The Democracy Alliance is a donors' collaborative of left-wing millionaires and billionaires who fund left-wing political infrastructure in the United States. Membership is by invitation only. "Alliance Partners represent a range of progressive perspectives, and have diverse backgrounds in business, philanthropy, and academia." 
The Democracy Alliance is registered as a taxable nonprofit corporation in the District of Columbia. Its founders selected this kind of corporate structure in order to keep the group's financial affairs confidential.
- 2014:Democracy Alliance 2012, Miami
- 2014:Democracy Alliance Spring Investment Conference, Chicago
- 2017:Beyond #Resistance: Reclaiming our Progressive Future.
- 2018:Democracy Alliance Spring Investment Conference, Atlanta
Board of Directors
- Robert McKay, Chair
- Anna Burger, Vice Chair
- Drummond Pike, Treasurer
- Robert Dugger
- Al Dwoskin
- Chris Findlater
- Dr. Gail Furman, ACSW, PhD
- James D. Gollin
- Robert Johnson
- Cookie Parker
- Steven Phillips
- Charles Rodgers
- Cynthia Ryan
- Deborah Sagner
- Ted Trimpa
- Michael Vachon
- Gara LaMarche, President
- Julie Kohler, Managing Director
- Robin McQueen, Senior Vice President, External Relations
- Austin Belali, Director, Youth Engagement Fund
- Ambar Canales, Program Associate
- Shehn Datta, Strategy and Planning Manager
- Frank Smith, Political Director
- Kimberly Douglas, Director of Operations
- Whittney Fox, Executive Assistant
- Lauren Hill, Director of Partner Services
- Owen Hooks Davis, Partner Services Associate
- Cietta Kiandoli, Director, Black Civic Engagement Fund
- Roger Kim, Senior Strategy and Planning Officer, Climate
- Tori Miyagi, Program Manager
- Eddy Morales, Consultant, Latino Engagement Fund
- Ryan Rodriguez, Vice President, Partner Services
- Frank Smith, Political Director
- Katherine Storch, Strategy and Planning Manager
- Robert Wimberley, Research Manager
- Joycelyn Bassette Blizzard
- Anathea Chino
- Kelly Craighead
- Kathryn Greenberg
- Lori Keller
- Josh Leffler
- Dominic Lowell
- Ashindi Maxton
- Shannon Roche
- Alexandra Visher
- Felicia Wong
Democracy Alliance "partners"
The Democracy Alliance has at least 100 donor-members, both individuals and organizations.However, it has not made available an official list of its “partners.” Here are some known DA members, as of December 2008:
- AFL-CIO - an institutional member
- Fred Baron (died Oct. 30) -the “King of Torts” and one of America’s wealthiest plaintiffs’ attorneys; founded Public Justice (formerly Trial Lawyers for Public Justice); was finance chairman for Sen. John Edwards’s 2004 presidential campaign.
- Anne Bartley -step-daughter of Winthrop Rockefeller; trustee of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, director of Bauman Family Foundation.
- Patricia Bauman - Bauman Family Foundation.
- Ann S. Bowers - widow of Intel co-founder Robert Noyce, inventor of the integrated circuit.
- Rutt Bridges -founded Advance Geophysical; ran for governor of Colorado in 2005 but dropped out of the race
- William Budinger -investor who founded and ran Rodel, Inc.
- Mark Buell and Susie Tompkins Buell -businessman; wife co-founded clothier Esprit with ex-husband, Douglas Tompkins, who is president of the Foundation for Deep Ecology
- Anna Burger (DA board member, vice chairman) -secretary-treasurer of SEIU and chairs Change to Win, the labor federation breakaway from the AFL-CIO
- Lewis B. Cullman - financier and philanthropist
- Robert H. Dugger (DA board member) - managing director of Tudor Investment Corp. (asset management)
- Albert J. Dwoskin (DA board member) -Northern Virginia real estate developer; chairman of Catalist
- David A. Friedman - philanthropist and self-described centrist
- Gail Furman (DA board member) - Manhattan psychologist; member of the Council on Foreign Relations
- Chris Gabrieli - software entrepreneur; sought Democratic nomination for Massachusetts governor in 2006
- Tim Gill - created Quark, the design and layout publishing program; funds gay rights groups
- Davidi Gilo - high-tech entrepreneur and founder of Vyyo Inc.; his wife, Shamaya Gilo, created Winds of Change Foundation
- Rob Glaser - heads the online multimedia company RealNetworks
- Steven M. Gluckstern - a former chairman of the DA, investment banker FW
- Pat Stryker
- Connie Cagampang Heller - philanthropist, advisor for Heller Philanthropic Fund at Tides Foundation.
- Rachel Pritzker Hunter - of the Hyatt Hotel Pritzkers
- Rob Johnson (DA board member) -partner at Impact Artist Management
- Michael Kieschnick - founded Working Assets which donates a portion of long distance charges to progressive causes; founded Secretary of State Project
- John Luongo - venture director of Lightspeed Venture Partners; previously a senior vice president at Oracle Corp.
