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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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Comments

whats_not_to_understand Sept. 17, 2012 @ 2:12 p.m.

Did you check with your boss before you ran this article?

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jnojr Sept. 17, 2012 @ 2:26 p.m.

If some "progressive" group was soliciting students as members or volunteers or employees, would it have been referred to as "shadowy"? Good Lord, the stilted, biased language...

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Dorian Hargrove Sept. 17, 2012 @ 2:50 p.m.

Jnojr, Some groups, CREW being one of them, have called the organization "shadowy," thus the title. That would not have been the case if group was "progressive."

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Dorian Hargrove Sept. 17, 2012 @ 3:04 p.m.

*The following changes have been made:

--According to the spokesperson, AAN is a "social welfare organization not a political action committee. --The names of the board members from the American Action Forum (partner of the American Action Network) were wrongly inserted in the story. --Rob Collins is the former director --The American Action Network no longer shares office space with Crossroads GPS. *

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gscott Sept. 17, 2012 @ 3:06 p.m.

Against automatic tax hikes? That is a reasonable thing, I am looking up their website to make a donation now.

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Dorian Hargrove Sept. 17, 2012 @ 4:40 p.m.

GScott, You won't have to "look" far. The story has a link to AAN's website.

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Sjtorres Sept. 17, 2012 @ 3:16 p.m.

Dorian often runs a story without the facts.

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Dorian Hargrove Sept. 17, 2012 @ 4:46 p.m.

Sjtorres, thanks for the compli... Oh, sorry there I go writing without having all the facts straight.

Explain yourself, please.

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Hyperion Sept. 17, 2012 @ 5:07 p.m.

No Dorian, you explain yourself. Why choose for the title the pejorative term "shadowy" used by the group's opponent--is that consistent with unbiased reporting/journalistic integrity. Another question (please?) do they even teach that in J school anymore? Finally (one more..) which FACTS in the article support the use of the term "shadowy"?

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Dorian Hargrove Sept. 17, 2012 @ 5:36 p.m.

Hyperion,

Complaints have been sent to the IRS and FEC against this group. CREW, the group that issued those complaints, called the group "shadowy."

That's where "shadowy" came from and why it was used in the title.

The first half of the article focused on AAN and their goals in California. After the description came some of the allegations made against it.

Not sure if there needs to be any more explanation. I provided links to the USD internship, the AAN, CREW, the Washington Post article. Not sure what else you need.

As for which FACTS support the word "shadowy", well, it's a fact that CREW called the group "shadowy". Not sure what else I can tell you.

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Hyperion Sept. 18, 2012 @ 10:01 a.m.

Dorian, thank you for responding but your "explanation" was circular. A mere allegation is not a "fact." In my view it would be more productive to refrain from embracing one side's pejorative characterization as the title for a story until it is adequately shown that such allegations or "complaints" have substance; otherwise it is misleading and revealing of your own bias. Do you not get that??

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Dorian Hargrove Sept. 18, 2012 @ 12:38 p.m.

Hyperion, I never said the allegation was fact. I did say it was a fact that the group has been called shadowy in the past, nothing else. There are a ton of internships, the reason this is different is because this group once has ties to major political figures. In addition, you have the complaints. So, that's the story. I apologize if you do not agree with the byline. I believe I presented the information clearly. Again, sorry if you don't see it that way.

Thanks for your comments.

--dh

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Hyperion Sept. 18, 2012 @ 1:09 p.m.

Hey, at least I admire your willingness to step up and defend your writing. Regards.

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Burwell Sept. 18, 2012 @ 8:10 p.m.

Shadowy is an apt description for an organization that refuses to disclose its source of funding.

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Hyperion Sept. 19, 2012 @ 9:51 a.m.

Burwell, which fact(s) in this article support your conclusion that AAN refuses to disclose its sources of funding?

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