March 12, 2011

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Founded in the spring of 2005, the Democracy Alliance (DA) is a non-tax-exempt, nonprofit, self-described "liberal organization" which serves as a funding clearinghouse for progressive groups. Political operative Rob Stein, who served as chief of staff to Commerce Department Secretary Ron Brown during the Bill Clinton administration, conceived of the DA project and was its first managing director.

Stein began working on the project shortly after the Republican Party had gained eight House seats and two Senate seats in the 2002 midterm elections. Lamenting that he was “living in a one-party [Republican] country,” Stein at that point resolved to study the conservative movement and determine why it was winning the political battle. After a year of analysis, he concluded that a few influential, wealthy family foundations―most notably Scaife, Bradley, Olin, and Coors―had spearheaded the creation of a $300 million network of politically influential organizations. Stein featured these facts in a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation―titled “The Conservative Message Machine Money Matrix”―which mapped out, in painstaking detail, the conservative movement's networking strategies and funding sources.

Next, Stein set out to show his presentation―mostly in private meetings―to political leaders, activists, and prospective big-money donors of the left. He hoped to inspire them to join his crusade to build a new organization―a financial clearinghouse to be called the Democracy Alliance (DA)―dedicated to offsetting the efforts of conservative funders and injecting new life into the progressive movement. At each presentation, Stein asked the viewer to pledge that he or she would keep confidential the substance of the proceedings, so as to give the project a chance to coalesce and gain some momentum without excessive public scrutiny.

Stein officially filed DA's corporate registration in the District of Columbia in January 2005. By that point, he had shown his PowerPoint presentation to several hundred people. Stein recalls that during those sessions, he consistently observed “an unbelievable frustration” by big Democrat donors who felt hopelessly unconnected to one another even as they longed to be part of a strategic coalition that could work collaboratively and cohesively. This was particularly true of the billionaire financier George Soros, thus it was most significant that Soros quickly and enthusiastically embraced Stein's concept.

In April 2005, Soros brought together 70 likeminded, carefully vetted, fellow millionaires and billionaires in Phoenix, Arizona, to discuss Stein's ideas and expeditiously implement a plan of action. Most of those in attendance agreed that the conservative movement represented “a fundamental threat to the American way of life.” And, like Soros, a considerable number of them looked favorably on Stein's analysis and concept. Thus was born the Democracy Alliance.

From its inception, DA had many close ties to Hillary Clinton. According to journalist Joseph Klein, the nascent organization “received significant support from some of Hillary Clinton’s most important backers including Susie Tompkins Buell and her husband, Mark Buell, and financier Alan Patricof.” Moreover, DA reported that one of its officials was Jonathan Adler, who served as a regional campaign coordinator for Mrs. Clinton’s successful 2006 Senate re-election campaign. DA's first managing director, Kelly Craighead, is, according to Newsday’s Glenn Thrush, “one of the Clintons’ closest friends.” In the 1990s Craighead worked as an assistant to President Bill Clinton and as director of the advance team for Hillary, who was then the First Lady. The depth of the friendship between Craighead and Mrs. Clinton is evidenced by the fact that Hillary, acting as a justice of the peace, performed Craighead’s 2001 marriage ceremony to political consultant Erick Mullen, a former aide to Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York and a former informal advisor to Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign.

DA members, called “partners,” include individuals and organizations alike. Partnership in the Alliance is by invitation-only. These partners pay an initial $25,000 fee, and $30,000 in yearly dues thereafter. They also must give at least $200,000 annually to groups which the Alliance endorses. Donors metaphorically “pour” these requisite donations into one or more of what Rob Stein refers to as DA's “four buckets” of fundraising: ideas, media, leadership training, and civic engagement. The money is then apportioned to approved left-wing groups from each respective category.

DA is known to consist of at least 100 donor-partners but historically has been quite secretive regarding their identities. Nevertheless, the Capital Research Center has managed to compile the names of some of the more significant current and former DA partners (in addition to George Soros and Rob Stein). A large percentage of them have significant ties to Soros that extend well beyond their shared membership in the Democracy Alliance. To view a list of particularly notable DA partners, click here.

No grants were pledged at DA's April 2005 gathering in Phoenix, but at an Atlanta meeting three months later, DA partners pledged $39 million―about a third of which came directly from George Soros and Peter Lewis.  It is impossible to determine precisely how much money DA has disbursed since its inception, though, because the Alliance has largely refrained from providing information about its giving. Thus, only a small percentage of its donees are known to the public.   As of 2008, most estimates placed the figure at more than $100 million. One source―Alliance member Simon Rosenberg―claimed in August 2008 that DA had already “channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into progressive organizations.” To view a list of some of DA's known donees―and in certain cases the sums they have received from the Alliance―click here. (Again, the Capital Research Center was instrumental in identifying these donees, many of whom have financial and ideological ties to George Soros and the Open Society Institute that long predate their connections to the Democracy Alliance.)

Since approximately 2006, DA members and staff have been working to establish subchapters of their organization in all 50 states. Their most successful effort to date has been in Colorado, where the local DA has funded such varied enterprises as liberal think tanks, media “watchdog” groups, ethics groups that bring forth so-called public-interest litigation, voter-mobilization groups, media outlets that attack conservatives, and liberal leadership-training centers. The results have been striking: Whereas in 2004 Colorado had a Republican governor, two Republican U.S. senators, and five Republican House members (out of seven), by the end of the 2008 elections the state had a Democratic governor, two Democratic U.S. Senators, and five Democratic House members (out of seven).


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