- Gara LaMarche - president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies; was vice president of Open Society Institute
- Norman Lear -veteran television producer, he is the founder of People for the American Way, the Lear Family Foundation, and Business Enterprise Trust
- Peter Lewis - billionaire insurance magnate founded Progressive Casualty Insurance Co.; gave $23 million to anti Bush 527s in 2004
- Rodger MacFarlane - senior adviser to the Gill Foundation, is also a DA partner.
- Rob McKay (DA board member, chairman) -Taco Bell heir writes for the Huffington Post
- Herb Miller - real estate developer and Democratic Party fundraiser.
- Philip Murphy - national finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee
- Alan Patricof -co-founder of private equity firm Apax Partners; was chairman of the White House Conference on Small Business (1993-95)
- Steve Phillips (DA board member) - attorney and political organizer; founded PowerPAC.org in California; son in-law of DA members Herb Sandler and Marion Sandler
- Drummond Pike (DA board member, treasurer) -founder of the ultra-left Tides Foundation
- Andy Rappaport and Deborah Rappaport -identified as members of DA by the Politico newspaper (Nov. 2); funded fi first Yearly Kos (now Netroots) convention in 2004; founded New Progressive Coalition LLC, (”Your political giving advisor”) technically a for profit corporation that allows individuals to “invest” in political “mutual funds”
- Rob Reiner - Hollywood actor-director; chairman of Parents Action for Children; backed unsuccessful California Proposition 82 (preschool for four year olds)
- Charles Rodgers (DA board member) - president of the New Community Fund
- Simon Rosenberg - founder and president of the New Democrat Network (NDN); ran unsuccessfully in 2005 for the DNC chairmanship
- Deborah Sagner (DA board member) - philanthropist, social worker
- Herb Sandler and Marion Sandler - co-founded and later sold Golden West Financial Corp. to Wachovia, which made the terrible decision to purchase its portfolio of subprime loans; gave $13 million to anti-Bush 527s in 2004
- Guy Saperstein - -trial lawyer who created the [[National Security/Foreign Policy New Ideas Fund] (newideasfund.org) with DA funding
- Service Employees International Union - an institutional member
- Stephen M. Silberstein - California philanthropist interested in civil rights disclosed on donation forms his association with the DA
- Bren Simon - president of MBS Associates LLC, a property management and development firm; husband, Melvin Simon, is part owner of Indiana Pacers and runs the Simon Property Group, developer of shopping malls
- George Soros (and son Jonathan Soros) - high-flying financier founded Open Society Institute; gave $24 million to anti-Bush 527s in 2004
- Rob Stein (DA board member, founder) - an attorney who was chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Commerce and a senior official on the Clinton-Gore transition team
- John Stocks - former chief of staff for Democrats in Idaho state senate, now deputy executive director at National Education Association
- Patricia Stryker - granddaughter of Homer Stryker, founder of Stryker Corp.
- Michael Vachon (DA board member) - spokesman and political director for Soros
- Albert C. Yates - former president of Colorado State University
NEW PARTNERS, 2013
- Amy Goldman: Author, horticulturalist, and daughter of the late New York City real estate magnate Sol Goldman.
NEW PARTNERS, 2014
- Adam Abram: Founder of James River Group, Chairman of Franklin Holdings, Chairman of Piedmont Community Bank Holdings, former President of Adaron Group.
- Noel Beasley: President of Workers United, Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, Chairman of Amalgamated Bank.
- Ryan Smith: Unknown. It was originally reported that Smith was the CEO of Qualtrics, but that was not the case.
- Henry van Ameringen: President of the Van Ameringen Foundation, son of Arnold Louis van Ameringen, Founder of International Flavors and Fragrances.
- Dirk Wiggins: Founder of Code for Progress, former Director of Targeting for Field Strategies, former Outreach Director for the Florida Democratic Party.
Chicago Meeting 2014/new partners
The Democracy Alliance met in Chicago for its yearly secretive meeting in 2014. A listing of new partners was accidentally left on the floor and The Washington Free Beacon found it and publicized those identified:
It lists new Democracy Alliance “partners,” individuals who every year must pay $30,000 in dues and contribute at least $200,000 to the groups that DA supports. It also reveals names of DA “advisers,” foundation participants, and individuals getting a “sneak peek” at the group’s activities.
Among its new partners are top labor union bosses, financial and business leaders, and heirs to billion-dollar fortunes who have made names for themselves as high-dollar Democratic donors.
The listing of new donating partners includes:
Amy Goldman is one of the country’s foremost horticulturalists, but her fortune comes from her status as heiress to one of the largest real estate fortunes ever amassed. Goldman’s father, Sol Goldman, owned nearly 600 New York commercial real estate properties when he died in 1987. At one point, he owned the famed Chrysler Building.
Amy Goldman has since become one of the Democratic Party’s largest individual campaign contributors. Goldman has donated more than $6 million to Democratic candidates, party organs, interest groups, and independent expenditure groups since 1990.
Those donations have included $1 million to Priorities USA in 2012, $500,000 to House Majority PAC the same year, $1.75 million to Planned Parenthood from 2011 to 2013, and $750,000 to Organizing for Action last year.
