21st Century Democrats

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21st Century Democrats
Formation 1986
Type Political action committee
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Executive Director
Jennifer Petty
Key people
Tom Harkin, Jim Hightower, Lane Evans, founders
Website Official website

21st Century Democrats is an American political organization founded by Senator Tom Harkin, commentator Jim Hightower and Congressman Lane Evans to help elect "progressive" or "populist" candidates.


21st Century Democrats started out relatively small, surpassing $1M in contributions for the first time in the 1996 election cycle."[2] By the 2004 election cycle, according to the Political Money Line, it was the 13th largest Political Action Committee (PAC) in the United States raising nearly $7 Million. Among progressive ideological PACs, it ranked fourth behind America Coming Together, EMILY's List, and MoveOn.org. However, since 2004 its contributions have gradually fallen, to under $2.2M in 2010 and under $1.2M in 2014.[3]

Unlike traditional PACs, 21st Century Democrats focuses on recruiting, training, and hiring field organizers to organize grassroots campaigns on behalf of candidates for local offices, statewide office, and even targeted presidential swing states.[4] The group has ties to Democracy for America, which grew out of Howard Dean's presidential campaign.[5]

Partner organizations[edit]

In 2009, 21st Century Democrats joined Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org, and Daily Kos in a new effort called Accountability Now PAC. This new Political Action Committee promised to use party primaries to challenge Democratic incumbents that PAC members do not support.[6]

Religious discrimination lawsuit[edit]

In November 2007, 21st Century Democrats was sued in United States federal court by their former communications director, Kenneth Goldman.[7] The lawsuit stated that three workers were fired in 2006 for refusing to attend "religious events," referring to the Landmark Forum.[7] A formal complaint was filed in a Washington, D.C. court, stating that Landmark Education has "religious characteristics and theological implications."[7] The lawsuit also stated that Landmark Education's influence could be felt in the 21st Century Democrats' "mission, business structure ... and communications."[7]

The executive director for 21st Century Democrats stated he believed the lawsuit had no merits, and called it "frivolous."[7] The suit was dismissed by the court with prejudice.[citation needed]

A spokesman for Landmark Education stated that the San Francisco, California based company "is in no way religious in nature and any claim to the contrary is simply absurd."[7] Goldman stated that two other employees of 21st Century Democrats regularly discussed their unease with him over Landmark Education's influence over the company, and believed that former executive director Kelly Young treated the Landmark Forum seminars like a "religion."[7] Landmark Education and the two other employees who were fired are not a party to the lawsuit between Goldman and 21st Century Democrats.[7]

Washington Examiner accusations[edit]

A 2014 Washington Examiner article [8] claimed "A PAC called 21st Century Democrats has raised $5.3 million since 2009, but not a penny of it has gone to candidates' campaigns or independent expenditures on their behalf, according to Federal Election Commission records. That makes 21st Century Democrats one of the largest, yet least effective, independent political action committees in the country....There are typically two purposes for a PAC: To act as a middleman to gather contributions and direct them to candidates' campaigns, or, in the case of the newer 'super PACs,' to run ads themselves advocating for or against candidates. For more than five years, 21st Century Democrats has raised funds while doing none of either, and there is no information suggesting the PAC plays a significant role in grassroots events, organizing or other political activities on behalf of candidates, as it once did." It also accuses the group as listing an advisory board of prominent democrats who deny involvement with the group, such as former DNCC chairman Donald Fowler, who it quotes as saying "I have no sense of giving them the approval to use my name, and I suspect none of the other people who they purport to be their advisory board will, either."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "21st Century Democrats". 21st Century Democrats. Archived from the original on September 26, 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2010. Join more than 100,000 21st Century Dems 
  2. ^ Attlesey, Sam; Stahl, Lori (January 23, 1996). "New Group Seeks to Re-Focus Democratic Message.". Local News (Dallas Morning News). 
  3. ^ https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00230342
  4. ^ Garofoli, Joe (September 22, 2004). "Attention overwhelms tiny slice of swing state" (Article). News. The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  5. ^ staff (2008). "Governor Howard Dean, Founder". About us (Democracy for America). Archived from the original on December 22, 2008. Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  6. ^ Robert Schlesinger (February 27, 2009). "Progressive Acccountability Now PAC Will Target Wayward Democrats in Primaries" (Article). U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on March 2, 2009. Retrieved March 11, 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h McElhatton, Jim (November 27, 2007). "Democratic PAC faces lawsuit for employee 'religious events'". Nation/Politics (The Washington Times). Retrieved November 27, 2007. [dead link]
  8. ^ http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/most-troubled-pac-in-history-flies-under-radar-squanders-democratic-donors-cash/article/2543936

External links[edit]