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Center for Media and Democracy

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Center for Media and Democracy
Formation1993; 31 years ago (1993)
TypeNonprofit organization
PurposeInvestigative journalism and advocacy journalism
Region served
United States
Executive director
Arn Pearson[1]
$829,683 (2020)[2]
5 (2022)[3]

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a progressive nonprofit watchdog and advocacy organization based in Madison, Wisconsin.[4][5][6][7][8] CMD publishes ExposedbyCMD.org, SourceWatch.org, and ALECexposed.org.


CMD was founded in 1993 by progressive writer John Stauber in Madison, Wisconsin. Lisa Graves is the former president of CMD.[9][10] Author Sheldon Rampton was formerly an editor of PR Watch, once a website that was one of CMD’s main outputs, but now run only as an archive, replaced by Exposed.com.

In a report released on April 6, 2006, CMD listed information on 77 television stations that had broadcast video news releases (VNRs) in the prior 10 months. CMD said that in each case the television station actively disguised the VNR content to make it appear to be its own reporting, and that in more than one-third of the cases, the stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety. In August 2006, the Federal Communications Commission mailed formal letters to the owners of the 77 television stations, asking for information regarding agreements between the stations and the creators of VNRs, and asking whether there was any "consideration" given to the stations in return for airing the material.[11][12][13][14]

In 2014, CMD merged with The Progressive, a progressive monthly magazine, but separated after six months.[15]

CMD has investigated and reported on donor-advised funds, referring to such donations as a form of "dark money". According to the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, CMD is a recipient of donor-advised funds via the Schwab Charitable Fund.[16]


The New York Times referred to CMD as a watchdog organization.[17][18][19] The Washington Post described CMD as "a liberal organization that tracks the use of public relations by corporations and politicians."[20] A May 2012 article in Isthmus, an alternative weekly newspaper based in Madison, Wisconsin, referred to CMD as an "activist group".[9] A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political columnist referred to CMD as "left-wing" and "liberal".[21] CMD was referred to as "uber-liberal" by the conservative news website Watchdog.org.[22] CMD has been referred to as a "liberal advocacy group" by The Des Moines Register, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Wisconsin State Journal, and the La Crosse Tribune.[4][5][6][7]

CMD disputes the characterization of "liberal" and describes itself as an "investigative watchdog".[3][23]

Online projects[edit]


ExposedbyCMD is CMD's investigative reporting website.[3]

ALEC Exposed[edit]

CMD hosts the ALEC Exposed website, which is a wiki focusing on the American Legislative Exchange Council and the political activities of the Koch brothers.[24][25] The "ALEC Exposed" project was featured in the 2012 Bill Moyers documentary film, United States of ALEC.[26][27]


CMD hosts the wiki SourceWatch, which was established in 2003.[28] According to the project's website, it "aims to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interest groups."[29] CMD sets the editorial and security policies under which SourceWatch operates.[29][30] Unlike Wikipedia, SourceWatch does not require a "neutral point of view."[31]

From 2006 to 2009, SourceWatch hosted Congresspedia, a wiki that was funded by the Sunlight Foundation and intended to document the activities of the United States Congress.[32]


CMD states that it accepts donations from "individuals and philanthropic foundations through gifts and grants", but "no funding from for-profit corporations or grants from government agencies." It maintains a partial list of supporters on its website.[3]

In a column for Fox News, Dan Gainor wrote that CMD received $200,000 from the Open Society Institute (OSI), a grantmaking network founded by George Soros.[33] CMD stated that it received a grant from OSI "to continue work on national security issues".[3]

Fox News reported that in 2011 CMD received $865,000 in donations—$520,000, or 60% of 2011's total revenue—was received from the Schwab Charitable Fund, a donor advised fund which preserves the anonymity of donors by not disclosing individual donor names.[34]

According to the conservative news website Watchdog.org, the Tides Foundation, a foundation known to donate almost exclusively to left-wing organizations,[citation needed] reported giving CMD $160,000 in 2011, but that money did not appear on CMD's tax form 990. When asked why CMD heavily criticizes conservative organizations for not revealing their donors while refusing to name all of CMD's funders, CMD's president Lisa Graves said, "The question of conservative funders versus liberal funders, I think, is a matter of false equivalency.[22] Quite frankly a number of these (corporate donors) like Koch Industries…they’re advancing not just an ideological agenda but an agenda that helps advance the bottom line of their corporate interests. That’s quite a distinct difference from some of the funders in the progressive universe."[35]

In June 2014, Politico reported that the Center for Media and Democracy was a recipient of funding through the Democracy Alliance, a network of left-wing donors.[36][37]


CMD and progressive magazine The Nation shared a September 2011 Sidney Award, an award given by The Sidney Hillman Foundation in recognition of "socially-conscious journalism", for "ALEC Exposed".[38]

In 2012, CMD received an Izzy Award, given by the Roy H. Park School of Communications of Ithaca College for special achievement in independent media, and a Professional Freedom and Responsibility Award, given by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, for the "ALEC Exposed" project.[39][40][41]