Goldman has donated nearly $9,000 to Obama, and more than $13,000 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and independent groups supporting that effort.
Philip Munger is the son of Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman and Warren Buffett lieutenant Charles Munger, whose estimated net worth is $1.2 billion, according to Forbes. Munger the younger is a professor at the New School in New York City. Despite living on an educator’s salary, he also manages to donate vast sums to Democratic politicians.
Munger has shelled out more than $700,000 in political contributions since 1990, all to Democrats or liberal interest groups. He donated $46,300 while he was still a student, according to FEC forms that require donors to disclose their profession.
Munger was among the first donors to OFA, topping the group’s list of "founding members" with a $250,000 contribution.
Van Ameringen was the 21st largest individual contributor to 527 "political action committees" in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He is the ninth largest donor to those groups in the current election cycle.
Van Ameringen has also contributed $100,000 to an effort to legalize marijuana in Oregon. Democracy Alliance founder and automotive insurance kingpin Peter Lewis donated to the same effort.
Adam Abram made his fortune in insurance and real estate. He sold his company, James River Group, to Bermuda-based Franklin Holdings in 2007. Abram is currently Franklin’s chairman. He also founded Adaron Group, a commercial real estate developer in North Carolina.
Abram has donated more than $110,000 to Democrats since 1990. He cohosted Michelle Obama at a 2008 fundraiser in Durham, N.C.
Rick Segal, CEO of financial services firm Seavest, bundled between $250,000 and $500,000 for the president’s reelection campaign, in addition to his $165,000 in political contributions since 1990.
Paul Boskind has contributed nearly $200,000 to Democrats since 1990, and bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama’s reelection. He also served on the DNC’s national finance committee.
Boskind is the CEO of Deer Oaks Mental Health Associates, a Texas based mental health organization. He is also involved in theater, producing a number of plays designed to promote liberal political sensibilities, including Gore Vidal’s "The Best Man."
These and other individuals (full list below) are some of DA’s newest partners, but the list also includes a host of individuals with other statuses at the organization.
The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel was given a "sneak peak," according to the list. Lee Wasserman and Lisa Guide of the Rockefeller Family Fund are listed as "committed." Joan Davidson, heir to the Welch juice fortune and president emeritus of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, is listed under the status "convening."
Capital Research Center reports that the Democracy Alliance, which leftist blogger Markos Moulitsas calls “a vast, Vast Left Wing Conspiracy to rival” the conservative movement, was born in 2005 out of the frustration of wealthy left-wingers who gave generously to liberal candidates and 527 political committees in the 2004 election cycle, but were bitterly disappointed when John Kerry failed to defeat President George W. Bush. Election Day 2004 left the wealthy left-wingers shell-shocked. “The U.S. didn’t enter World War II until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor,” political consultant Erica Payne told them. “We just had our Pearl Harbor,” according to Capital Research Center.
In April 2005, 70 millionaires and billionaires met in Phoenix, Arizona, for a secret long-term strategy session in which the Democracy Alliance was born. Three-quarters of the attendees agreed that the Alliance should not “retain close ties to the Democratic Party,” and 84 percent thought the conservative movement was “a fundamental threat to the American way of life.” Former Clinton administration official Rob Stein told the gathering they needed to reflect on how conservatives had spent four decades investing in ideas and institutions with staying power. Stein showed his PowerPoint presentation on condition they keep it confidential. Called “The Conservative Message Machine’s Money Matrix,” the presentation showed graphs and charts of an intricate network of organizations, funders, and activists that composed what Stein said constituted the conservative movement. “This is perhaps the most potent, independent, institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,” Stein said.
Capturing the White House is all-important, Stein told a panel at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. “The reason it is so important to control government is because government is the source of enormous power. One president in this country, when he or she takes office … appoints 5,000 people to run a bureaucracy, non-military non-postal service of 2 million people, who hire 10 million outside outsource contractors—a workforce of 12 million people—that spends 3 trillion dollars a year. That number is larger than the gross domestic product of all but four countries on the face of the earth.”
In 2005, Stein felt Democrats had grown complacent, accustomed to thinking of themselves as the natural majority party. The party had become a top-down organization run by professional politicians untroubled by donors’ concerns. He was convinced the party had to be turned upside-down: Donors should fund an ideological movement that would dictate policies to politicians. Activists with new money and new energy should demand more say in party affairs. As Eli Pariser of MoveOn said just after the 2004 election: “Now it’s our party: we bought it, we own it, and we’re going to take it back.” Democratic donors aggravated by the GOP’s electoral success latched on to Stein’s vision. “The new breed of rich and frustrated leftists” saw themselves as oppressed both by “a Republican conspiracy” and “by their own party and its insipid Washington establishment,” wrote journalist Matt Bai. “This, more than anything else, was what drew them to Rob Stein’s presentation.”
Kevin Rodriguez, a 19-year-old aspiring singer in tight jeans and gray-and-white Nike high tops, had never heard of the powerful progressive donor group Democracy Alliance. But he is a key part of the secretive billionaire club’s plot to flip the Sun Belt.
