August 27, 2015

Company That Gave $550K to Bush Super PAC Wants to Influence How Employees Vote Too

By Alison Grass and Matt Corley

Read more about CREW's research: How Jeb Bush's Georgia Super PAC backers work to sway employee's votes, Atlanta Journal-Constituion, August 27, 2015


For as long as there have been campaigns, the conventional wisdom has been that if you wanted to win, you had to recruit people to go out and knock on doors to spread your message.  In 2016, the most valuable recruits for some campaigns may not be volunteers, but CEOs who can fund super PACs and even try to sway who their employees vote for.

When Jackson Healthcare, a Georgia-based healthcare staffing company, announced in January 2015 that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was stepping down from its advisory board, CEO Richard L. Jackson wished Gov. Bush “great success in his future endeavors.” Soon after, the company put its money behind Gov. Bush’s next endeavor: running for president. 

In March 2015, Jackson Healthcare contributed $550,000 to Gov. Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC, allocated as $500,000 from Mr. Jackson and $50,000 from Shane Jackson, his son and the company’s president. The company also paid more than $2,000 in catering for the super PAC. Two members of Jackson’s advisory board contributed to the super PAC as well. John A. Bardis, who also serves as a consultant to the company, gave $50,000, while Charles R. Evans gave $25,000.

Large contributions to Bush’s super PAC, which is expected to handle some of his presidential campaign’s key tasks, might not be the only way that the company and its executives support Gov. Bush. Richard L. Jackson is a member of the Job Creators Network (JCN), a corporate advocacy organization that provides businesses with tools to influence employee political choices. JCN believes employees are “an untapped reservoir of support for free enterprise and has developed an Employer to Employee (E2E) communications program to help companies enlist their employees as political advocates. Among other things, JCN’s materials seek to convince employees that raising the minimum wage will hurt them and that new power plant emission rules “could lead to higher energy bills, fewer jobs, a weaker economy, greater poverty – for minorities in particular – and even world hunger.”

JCN stresses that its materials do not explicitly tell employees for whom to vote, but as CREW noted last month, slides used to pitch the E2E program to business leaders tout how a quarter of surveyed employees at one JCN CEO’s company say the materials influenced how they voted. In 2012, an early version of JCN created a voter guide that was distributed to employees of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. The pamphlet, which emphasized to employees that voting is important to “protect your job,” criticized Democratic candidates while praising Republicans. 

Not only is Mr. Jackson one of JCN’s CEOs, but Jackson Healthcare is actively using the E2E program. According to a slide from a JCN presentation delivered to the Coalition of Franchisee Associations, Jackson Healthcare is implementing the E2E program with 75 corporate employees. The company also plans to survey its employees before and after a CEO town hall using JCN materials to measure their impact. The results of the survey will be provided to JCN. 

JCN CEOs Supporting GOP Candidates

Mr. Jackson isn’t the only JCN CEO investing in the 2016 election. According to an analysis by CREW, 15 of the 43 CEOs listed on JCNs website have contributed to candidates running for president in 2016 or outside groups supporting them, totaling more than $2.7 million. The sum includes two direct corporate contributions: Jackson Healthcare’s in-kind catering contribution and $100,000 from Sunshine Gasoline Distributors to Gov. Bush’s super PAC. CREW looked at records of contributions to official campaign committees, leadership PACs, supportive super PACs, and 527 organizations covering January 1, 2015 to June 30, 2015. Though JCN claims to be a “nonpartisan organization,” all of the JCN CEO donations went to support Republican candidates. Several are financially supporting multiple candidates in the Republican primary. 

Former Gov. Bush is by far the most popular candidate with JCN CEOs. Between his campaign and two supportive PACs, his political operation received $1.75 million from 11 different CEOs and two companies. Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of both JCN and the Home Depot, was Bush’s top JCN supporter, giving $1 million to Bush’s super PAC and $2,700 directly to Bush’s campaign. Mr. Jackson was next with his $500,000 contribution on top of his company’s $2,011 in-kind contribution. Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, run by JCN CEO Maximo Alvarez, contributed $100,000. Another $100,000 came from Warren Stephens, the president and CEO of Stephens, Inc., who also contributed $50,000 to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s super PAC, America Leads. 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is the second largest recipient of JCN CEO cash. His super PAC, Unintimidated PAC, took in $650,000 from three CEOs, including a $500,000 check from Mr. Marcus and a $50,000 check from Mr. Stephens. Robert Luddy, president of CaptiveAire Systems, also gave $100,000. Gov. Walker’s 527 organization, Our American Revival, also raised $160,000 from four JCN CEOs, including an additional $100,000 from Mr. Marcus and another $25,000 from Mr. Luddy. Mr. Luddy also gave $25,000 to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 527 group, the American Future Project.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina drew similar levels of support with both raising more than $33,000 from JCN CEOs. It’s somewhat surprising that Ms. Fiorina’s JCN support isn’t larger. She serves as the honorary co-chair of JCN’s National Women’s Coalition. JCN CEOs gave minimal support to Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) as well as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. 

For these candidates, gaining the support of the members of JCN isn’t just about the large checks they can write to super PACs. Using JCN’s E2E program, they may be priming these companies’ employees to pull the lever for them too.

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