  1. ^ "Arn Pearson". Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
  2. ^ "IRS Form 990 2020". DocumentCloud. Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e "About Us". Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Matthew DeFour - Wisconsin State Journal. "Leah Vukmir agrees to turn over ALEC documents to settle open records lawsuit". madison.com.
  5. ^ a b Lee Enterprises. "Ameren fends off activist shareholder proposals". stltoday.com.
  6. ^ a b "Progress Iowa calls on state lawmakers to cut ties with conservative group ALEC". The Des Moines Register.
  7. ^ a b Simmons, Dan. "Walker backtracks from striking 'truth' from UW System charter". La Crosse Tribune.
  8. ^ Mayer, Jane (November 14, 2013). "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Exposing ALEC: The Center for Media and Democracy goes after the right-wing powerhouse". Isthmus. May 10, 2012. Archived from the original on July 22, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  10. ^ "Exposing ALEC: How Conservative-Backed State Laws Are All Connected". The Atlantic. April 14, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  11. ^ "TV Stations' 'Fake News' Scrutinized". CBS News. Associated Press. August 16, 2006. Retrieved August 17, 2006.
  12. ^ Roland, Neil (May 25, 2006). "U.S. FCC Probes Local TV Stations Airing Ads as News (Update3)". Bloomberg News. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  13. ^ Shields, Todd (August 21, 2006). "Fake out: FCC warns stations about airing video news releases". Mediaweek.
  14. ^ Farsetta, Diane; Price, Daniel (April 6, 2006). "Fake TV news: Widespread and undisclosed" (PDF). Center for Media and Democracy. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 2, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  15. ^ Conniff, Ruth (November 2014). "Pulling Together, Saying Goodbye". The Progressive. Vol. 78, no. 11. p. 5.
  16. ^ Craver, Jack (December 7, 2013). "Progressive watchdog group gets two big anonymous donations". Capital Times. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  17. ^ Ivry, Sara (April 16, 2007). "Now on YouTube: The Latest News From Al Jazeera, in English". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2015. ..the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog organization...
  18. ^ Warner, Melanie (June 12, 2005). "Striking Back At the Food Police". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2015. A watchdog group ... .
  19. ^ "Corrections". The New York Times. June 19, 2005. the headquarters ... of the Center for Media and Democracy ... is Madison WI.
  20. ^ O'Harrow, Robert (May 31, 2008). "McCain Campaign Calls; a Nonprofit Steps In". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 17, 2010.
  21. ^ "Liberal organization links Wisconsin bills to Koch-funded group". Milwaukee Journal. July 13, 2011. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  22. ^ a b Richards, Tori (January 2, 2014). "Shadowy funders build liberal war chest to unseat governor". Watchdog.org. Archived from the original on February 25, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  23. ^ "Center for Media and Democracy About". Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
  24. ^ "ALEC Exposed". alecexposed.org.
  25. ^ Graves, Lisa (July 12, 2011). "ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection". The Nation. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  26. ^ Moyers, Bill (September 28, 2012). "United States of ALEC". Moyers & Company. Public Affairs Television. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  27. ^ "The United States of ALEC: Bill Moyers on the Secretive Corporate-Legislative Body Writing Our Laws". Democracy Now!. September 27, 2012. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  28. ^ "SourceWatch:Purpose". CMD. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  29. ^ a b "Editorial Policy," SourceWatch, last updated July 31, 2014, accessed February 4, 2018.
  30. ^ For further information about editing and security policies, see also: "SourceWatch: How to fix or report an error", SourceWatch: "Errors and Complaints", and "Security", both accessed February 4, 2018.
  31. ^ Donnelly, Katie (November 3, 2009). "10 Projects that Help Citizens Become Government Watchdogs". MediaShift. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
  32. ^ Miller, Ellen. "Two Great Sites That Go Well Together". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
  33. ^ "Left, Obama Escalate War on Banks Into Dangerous Territory". Fox News. December 11, 2011. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  34. ^ Richards, Tori (December 4, 2013). "Liberal 'media' group gets $520G dark money donation for war on right". Fox News. Retrieved December 6, 2013.
  35. ^ Kittle, M.D. "Center for Media and Democracy: Liberals are morally superior". WisconsinWatchdog.org. Retrieved January 9, 2018.[permanent dead link]
  36. ^ Vogel, Kenneth (June 23, 2014). "Inside the vast liberal conspiracy". Politico. Retrieved June 24, 2014.
  37. ^ "Spring 2014 Democracy Alliance Investment Recommendations". Democracy Alliance. Retrieved June 24, 2014.
  38. ^ Sedlis, Julie (July 25, 2012). "The Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation Win September Sidney for "ALEC:Exposed," A Look Into the Secretive Collaboration Between Corporations and Politicians on State Legislation". The Sidney Hillman Foundation. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014. Retrieved October 25, 2014.
  39. ^ "2012 Izzy Awards". WSKG. April 10, 2015. Archived from the original on February 24, 2015. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  40. ^ Michael, Catherine (March 27, 2012). "Izzy Award winners: Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Center for Media and Democracy". ALA Connect. American Library Association. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  41. ^ Esch, Madeleine (Spring 2012). "Center for Media and Democracy Selected for 2012 PF&R Award" (PDF). Cultural and Critical Studies. Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 15, 2013. Retrieved February 24, 2015.

External links[edit]