The donor clique, which counts George Soros and Tom Steyer among its members, is quietly giving funds to a handful of local grassroots groups like Rodriguez’s employer, Living United for Change in Arizona. They hope that these organizations can do a better job than Democratic campaigns at reaching and turning out young and minority voters in states that liberals have long viewed as just out of their reach.
It’s a marked shift from the Democracy Alliance’s longtime strategy of funding Beltway think tanks to counter conservative ideas.
And it’s also one window into the exclusive cadre’s view of the best way to take down President Donald Trump in 2020: By wooing new voters in rapidly diversifying states across the southern U.S., rather than prioritizing fighting Republicans for older white residents of the Rust Belt, a raging debate in the party since the 2016 election. If the investment pays off in next week’s election results, the group might take it to more states during the presidential election.
Rodriguez is a paid canvasser for Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, which offers a blend of immigration services, lobbying on issues like criminal justice, and campaigning — including a yearlong push to register and turn out low-propensity voters. At the moment, Rodriguez is working six days a week on the latter.
On a Sunday morning, one of the slowest times of his week because most people were either asleep or at church, Rodriguez strode past brown stucco homes in a south Phoenix neighborhood, knocking on doors for 45 minutes before hitting his first bull’s-eye: a voter who had requested a mail-in ballot.
Nicholas Romero, 18, answered the door with a glossy charcoal face mask dotted on his nose and cheeks. He planned to vote, he said, and had requested a ballot in the mail — but three days before the deadline to mail it in, he hadn’t filled it out yet.
“I’m here to help you. It only takes a couple minutes,” Rodriguez told Romero. “If you get it, we could vote right now.”
Seated at a glass-top outdoor table, Rodriguez walked Romero through a host of left-leaning candidates and issues that he and LUCHA support: Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema for Senate and David Garcia for governor, as well as a grocery list of judges and a clean energy initiative. Romero carefully connected the lines on his ballot. Then Rodriguez took a triumphant selfie of the duo and walked with Romero down the driveway to the mailbox to be sure the ballot was sent.
The vote was a tiny coup for the Democratic Party. In Arizona, like the rest of the country, youth and Latino voters tend to vote at lower rates than older white voters do. One report on the 2016 election found that millennials made up 19 percent of the voting population in Arizona, while baby boomers made up 37 percent of voters, even though the state has more millennial residents.
The Pew Research Center estimated that Latinos made up 22 percent of Arizona eligible voters in 2016, but exit polls indicated 15 percent of people casting votes there were Latino. Latinos aren’t shoo-ins for Democratic votes, but 61 percent of them in Arizona said they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while 31 percent of Latinos said in exit polls that they supported Trump.
Part of the issue, the Democracy Alliance posits, is that campaigns and candidates show up for a season and then move on. By building up organizations over several years, the Democracy Alliance is hoping it can equip groups like LUCHA in Arizona and others in New Mexico, Florida and Virginia — plus one Midwestern state, Minnesota — to turn out those harder-to-reach voters in next week’s midterms.
“We don’t believe in inauthentic community-based efforts. We’re not interested in building an AstroTurf operation,” said Democracy Alliance executive vice president Kim Anderson. “We want to empower real people: authentic community members raising the issues that are important to them.”
Democrats have argued for two years about how to respond to Trump’s 2016 victory. The Democracy Alliance and many of its donors took heat from others in the party after the election for helping to build up organizations that pushed the idea that focusing on women and minorities could tip elections to Democrats. One Democratic strategist at the time described the group as “a social club for a handful of wealthy white donors and labor union officials to drink wine and read memos, as the Democratic Party burns down around them.”
Some moderate Democrats and other political observers think the party continues to overemphasize trying to pick off deep red states, rather than playing defense in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where Trump showed they were losing voters.
“The ‘new American majority’ is one piece of the strategy that Democrats need to focus on, but it can only get you over the line in certain states and districts,” said Lanae Erickson, vice president at the think tank Third Way, which published a sweeping report in the wake of the last election titled “Why Demography Does Not Equal Destiny.”
“And even there, you also need to persuade people who are beyond that group,” Erickson said.
Anderson said the Democracy Alliance is interested in how to win back Rust Belt voters too, even though most of its early efforts are focused across more diverse Southern states.
“This is about doing ‘both, and,’” Anderson said. “How to expand and continue to engage Americans and real people so we’re not writing states and communities off the map.”
Donors who belong to the Democracy Alliance pay dues to the organization and pledge to give a minimum of $300,000 a year to causes from a portfolio of approved groups. LUCHA is one of them this year, as is the Native American Voters Alliance in New Mexico, which is sending paid canvassers onto the Navajo reservation daily, armed with information on which candidates will help protect the area from uranium mining. Another organization, Somos Accion, organizes and mobilizes voters in eastern New Mexico around bringing higher wages and better working conditions to the state’s agriculture, gas and private-prison industries.
“It’s not just an electoral strategy, it’s how do you engage people all the time?” said Shekar Narasimhan, a Democracy Alliance donor and board member. “I think we’ll see the results in a way we haven’t seen before. And you can maintain it in ’19, you can maintain it in ’20 — but you better be there.”
