Democracy Alliance

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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." [1]

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.

Beyond Resistance conference

Beyond #Resistance: Reclaiming our Progressive Future.

Board of Directors

Former members:

Staff

[2]

Former members:

Origins

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.”

Secretive Miami Meeting

A secretive network of left-wing billionaires and their political operatives descended on the luxurious Biltmore Hotel in Miami over the mid weekend of May 13, 14, 2012, to discuss strategy for the coming elections.

The location of the conference had been kept a closely guarded secret by the members and guests of Democracy Alliance (DA), a collection of ultra-wealthy liberal donors formed in 2005, and was reported in a Washington Free Beacon exclusive.

Attendees roamed the grounds at the 150-acre tropical resort on their way to cocktail gatherings, salsa dance lessons, and workshops such as “Occupy the Voting Booth” and “The 1 Percent Rule.” Local police guarded entrances as members attended a “partners only” meeting in the hotel’s Country Club Courtyard.

“Name badges must be worn at all times,” attendees were informed.

A Free Beacon reporter who tried to attend the conference after-party was intercepted by Alexandra Visher, the DA’s vice president of partner engagement and communications.

“These are individuals of considerable means” who often support policies that run contrary to their own interests, Visher said, as she escorted the reporter out of the party.

The conference was attended by the biggest names in liberal politics, including billionaire financier George Soros, who has already pledged at least $2 million to pro-Democratic groups for the 2012 election cycle.

Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union was there, as was DA board member and Soros spokesman Michael Vachon.

Ari Rabin-Havt, executive vice president of Media Matters for America , was overheard speaking to colleagues about his plans for a new MMFA fellowship, and bragging about a phone call he had received from Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the Obama re-election team.

The Center for American Progress, a think tank with deep ties to the Obama administration, was also heavily represented. CAP president Neera Tanden joined former Rep. Tom Perriello (D., Va.), president and CEO of the CAP Action Fund, and Van Jones, a senior fellow and former White House green jobs adviser, among others.

Perriello was overheard in between sessions talking to other attendees about President Barack Obama’s electoral prospects in Virginia.

“There’s going to be an insane amount of money on the other side, and we’ve seen what that can do in a Congressional [election]” he said, noting that a “gender gap” had opened up in Northern Virginia that may be “very helpful.”

Controversial former Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.), who nicknamed his most recent opponent and current congressman Daniel Webster (R., Fla.) “Taliban Dan,” cracked jokes in the elevators.

DA board members such as Steve Phillips, Donald Sussman, and Kelly Craighead, each with connections to major left-leaning political organizations, were in attendance.

Phillips, who serves as secretary for the DA, oversees a number of political action committees such as PAC+, which focuses on Latino voters, and PowerPAC.org, a “statewide social justice organization working with community organizations and activists to build political power in California.”

Sussman, a hedge-fund manager who invests in Chinese companies, is married to Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) and currently serves on the board of CAP.

Another prominent hedge fund manager, Thomas E. Steyer of Farallon Capital Management, also sits on CAP’s board.

Craighead is the DA’s president and managing director. She formerly worked as a “strategic consultant” to liberal groups like MMFA.

Other notable attendees include Cynthia Ryan, a principal at the investment firm Schooner Capital, who has bundled between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign.

The SEIU’s Larry McNeil, identified as a long-time “Saul Alinski organizer” [sic] in one online biography, was there with his wife Anne Bartley, currently a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and a top contributor to the EMILY’s List Women Vote! PAC.

Sandor Straus, a prominent investment manager who has given at least $115,000 to Democratic candidates and liberal organizations this cycle, and Al Yates, the former Colorado State University president who played a pivotal role in the DA’s formation, were also in attendance.

DA founder emeritus Rob Stein has described the group as a “political investment bank” whose mission is to “balance the market place of ideas and political activism with center-left ideas, messages, and organizing strategy.” Members are required to pay annual dues starting at $30,000 and contribute at least $170,000 per year to recommended groups.

The timing of the conference was significant as the organization is said to be experiencing dissent within its ranks.

“There is heavy debate over whether to fund organizations closely aligned with the Democratic Party or those that operating outside it and pressuring it to move in a more progressive direction,” the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim had recently reported.

The resignation of billionaire insurance magnate Peter Lewis, the chairman of Progressive Insurance and one of the group’s founding members, was one sign of trouble for the organization.

The DA also caused a stir when it decided to stop funding a number of groups that operated outside the explicitly partisan realm of the Democratic Party, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Third Way, a center-left think thank.

However, at least one Third Way board member, Tim Sweeney of the Denver-based Gill Foundation, was spotted at the conference in Miami.

Groups such as Media Matters and the Center for American Progress, both of which maintain extensive ties to the Obama administration, have retained their favored status within the DA.

Other liberal grassroots organizations that have not been ostracized by the DA include America Votes, the Campaign for Community Change, and Act Blue, a PAC that bills itself as “the online clearinghouse for Democratic Action.”

It is not clear whether any senior administration officials or campaign representatives spoke at the conference.

However, both Vice President Joe Biden and Bill Burton, chairman of the Obama-aligned Priorities USA Super PAC, have addressed private Democracy Alliance summits in the past.

DA chairman Rob McKay, who also sits on the board of Priorities USA, hosted a $35,800-a-head fundraiser for Obama earlier this year.

Visher, the DA spokesperson, told the Free Beacon that the group’s members should be allowed to meet and advance their agenda in private.

She cited the New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore as a reporter whose work was appropriately respectful of the network’s privacy.

Confessore reported last week that the DA was planning to “convene near Miami,” but did not provide additional details such as the exact location of the event or notable invitees.

When contacted by the Free Beacon regarding his reasoning for not reporting such information, Confessore referred us to Eileen Murphy, the Times’ vice president of corporate communications.

“You are getting into a level of detail regarding our reporting and editing process here that we do not typically discuss publicly,” Murphy said in an email. “Sorry I won’t be able to be of much assistance.”[3]

Chicago Meeting 2014

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:[4]

NEW PARTNERS, 2013

NEW PARTNERS, 2014

  • Ryan Smith: Unknown. It was originally reported that Smith was the CEO of Qualtrics, but that was not the case.

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.”[5]

External links

References