasm between the one percent and the 99 percent,” said Kromm. “In this climate, the Job Creators Network was part of an ideological counter-offensive aiming to extol the virtues of ‘free enterprise and entrepreneurship,’ which in practice meant pushing propaganda in favor of cutting business taxes, and bashing regulations and unions.
Now, with left-wing populism having entered the Democratic Party mainstream and policies such as a wealth tax or Medicare for All exciting voters, including many Republicans, JCN is back to fight the forces seeking to reduce economic inequality.
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JCN has two nonprofits: a 501(c)(4) entity called Job Creators Network, Inc. (sometimes referred to in tax filings as Job Creators Action Fund), and a 501(c)(3) charity, Job Creators Network Foundation. In its first iteration, JCN was called Job Creators Alliance.
The Kochs’ premier political nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity, is a partner of JCN, along with the Libre Initiative, another Koch-backed political entity. Americans for Prosperity and Libre are also listed as partners of the linked JCN Foundation, as is the Koch-backed Generation Opportunity, which is now part of Americans for Prosperity. While the Charles Koch Foundation does not appear to have donated to the JCN groups, an Americans for Prosperity founding board member and close Koch ally, Art Pope of North Carolina, has.
Another conservative JCN donor from North Carolina is businessman Robert Luddy, whose donations to state politicians and outside political spending groups often mirror those of Pope.
Between 2016 and 2017, JCN’s revenue exploded from $2.7 million to $11.1 million. It’s unclear where much of the 2017 revenue came from, as some foundations and trade associations have not yet made their 2017 tax forms available to the public, and any donations to JCN that came directly from individuals or for-profit businesses don’t need to be made public.
But we do know the sources of some $8.3 million given to JCN groups since 2011, when Marcus and pizza magnate Herman Cain founded the organization:
- Bernie Marcus (currently worth $5.4 billion): $2.9 million through his Marcus Foundation (2011-15). Marcus has donated millions to help Trump.
- Retail Industry Leaders Association: $3.4 million (2011-13, 2015-16). This trade association represents a variety of retail businesses, and executives from Home Depot, Target, Dollar General, and other big businesses are on its board.
- Robert Mercer (worth over $1 billion) and Rebekah Mercer: $300,000 through the Mercer Family Foundation (2013-14, 2016), which is directed by Rebekah Mercer, Robert Mercer’s daughter, who is less media-averse than her father. A former hedge fund CEO and GOP megadonor, the senior Mercer invested millions in the right-wing website Breitbart News, which has promoted JCN in the past.
- Philip Anschutz (currently worth $10.9 billion): $300,000 through The Anschutz Foundation (2014-16). Anschutz has had business ventures in several areas, including entertainment and the oil and gas industry.
- Donors Trust: $125,000 (2012). This donor-advised fund, which the Kochs use heavily, acts as a middleman between donor and grantee and offers its clients the option of donating anonymously to the charities of their choice.
- Art Pope: $108,000 through the John William Pope Foundation (2011, 2013). In addition to helping found Americans for Prosperity, Pope is a powerful and prolific GOP donor in North Carolina, where he helped elect Republican majorities in the state legislature and helped racially gerrymander state legislative and congressional districts.
- Robert Luddy: $33,000 (2012-13) through the Luddy Charitable Foundation. Pope ally Luddy is a manufacturing CEO and private school network owner.
- Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation: $25,000 (2011). The Bradley family is major donor to conservative think tanks and political networks. The foundation also funded political front groups of JCN contractor Rick Berman, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
- Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund: $20,000 (2015 fiscal year). Fidelity is another donor-advised fund that masks the identities of its clients.
Other donors include the John Dawson Foundation ($50,000 in 2011), the Lazof Family Foundation ($10,000 from 2012-13), the Devine Family Foundation ($5,000 in 2015), the Dea Family Foundation ($2,500 in 2013), and the William E. Simon Foundation ($1,000 in 2012).
The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) has also donated tens of thousands of dollars to the 60 Plus Association, a Koch-backed political group, as well as to other Koch-linked political groups, including Americans for Job Security.
No Amazon executives appear on the list of RILA board members, and the company is not among RILA’s premier members. RILA opposed Amazon on tax issues a few years ago. Now, it seems, the trade group has changed its tune.
Standing out among JCN’s partner organizations, most of which are chambers of commerce and industry lobbying groups, is the conservative student group Turning Point USA, which received funding from some of the same foundations that finance JCN. Both Marcus and Luddy have donated to TPUSA.
In 2017, JCN paid the firm of conservative political consultant Rick Berman, whom Mother Jones referred to as an “astroturf pioneer” regarding his use of front groups for corporate interests, over $2.5 million, nearly the group’s entire revenue for the previous year, for TK.
JCN also paid Berman’s firm $8,000 for newspaper ads supporting four Republican House candidates in November 2018.
Also contracting with JCN in 2017 was Rigel Strategies, a TK that a Mercer- and Marcus-funded pro-Ted Cruz super PAC paid close to $7.5 million in the 2016 election. JCN paid Rigel Strategies nearly $2 million for advertising that year. Rigel states on its website that it worked on JCN’s pro-corporate tax cuts campaign.
As MapLight’s Andrew Perez pointed out on Twitter, Cavalry LLC, an “issue management firm” founded in 2015 by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) former chief of staff, earned $420,000 from JCN for consulting.
On the JCN board sits former Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s CEO Andy Puzder, who abandoned his nomination to be Trump’s labor secretary after allegations of domestic abuse surfaced. At the time, Puzder, who was worth $45 million in mid-2017, according to Forbes, supports states lowering their minimum wage amounts.
Stephen Moore, a fellow at the heavily Koch-funded Heritage Foundation, is also a board member.