Democracy Alliance officials said they will not know how much donors contribute to the groups in total until after the election, and they declined to provide an estimate.
Democracy Alliance donors have long maintained an air of secrecy, and little is known about most of them. Major Democratic donors who have been identified as members include George Soros and Tom Steyer, hedge fund magnate Donald Sussman and technology entrepreneur Tim Gill. Until recent years, the group was mostly focused on combating the conservative ideas generated by groups like The Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“We progressives continue to have a strong bias toward coastal donors who focus primarily on D.C.,” said Raj Goyle, a former Kansas state legislator involved in the Democracy Alliance. “So, it is definitely exciting to see genuine attention to the states with serious dollars flowing and new muscle building. But decades of neglect won't be fixed overnight, even with a successful election night next week.”
The race to replace Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who is retiring, is crucial for both parties’ efforts to secure control of the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a narrow, one-seat majority. Sinema, a Democratic House member, is in a statistical tie with Republican Rep. Martha McSally, a former Air Force pilot.
Getting more low-propensity voters to participate in elections is a victory in itself, said Alejandra Gomez, co-executive director of LUCHA, a 501(c)4 organization that does not have to reveal its donors. Gomez said the group gets funding from sources including unions and dues-paying members in addition to the Democracy Alliance.
Earlier this year, she said, the organization registered 190,000 voters during a get-out-the-vote drive. LUCHA focused initially on registering people to vote by going to supermarkets and gas stations in parts of Phoenix with large minority populations. Later, canvassers started going door-to-door to identify possible Democratic voters.
“There’s a historic number of communities of color that have been registered to vote, that are turning out to vote. The same thing with Democratic registrants — it’s at an all-time high this year,” Gomez said. “We don’t know what this year is going to bring. What we do know is that we’ve already won.”
In the same neighborhood where Rodriguez sat with Romero while he filled out his ballot, LUCHA canvassers Astrid Pizarro, 22, and Felix Medina, 18, helped Jaime Zamarron Rosas, 43, register to vote over the weekend. He was too late to vote Tuesday, but he said he’s wanted to register but has “always been very busy.”
Speaking in Spanish while seated on a beige sectional in Rosas’ living room, Medina walked him through the various boxes on the form, leading up to party preference.
“Do I have to mark something down?” Rosas asked. “What party is ‘El Donald’ from?”
“Republican,” Medina replied. “So, if you support immigrants and education, then put down Democrat. If you support Donald Trump, then put down Republican.”
Rosas ticked off a box. “Whichever party is opposite Trump’s,” he said.
April 2016 Santa Monica meeting
April 2016 Some of the biggest donors on the left huddled behind closed doors with liberal politicians including Nancy Pelosi to strategize about electing Democrats and confirming Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but they also discussed ways to use Hollywood to advance their causes.
The occasion was the annual spring investment conference of the Democracy Alliance, which officially kicks off at the tony Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, California.
A Tuesday night dinner featured a discussion “with Hollywood actors and directors on how Hollywood has been used to promote progressive ideals, and how it can be utilized more effectively in the future,” according to the agenda. The session was moderated by Rashad Robinson, the executive director of a group called ColorOfChange.org that aims to “strengthen Black America's political voice” through pressure campaigns funded partly by Democracy Alliance members. Robinson did not know the names of the participating stars. But he said Hollywood can play an important role in the fight for racial justice, asserting “Changing culture is important to changing policy.”
On Wednesday, interested donors were taken to the headquarters of a non-profit production studio called Brave New Films for a discussion with actor Martin Sheen about “why this is an important moment for advocacy in media.”
The agenda introduced the session by noting that “This year, #OscarsSoWhite trended on social media and once again diversity in media became a focus of discussion across the country.”
#OscarsSoWhite is an online movement protesting the absence of nominees of color for the highest-profile Academy Award categories over the last two years, but it doesn’t appear to have any formal institutional backing.
The Democracy Alliance agenda, though, suggests that Brave New Films is uniquely positioned to address the issues raised by the movement.
“Brave New Films has long been a leader in diversity in their social justice media and this year started a Diversity Fellowship program with the help of the Atlantic Foundation,” says the agenda, referring to a $2.5 million grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies. The grant is intended to help train “racially diverse individuals from marginalized communities, who have traditionally been underrepresented in media and progressive organizations,” according to The Atlantic Philanthropies.
But the grant doesn’t fully fund the program, and Brave New Films would welcome donations from Democracy Alliance donors, said Robert Greenwald, the founder and president of Brave New Films. His group is equal parts political organization and film studio, producing documentaries and videos meant to serve as rallying points for campaigns against liberal bete noires ranging from Fox News to Walmart to the Koch brothers.
And Greenwald said the diversity fellowship is about much more than Hollywood. “It trains people who can go out and use their talents on everything from the news media to Silicon Valley to NGOs to unions to political campaigns. There is a huge large world that will benefit from having a more diverse work force. Hollywood is a piece of it, but it’s only a small part of a much larger world that we are training people for.”
