The group behind the billboards mocking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is called the Job Creators Network, but most of its board members come from franchises, which the group itself says doesn’t hire or take responsibility for workers.

In addition, two of its board members have had ties to groups connected to hate speech, inflammatory rhetoric and other controversies.

The Job Creators Network (JCN) put up several billboards last month in Times Square mocking Ocasio-Cortez. On Saturday, the group Tweeted that "There's more where that came from because we are not stepping down."

The Tweet also, apparently unironically, asked people to donate money to spread the message that "socialism is bad for America." The Tweet links to a GoFundMe page.

The JCN billboards have taunted Ocasio-Cortez regarding climate change, the Green New Deal, and her own tweets. But the JCN has been especially focused on the jobs supposedly lost due to Amazon cancelling plans to open a facility in New York City, the terms of which Ocasio-Cortez opposed.

But JCN’s board of directors comes mostly not from the ranks of executives who have built typical companies making and selling products, but from the world of franchises, where they must, at most, share credit for actual job creation.

JCN’s website lists its board as made up of six members. Of those six, four have run or owned businesses. Three of those four come from franchises. Only one JCN board member ran a business that was not a franchise. (As Sludge previously reported, JCN’s backers are predominantly conservative billionaires.)

In fact, the JCN has vigorously opposed a federal ruling that fast-food and other franchise companies are “joint employers” of franchise workers, and therefore legally liable for their treatment.

The JCN explicitly refers to franchise workers as “someone else’s employees.” In a statement, the JCN said the new ruling “creates massive confusion for job creators everywhere who must now worry about being dragged into labor lawsuits involving someone else’s employees.”

The franchise model also veers in other ways from typical notions about job creators. In its current iteration, “franchising is completely a feudal system,” said Robert Purvin, author of “The Franchise Fraud” and chairman of the American Association of Franchisees and Dealers, an industry advocacy group. “The franchisor has a boot on your neck."

The most famous JCN board member is Andrew Puzder, former CEO of CKE Restaurants and Pres. Trump’s first choice to serve as Labor secretary. CKE Restaurants is a franchisor of fast-food restaurants including Carl’s, Jr., and Hardee’s.

One board member listed on JCN’s tax filings but not its web site, is Luis Farias, executive director at the conservative business group, The Latino Coalition. Farias previously served as a top lobbying executive under Puzder at CKE Restaurants.

JCN’s chair is Heidi Ganahl, who runs Camp Bow Wow, a dog day-care franchise now owned by VCA (formerly Veterinary Centers of America). Ganahl started the business — after attempting to start others — with money she received as part of an insurance settlement.

“The cool thing about franchising," Ganahl told the Wall Street Journal, "is you're using other people's money to build your brand.”

Although Ganahl calls franchising a “path to the middle class,” according to Camp Bow Wow, the cost of starting up one of its franchises in 2017 was $783,500 at minimum and as much as $1,485,000.

In an op-ed, Ganahl said the franchising model “is responsible” for 770,000 small businesses but should not be liable for their employees. And despite JCN's hostility to worker protections and other government regulations, one Camp Bow Wow franchisee told Crain’s, “Sometimes they won’t let me do what I want to do.”

For his part, Puzder’s company had a history of wage theft, and Puzder ultimately withdrew his nomination when it became clear even some Republicans would not support him.

Puzder had previously said he would prefer to automate jobs at his restaurants, so he could not be sued by workers. He also admitted to hiring an undocumented immigrant who worked for him personally, and publicly championed increased immigration to supply low-wage labor.

The CKE jobs Puzder took credit for, he said were saved by his idea to use women in revealing bikinis for his Carl’s, Jr., ads.

Another franchise veteran on JCN’s board is Stephen Bienko, an inspirational speaker and investor. Bienko has been involved with multiple businesses, the most high-profile being his stint as largest owner of the College Hunks Moving Junk franchise.

Bienko is also a member of the advisory council of Turning Point USA, the controversial conservative political advocacy group bankrolled by Foster Friess and founded by Charlie Kirk, a frequent critic of Ocasio-Cortez. One board member of the group, which is supposed to remain non-partisan, resigned due to Kirk’s closeness to Trump. (The JCN says it, too, is nonpartisan.)

In addition to fabricating political attacks, Turning Point USA has been connected with multiple instances of racism. The group was even the subject of a sharp critique by the conservative Young America’s Foundation, which said Turning Point USA’s membership included “racist and Nazi sympathizers.”

Despite the role franchising has played in the success of its board members, even the JCN seems ambivalent about franchising as a job creator. The group’s own language stops short of giving franchising credit for job creation.

In one typical statement from 2014, the JCN said franchises “support” more than 18 million jobs. That language has been consistent for years — including the number of jobs.

Today, the JCN’s website still gives the same number of jobs, suggesting that franchising hasn’t created any jobs in five years of national economic growth.

In fact, the language used now adds a caveat, specifying that the job number includes more than just direct employment. Franchises, the website says, “has been responsible for…creating 18 million direct and indirect jobs.”

The franchise model has been criticized for reasons other than job creation. Critics say franchising caps career advancement to individual outlets, such as restaurants, and most of the jobs are low-wage jobs.

According to Purvin, “The franchising industry had misrepresented for years that franchising is a safe and secure vehicle for business ownership. That whole thing is a lie. The modern franchise fails at a faster pace than independent startups…because it’s a higher burden. I’ve got to pay more to own a franchise.”

Purvin says that most franchisees would be better off as middle managers, receiving benefits and pay rather than having to pay franchise fees and startup costs for the privilege of running a business they do not own.

Aside from franchise veterans, the JCN board includes JCN CEO Alfredo Ortiz, conservative writer Stephen Moore, and only one former head of a company that is not a franchise: Brad Anderson, once the chief executive officer of Best Buy. Best Buy’s headcount increased considerably during Anderson’s tenure, giving him some basis to claim experience at job creation.

Anderson’s tenure at Best Buy, however, was not without its own issues. He came on board shortly after Best Buy acquired Musicland, with 11,000 employees at almost 1,200 locations. Anderson ended up selling the chain for a $66 million loss, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

More recently, Anderson last year resigned from multiple boards on which he served, after it was revealed he helped bankroll a pro-Trump group that ran an anti-Islam campaign on social media. Anderson said he did not endorse the ads and would not have supported the group had he known about them, but apparently opted to remain on JCN’s board.

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

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