Don Bauder 7:30 p.m., Oct. 24
"Shadowy" conservative action group offers internship at University of San Diego
University of San Diego political science students are being solicited to join a conservative national grassroots campaign aimed at promoting center-right policies among voters here.
According to a post on the university's website the group is seeking students with flexible schedules "to educate voters about free market principles. Duties include precinct walking, phone banking, posting signage and organizing events."
Alex Welling, who is heading up the internship directed all inquiries to American Action Network's Washington DC headquarters.
The drive is steered by American Action Network, a "social-welfare organization" out of Washington DC that advocates "principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism, and strong national security," according to a September 17 email from the organization's spokesperson Brook Hougesen.
"[The American Action Network] is devoting a minimum of $10 million to create the National Grassroots Network, a massive long-term, on-the-ground issue advocacy effort across the country. This effort will allow us to mobilize and engage Americans on key center-right legislative priorities that would help turn this economy around," writes Hougesen.
San Diego's is one of three offices in California that the American Action Network has opened since August-- the others are located in Santa Barbara and in the Central Valley.
In recent months, the organization sent out mailers urging residents to contact Representative Brian Bilbray to oppose automatic tax hikes. "American Action Network recently opened a volunteer headquarters in San Diego," reads the mailer. "The mission of the organization is simple: to educate and motivate Californians on the need to stop the coming tax increases, control government spending and grow our economy."
The organization's spokesperson says the group looks to partner "with local like-minded organizations on the ground that allow the center-right community to have a stronger voice," writes Hougesen. "[American Action Network] can provide investment and infrastructure and work with local groups like Tea Party or tax organizations that have energy and activists. This synergy is starting to work well in California and across the country. Our internship program, which launched this past August, is also part of our long-term investment in California and the National Grassroots Network."
But grassroots campaigns are hardly what the American Action Network has been known for since forming in 2009. The organization has close ties to some right-leaning political action committees which fought hard to obtain Republican control of the House of Representatives.
In 2010, the Washington Post reported that the group, under former director Rob Collins, once shared office space with Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. And board members for the group include former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, Senator Mel Martinez, and congressmen Jim Nussle and Tom Reynolds, among others.
The conservative 'action tank' has not been without some challenges over the past two years. Washington DC advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), claims the group is more political action committee than social-welfare organization.
In March 2011, CREW filed a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service against what they call a "shadowy" political action group for "operating with the primary purpose of influencing political campaigns" in violation of the Internal Revenue Service's 501 (c)(4) code. More recently, In June 7, 2012, CREW filed another complaint against the organization for accepting $3.3 million from insurance giant Aetna for political purposes.
"Last week, CREW filed its second complaint with the IRS and its first complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against [American Action Network]. CREW explained that by spending over 66% of its budget on campaign ads and by failing to register as a political committee and report its spending, [American Action Network] had violated tax and campaign finance laws," reads a statement from CREW's website. Those complaints are currently being examined by the Internal Revenue Service.
Hougesen, the organization's spokesperson, dismisses the complaints. "The American Action Network is a social welfare organization committed to advancing center-right policies. The Network complies with all laws and Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission rules and regulations. CREW is a left-wing front group, which has accepted contributions from organizations with ties to liberal financier George Soros, and we consider any action they take politically motivated and baseless.
As for its part in allowing the group to offer internships, staff members at the University of San Diego say that although they do approve all internships, the process is not very "intense."
They add that internships are not offered through the college, but instead are all external positions.
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