The Democracy Alliance, is among the most influential streams of big money on the American political left, and its members pride themselves on their ability to shape liberal movement politics. Its ranks include influential liberal billionaires like George Soros and Tom Steyer. Members pay annual dues of $30,000, and also are required to contribute a total of at least $200,000 a year to recommended groups. Most of the beneficiary groups do not disclose their donors, and the lack of transparency has drawn criticism since one of the club's goals is fighting undisclosed big-money in politics.
Since its inception in 2005, the DA has steered upward of $500 million to recommended groups, including pillars of the political left such as the conservative media watchdog Media Matters, the policy advocacy outfit Center for American Progress and the data firm Catalist.
Over the years, the DA’s members occasionally have argued over the proper balance between long-term cultural movement building and short-term electoral fights.
Some Democratic operatives grumbled about the focus on cultural issues like Hollywood and marijuana legalization (which is the subject of a Tuesday session) at the group’s final meeting before the pivotal 2016 presidential election. “It’s bizarre,” said one fundraiser, suggesting it would be a better use of time to steer donors towards groups that will play directly in the elections.
But Gara LaMarche, the DA’s president, pointed out that the Hollywood-related programming was just a tiny sliver of the Santa Monica program. He pointed out that the Brave New Films visit was organized by donors, as was the marijuana-legalization session. As for the panel of Hollywood stars moderated by ColorOfChange.org’s Robinson, LaMarche said “it seemed a good idea to have at least one panel featuring entertainment industry folks.”
The agenda also shows plenty of electorally focused discussion, including a briefing on the Democratic congressional campaign efforts. It will feature presentations from Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Tom Lopach, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, who is running for Senate, and Emily Cain, who is running for a Maine House seat.
Other sessions featured presentations from the leaders of major unions and unlimited-money groups planning to spend big in the elections, including America Votes, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NRDC Action Fund and League of Conservation Voters.
An overview session led by DA Board Chair John Stocks, the executive director of the National Education Association teachers’ union, seems intended to drive home the importance of the elections for progressives. “Their outcome will determine whether the next occupant of the White House will work to advance or repeal the hard fought progressive gains we have won over the past eight years and whether he or she will face a U.S. Congress prepared to work with the administration to solve the pressing challenges facing our country or one that will work to undermine and stall progress,” the description in the agenda reads. “The elections also provide us an opportunity to take back many states from right-wing control.”
The agenda also shows a particular focus on the California liberal donor community’s efforts to prepare for an impending upheaval in their state.
“As we approach the end of the Senator Boxer, Governor Brown, and Democratic Party Chair Burton era of California politics, a number of progressive policy, labor, and donor leaders have been strategizing together on how to win targeted candidate and initiative elections in 2016 and beyond, as well as policy battles in Sacramento,” read the description of a Saturday session called the California Donor Summit. It is sponsored by some of the biggest names in California progressive donor circles, including San Francisco real estate developer Wayne Jordan and his wife Quinn Delaney, Cookie Parker and Democracy Alliance board member Susan Sandler and her husband Steve Phillips.
Delaney, was also among the sponsors of the Brave New Films visit.
Other major big-money players expected to attend included Michael Vachon, a political lieutenant for Soros. While Soros is not expected himself, he has already donated or committed $19 million to groups seeking to boost voter turnout, protect voting rights or help Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. Among Soros’ main causes are voter protection, which is the subject of a Monday session called “Protecting and Advancing the Right to Vote in 2016 and Beyond.”
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader and a longtime ally of the DA, was set to speak at a Sunday night dinner. The dinner also will include a discussion of the Supreme Court seat for which President Barack Obama has nominated Garland.
“The program will explore the current Supreme Court vacancy crisis – both the impact that confirming – or not confirming the president’s nominee would have on issues that are central to the DA’s vision of a more progressive America and the political fight that we must wage in the face of unprecedented Senate Republican obstruction,” according to the agenda.
Winter 2014 meeting
November 2014, Vice President Joe Biden joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other leading progressives in addressing a closed-door gathering of elite liberal donors — a roster of speakers that notably didn’t include Hillary Clinton.
The annual winter meeting of the Democracy Alliance, a group of funders of liberal causes, isn’t a presidential cattle call. But speculation about the 2016 Democratic presidential race looms over the four-day gathering, which started Wednesday at Washington’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. 2013’s meeting was a lovefest for Warren, whose speech fired up the crowd. 2014’s program, included sessions on numerous progressive causes — including fighting climate change, reducing the role of money in politics and more rigorously regulating Wall Street — on which Warren is seen as more liberal than Clinton.
Warren’s appearance was to take place during a session called “An Economy That Works for All — A Progressive Plan and the Path to Making It Happen,” billed as a discussion on a state of affairs “we can’t sustain,” in which “the Dow Jones rises, real wages decline, and unemployment remains chronic.” Biden was set to appear Friday night at a gala at the Newseum where donors and operatives will “toast the tremendous work of the progressive community and look ahead to the future we hope to build together.”
While Biden has sought to position himself as a populist who could run to Clinton’s left on economic issues, and has spoken to the Democracy Alliance in the past, he has much less support among its ranks than Warren, whose appearance last year had donors pleading with her to run for president.
