American Action Network

The American Action Network is one of the top 15 dark money groups examined by Issue One’s new “Dark Money Illuminated” report that has been spending millions of dollars in our elections since Citizens United without publicly disclosing their donors. Dark money groups frequently operate as attack dogs during campaigns, criticizing candidates from the shadows. Dark money groups also often push the envelope in terms of how much political spending they can engage in without running afoul of rules that prohibit them from existing primarily to influence elections. By masquerading as a trade association or “social welfare” nonprofit, dark money groups avoid the mandatory donor disclosure rules that would come with registering as a political committee whose primary purpose is to influence elections.

Here’s what Issue One’s year-long “Dark Money Illuminated” investigation revealed:

The American Action Network raised

$170 million

between July 2009 and June 2017.

Issue One identified


donors to this dark money group.

These donors collectively accounted for


of its funding.

Issue One found 13 donors that gave at least $100,000 since July 2009:

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA): $12 million

Republican Jewish Coalition: $4 million

Aetna Inc.: $3.3 million

Crossroads GPS: $500,000

Wellspring Committee: $310,000

Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care: $250,000

American Petroleum Institute: $250,000

Boeing Co. PAC: $250,000

Dow Chemical Co.: $250,000

Association of American Railroads: $200,000 $150,000

Online Consumers Network: $100,000

The Annual Fund: $100,000

Note: These numbers have been rounded to two significant figures. Click here to see more details about these contributions — and all identified donors to this group — in Issue One’s exclusive database of dark money donors, and click here to learn more about how these contributors were identified. 

Source: Issue One analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and Federal Election Commission.

The American Action Network self-reported to the IRS that

of its total spending was related to political campaign activities

It also told the FEC that


of its political spending was negative

About the American Action Network

Incorporated in Delaware in July 2009 as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, the American Action Network was not publicly rolled out by high-profile Republicans until February 2010 — one month after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

The self-described “action tank” was founded by veteran Republican fundraiser Fred Malek, the former Marriott Hotels president and CEO who has helped raise campaign cash for a number of GOP presidential candidates over the years.

Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota served as the American Action Network’s first CEO and is still the chairman of the organization’s board of directors.

Brian Walsh — the former political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee who helped Republicans win control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 — served as the president of the American Action Network between 2011 and 2015.

The group’s current executive director is Corry Bliss, who managed Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s successful re-election campaign in 2016.

When it applied for tax-exempt status, the American Action Network told the Internal Revenue Service that only a “minor portion” of its activities would likely be classified as political campaign intervention — likely no more than 20 percent. Yet in the wake of Citizens United, the American Action Network emerged as a major political player, spending nearly 40 percent of its funds on “direct or indirect political campaign activities” in some years.

In June 2014, the Federal Election Commission deadlocked 3-3 in response to a complaint about whether the American Action Network should have registered as a political committee, which would have required the group to disclose its donors. The FEC again deadlocked 3-3 on the same question in October 2016, after a federal judge ordered the agency to reevaluate its decision.