The Democracy Alliance is a secretive network of progressive donors who coordinate their political donations to groups that the Alliance has endorsed. As of 2015, the organization has approximately 110 partners who are required to contribute at least $200,000 a year to groups the Democracy Alliance vets and recommends. The Alliance has helped distribute approximately $500 million to liberal organizations since its founding in 2005. Members of the Democracy Alliance include billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer.
The Democracy Alliance planned to spend $374 million during the 2014 midterm election cycle to boost liberal candidates and causes. According to the Democracy Alliance's website, the group "was created to build progressive infrastructure that could help counter the well-funded and sophisticated conservative apparatus in the areas of civic engagement, leadership, media, and ideas."
A PowerPoint presentation, "The Conservative Message Machine Money Matrix", created by Rob Stein and shown to individuals and small groups of donors in 2003 and 2004, is often credited as being the impetus for the group's formation.
The first meeting of the Democracy Alliance was held at The Boulders near Scottsdale, Arizona in April 2005. Rob Stein, who created the PowerPoint presentation, "The Conservative Message Machine Money Matrix", was installed as temporary CEO, pending the group's selection of a permanent leader. George Soros, Peter B. Lewis and Tim Gill were all involved in the organization's founding.
At the Democracy Alliance's second meeting, held at the Chateau Elan near Atlanta, Georgia in October 2005, management consultant Judy Wade was installed as the CEO of the organization. At the group's fourth meeting in Miami in November 2006, Wade was replaced with Kelly Craighead.
In 2012, the Democracy Alliance ceased funding a number of prominent progressive organizations. According to the Huffington Post, "The groups dropped by the Democracy Alliance tend to be those that work outside the [Democratic] party's structure." This move cost the Democracy Alliance the support of Soros ally Peter B. Lewis, the billionaire founder of Progressive Auto Insurance.
According to the Huffington Post, the Democracy Alliance "is largely divided into two camps: one that prefers to focus on electing Democrats to office, and another that argues for more attention to movement and progressive infrastructure building in order to create a power center independent of the Democratic Party apparatus."
In 2015, the Democracy Alliance announced a new strategy called "2020 Vision."
The strategy is centered on electing more Democrats to state level offices to build its political influence by 2020. The Democracy Alliance plans to raise more than $150 million over five years to assist more than 30 groups, including organizations focused on battles to increase the minimum wage, oppose voter ID laws, address global warming and reduce the influence of money in elections.
Under its latest strategy, the Democracy Alliance will divide its funding streams into four categories. There are 35 groups funded in these categories. The Alliance's new strategy, which doesn't include a specific category for Latino outreach, has drawn criticism from some Latino leaders who say the growing Latino population is being overlooked by the wealthy, mostly white individuals and philanthropic institutions who make up the Alliance’s membership.
As of 2015, the Democracy Alliance, which does not disclose its membership, is reported to have about 110 partners who are required to contribute at least $200,000 a year to groups it vets and recommends. Members include Tom Steyer and some of the U.S.'s biggest labor unions. It has recommended that its donors financially support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Gara LaMarche is the president of the Democracy Alliance. LaMarche, a longtime progressive activist and close ally of George Soros, assumed the post in 2013. Prior to LaMarche's hiring, Hillary Clinton aide Kelly Craighead led the Alliance. Howard Dean has previously been considered as a potential president for the Democracy Alliance. The board of directors for the Democracy Alliance includes John Stocks, Patricia Bauman, Paul Egerman, Weston Milliken, Gara LaMarche, Mary Kay Henry, David desJardins, Nick Hanauer, Farhad Ebrahimi, Josh Fryday, Keith Mestrich, Fran Rodgers, Susan Sandler and Rob Stein.
The Alliance recommends a portfolio of progressive organizations that collaborate with each other. In 2014, the Democracy Alliance's “Progressive Infrastructure Map" included 172 organizations, 21 of which were considered core groups. In 2015, the Alliance's funding plans included 35 core organizations. Entities funded by the Democracy Alliance include:
- Advancement Project
- America Votes
- American Constitution Society
- Americans for Financial Reform
- Ballot Initiative Strategy Center
- Brennan Center for Justice
- Center for American Progress
- Center for Community Change
- Center for Media and Democracy
- Center for Popular Democracy
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Color of Change
- Constitutional Accountability Center
- Economic Policy Institute
- Issue One
- Leading Green, a joint venture of the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council
- Media Matters for America
- National Employment Law Project
- National People's Action
- New Media Ventures
- New Organizing Institute
- Organizing for Action
- PICO National Network
- Progressive Majority
- Roosevelt Institute
- State Engagement Initiative
- State Innovation Exchange
- State Voices
- Wellstone Action
- Women's Equality Center
- Working America
- Working Families Party
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- Grim, Ryan (October 8, 2013). "Democracy Alliance, Network Of Rich Liberal Donors, Signals Shift Away From Partisan Political Activity". Huffington Post. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
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- "How Vast The Left Wing Conspiracy", transcript of Hudson Institute panel discussion partly on the Democracy Alliance (with participation from its founder Rob Stein), November 30, 2006
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- Bai (2006), p. 293
- "More Turnover at a Big Donor Shop", U.S. News & World Report, April 16, 2007.
- "Big $$ for Progressive Politics", The Nation, October 16, 2006
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- Schouten, Fredreka (April 12, 2015). "Liberal donors gear up to fund new state-level agenda". USA Today. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
- Gamboa, Suzanne (May 18, 2015). "Latino groups question commitment of political donors to community". MSNBC. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
- Vogel, Kenneth; Wheaton, Sarah (November 13, 2015). "Major donors consider funding Black Lives Matter". Politico. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
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- "A 2020 VISION FOR THE DEMOCRACY ALLIANCE: FUNDING RECOMMENDATIONS" (PDF). Politico. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
- GOP plans to replicate success of Democracy Alliance and other liberal groups Politico, May 6, 2010
- Conservative Groups Focus on Messaging, but What Message Newsweek, May 7, 2010
- "Rich Liberals Vow to Fund Think Tanks: Aim Is to Compete With Conservatives", Washington Post, August 7, 2005