A super PAC called Ready for Warren, which was formed to coax the senator into the 2016 race, met with donors on the sidelines of the 2014 conference. Two former Democracy Alliance members — Deborah Sagner and Guy Saperstein — provided the PAC with early funding.
“Ideas are what inspires many of these donors — big, positive ideas like those that Elizabeth Warren is advocating,” said liberal operative Adam Green, who planned to attend the conference. The group he co-founded, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, worked to draft Warren into her 2012 Senate race, and it is among the second tier of groups that the Democracy Alliance recommends its donors support. “My guess is there will be a big appetite among progressive donors to champion bigger and bolder ideas than the current White House is championing,” said Green, citing Warren’s support for making college more affordable, tightening financial regulations and expanding Social Security.
Saperstein, a San Francisco lawyer who has been critical of Clinton, added in an email, “I think there would be a stampede away from Hillary if Elizabeth Warren became a serious candidate with a serious campaign infrastructure and, polling match-ups of Hillary v. Republicans continued to show her weakness.”
The Democracy Alliance meeting comes at a pivotal moment for the Democratic Party, as it absorbed the fallout from the 2014 mid terms elections and charts its path to 2016. Wealthy donors like those who belong to the Democracy Alliance can exert disproportionate influence on such debates, particularly through big spending in primary elections.
The club’s goal is to pull the Democrats to the left on climate change, income inequality, money in politics and other key issues. And, if past conferences are any indication, donors will spend a lot of time debating the emerging presidential field in what’s expected to be their last meeting before the campaign officially kicks off.
Clinton wasn’t invited to the conference, which caused quiet grumbles from her supporters.
Many Clintonites left the Democracy Alliance in 2008 because of its perceived favoritism for President Barack Obama. And the group’s longtime executive director, Kelly Craighead, a Clinton loyalist, was replaced in 2013 amid concerns that the group was too cozy with the Democratic Party. Gara LaMarche, the new director, is not as close to Clinton.
Warren was introduced by the Massachusetts donor who served as the national finance chairman of her Senate race, Paul Egerman. He sits on the board of directors of the Democracy Alliance and is seen as her liaison to the tight-knit world of big liberal money and likely a key player if she changed her mind and entered the race. In addition to Egerman, the Democracy Alliance board includes early Obama backers David desJardins and Cookie Parker. The newest board member, Susan Sandler, who was elected last week, worked to boost Obama by helping fund efforts to register minority voters in early primary states in 2008 through an outside group started by her husband and fellow Democracy Alliance member Steve Phillips.
But, while individual members are already making their feelings known about the presidential race — including a few influential players who are supporting a potential Clinton campaign — the organization itself is not “playing favorites,” according to LaMarche.
He dismissed any effort to read into the appearances by Warren and Biden but not Clinton. “None of this has to do with presidential politics, and none of the people you asked about are declared presidential candidates,” he said Wednesday. “Once we have an actual contest, if we do have one, the DA will have to thread carefully through it, since we are scrupulously neutral, and people like you are always looking for signs.”
LaMarche explained that “we invited Sen. Warren because, as Secretary Clinton herself has said, she is a leading progressive voice on the economy, and she is kicking off an economics discussion.”
Some of the group’s presenters have long-standing ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. A presentation on reducing the role of big money in politics, called “A Democracy That Works for All — Putting People, Not Money, at the Center of Politics,” included Brennan Center for Justice President Michael Waldman, who worked for President Bill Clinton on campaign regulations, and DA partner Jonathan Soros, whose father, billionaire financier George Soros, has endorsed a prospective Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
Sagner predicted the DA membership “will be split” between Clinton backers “who think a primary is a waste of time and money” and those who “see a primary as an opportunity to both open up the conversation about what the Democratic Party stands for and to develop a more populist/progressive platform for whoever is the party’s eventual candidate.”
Still, she called it “very surprising” that Clinton wasn’t invited.
DA fights back
The Democracy Alliance meet straight after the 2014 mid terms to plan the disbursement of tens of millions of dollars into state political campaigns and to discuss how they can circumvent legal restrictions on political coordination to elect Democratic candidates at the state level.
Through behind-the-scenes collaboration and a budget that those involved hope will reach nine figures, the Democracy Alliance, hoped to turn the tide of recent Republican gains in state legislatures and governorships.
Representatives of the DA’s state-level partner organization, the Committee on States, briefed donors on its efforts at a closed-door session of DA’s biannual conference, held this week at Washington’s ritzy Mandarin Oriental hotel.
The Alliance did not want what is discussed at the conference being revealed to the public. A Mandarin Oriental memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon advises hotel staff that DA “is extremely confidential and private.”
Alliance staff, the memo says, have “hired their own security to patrol the perimeter of the group’s space and will not need security staffing from the hotel.” Office space provided in the hotel’s conference area “should be kept locked for the duration of their program.”
The Democracy Alliance connects high-dollar donors to a network of about 200 liberal political action committees, nonprofits, activist groups, and political vendors that spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year advancing Democratic policies and candidates.
It does not publicly disclose any details about its donors, how much money they contribute to recipient organizations, or which organizations on its extensive list of recommended “investments” receive DA-facilitated contributions..
