Influence Peddler of the Month
Jobs First Coalition
December 1, 2016
This secretive group, whose address is a post office box in Brookfield, has spent just over $1 million on disclosed and undisclosed outside electioneering activities to support Republican legislative candidates since it first surfaced during the 2010 general elections.
About half of the coalition’s total spending was made through independent expenditures in seven Assembly races in the most recent 2016 fall elections, making it one of the top-spending outside groups in this year’s legislative races. This time around, the group used a new committee called Jobs First Coalition Political Fund to sponsor its activities.
The group’s electioneering activities over the years have been mailings or radio ads that accuse Democratic legislative candidates of supporting higher taxes, fees and government spending, and college tuition breaks for illegal aliens. During the most recent 2016 legislative elections, the group even sponsored ads that praised incumbent Republicans for voting against GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-17 state budget, ostensibly because it did not adequately fund public schools and the University of Wisconsin System. The group also condemned Democrats for supposedly supporting the federal health care program dubbed Obamacare.
Jobs First is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization whose fundraising and spending are governed by U.S. Internal Revenue Service rules that allow it to sponsor political activities as long as those activities are not its primary mission. But the organization appears to do little in the way of non-election activities. It has never been a registered lobbying organization, like other special interest groups, that spend time and money lobbying the legislature and governor on state policy and spending, even though the group’s website says it “regularly monitors legislative and regulatory activities in Wisconsin and takes positions on a variety of public policy matters.”
Jobs First Coalition was one of more than two dozen conservative groups under a John Doe investigation that looked into whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker's campaign illegally coordinated with issue advocacy groups during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. The probe was shut down by a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in July 2015 that found coordination between candidates and issue ad groups was legal, among other things. The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear an appeal of the state Supreme Court's ruling.
Since 2010, the group’s tax returns have put its annual revenue between about $525,000 and about $1.4 million and its annual expenses at between $218,000 and more than $1.6 million.
In addition to its direct spending on elections, Jobs First has transferred large amounts of cash to other secretive GOP electioneering groups and rightwing ideological groups in recent years, including: $720,000 to the pro-school-voucher American Federation for Children; $265,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth; and $187,000 to the American Majority.
The group was founded with the help of former GOP Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was disgraced in the Caucus Scandal of 2001. Bob Reddin, a Brookfield alderman and former Milwaukee radio reporter, has been the group’s executive director since 2010. Jobs First’s other officers and directors, according to its most recent, available 2014 tax return include Mary Jo Baas, president; Candee Arndt, vice president; Mike Dean, secretary; John Gard, former Republican Speaker of the Assembly, a director; and former GOP Rep. Michelle Litjens, of Oshkosh, as its fundraiser.
Baas is a longtime Wisconsin Women’s Council member, and a former lobbyist, Republican aide, and GOP campaign worker. She is married to Steve Baas, who is a lobbyist for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
Arndt is a GOP activist and an at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention; Dean is a Waukesha lawyer and former counsel for the conservative First Freedoms Foundation.