According to briefing materials provided at a conference session on the Committee on States, 21 Democracy Alliance donors and a network of “state-based donor alliances” affiliated with the Committee provided more than $45 million in funding for state-level liberal and Democratic organizations during the 2014 election cycle.
That included significant investments in prominent swing states, including more than $6 million each in Florida and Colorado, $2 million in Pennsylvania, $7 million in North Carolina, and $9 million in Wisconsin.
Those funds supported a wide array of groups, many of which are legally prohibited from officially cooperating. However, the Committee promoted a coordinated donor approach that can circumvent some of those prohibitions.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Committee on States staff noted that there is a “legal firewall” between, on the one side, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) groups and independent expenditure political groups, and, on the other, state political action committees, political parties, and campaign committees.
Subsequent slides explained how that firewall could be circumvented, illustrated by arrows traversing the visual “firewall.”
Political “investors” can give to all categories of groups, one slide noted. Another slide details Committee donors’ roles as coordination, strategy, targeting, and accountability.
Political vendors operating as for-profit corporations that focus on “data, analytics, and research” can also work with all categories of groups, another slide explains.
A state Democratic Party cannot share information with a super PAC operating there, for example, but a private corporation that controls extensive voter data can work with both.
One such group, Catalist, is among the Democracy Alliance’s core network of supported groups. The company, a limited liability corporation, is the data hub of the Democratic Party, providing extensive voter information to political groups, parties, and candidates, some of which are legally prohibited from coordinating their efforts.
Other Democracy Alliance-linked groups have alleged that this sort of arrangement violates campaign finance laws.
The American Democracy Legal Fund—a sister organization of DA-supported Media Matters for America run by Hillary Clinton operative David Brock, who attended April’s DA conference—filed a federal election complaint in October 2013, against the Republican National Committee that alleged illegal coordination with outside groups by way of a mutual for-profit data vendor.
Brock’s group claimed that the RNC and independent political groups were illegally coordinating by accessing the same information, held by the private company Data Trust. The Committee on States appears to be promoting a similar relationship.
In addition to this data work, the Committee is supporting extensive voter registration efforts at the state level through its support of the Voter Participation Center.
The group was formerly called Women’s Voices, Women’s Vote, and focused on registering, tracking, and turning out single women voters. It has since expanded to promote those goals among what it calls the Rising American Electorate: single women, racial minorities, and young people.
According to VPC materials provided at the Committee on States briefing, the group has “generated more than 2.5 million registration applications as well as helped to turn out millions of the RAE on election day.”
Members of the RAE “represent the majority of the voting eligible population,” VPC noted, though political observers have pointed to Democrats’ poor showings among white voters as a main cause of their drubbing in last week’s midterm elections.
A lack of interest among DA donors in courting white working class voters led to the cancelation of a Center for American Progress program last year aimed at promoting the Democratic message among those voters.
In addition to its direct work on elections, the Committee is focused on remaking the electoral map to be more favorable to Democratic candidates.
In February, the Committee will gather in Washington, D.C., with the DA-backed group America Voters and a group of labor unions “to strategize for 2020 and the next redistricting process,” according to a “save the date” notification included with Committee briefing materials.
The Committee may also back a new Democrat-aligned group working on policy fights at the state level, according to a report from Politico’s Ken Vogel.
Billed as an answer to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) will work with liberal academics, lawyers, and activists to craft and implement progressive legislation.
“We’re going to be much more aggressive than ALEC,” Nick Rathod, a former Obama White House official said. Politico noted that the group would go beyond straight policy work to focus on opposition research and communications work attacking state-level Republican politicians.
SiX is one of a number of groups vying for Committee support. Like the DA, the Committee on States does not actually make contributions. Instead, it connects donors to organizations that it has strategically vetted and endorsed.
The Committee’s budget is significantly smaller than the sums it steers to those groups. According to financials provided at the conference, its annual budget this year is just $525,000, most of which came in the form of partner dues.
The funds it directs to groups are much larger, and growing. It nearly reached $50 million this year. According to a draft proposal, “it is the goal of the Democracy Alliance and our partner, Committee on States, to increase that investment to $100 million by 2020.”
- [http://capitalresearch.org/app/uploads/2013/07/FW1208.pdf CRC The Democracy Alliance Does America: The Soros-Founded Plutocrats’ Club Forms State Chapters By Matthew Vadum and James Dellinger, 2008]
- Read the Confidential Document Left Behind at the Democracy Alliance Meeting The Washington Free Beacon, May 5, 2014
- Free Beacon, Read the Confidential Document Left Behind at the Democracy Alliance Meeting BY: Lachlan Markay May 5, 2014,
- Politico, Donors seek to harness Hollywood to boost liberal causes By KENNETH P. VOGEL 04/09/2016
- [https://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/hillary-clinton-democracy-alliance-2016-elections-112831 Politico, Clinton left out by liberal donor club By KENNETH P. VOGEL 11/12/2014]
- Washington Free Beacon, Democracy Alliance State Spending Plans Revealed BY: Lachlan Markay November 12, 2014