A veteran Democratic operative leading the charge against Paul Ryan’s budget from her perch at a "nonpartisan" nonprofit is also a member of the secretive Democracy Alliance.
Joan Huffer, director of the Federal Budget Initiative at the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), is a member of the shadowy liberal group, along with her multi-millionaire financier husband Robert Dugger, who formerly served as head of the American Bankers Association, a powerful Capitol Hill lobby.
CBPP is a nonprofit think tank that has produces economic research designed to paint a rosy picture of liberal economic policies. In 2011, liberal Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein named it the "think tank of the year" for its tireless work to promote increased spending.
The Center has endorsed several Obama policies despite evidence that they have hampered the economic recovery.
"Unemployment insurance is one of the most cost-effective policies available for boosting economic growth and employment in a weak economy," CBPP Chief Economist Chad Stone said in a July statement on unemployment. "[This] jobs report showing some pickup in job creation does not reduce the need for policymakers to implement measures to give the flagging recovery a needed boost, including preparing to extend emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) past its scheduled expiration at the end of the year."
However, one of the most comprehensive studies of unemployment during the Great Recession found that Obama’s decision to increase long-term unemployment benefits may have driven up the "effective marginal tax rate for low-income households" and decreased the ability of businesses to hire unemployed workers.
"This budget is Robin Hood in reverse—on steroids," CBPP President Robert Greenstein said of the budget. "It would likely … increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history)."
In order to justify the CBPP’s opposition to the plan, Huffer credited the entire deficit to tax cuts and war spending, while ignoring dramatic spending increases on the nation’s welfare state.
Huffer does not just provide intellectual ammunition for the left; she opens her wallet to the cause, as well. She and her husband contributed about $480,000 to liberal candidates between 2008 and 2012. Huffer’s giving has nearly matched that of her husband, despite never earning more than $103,000 during her 27-year career as a Senate staffer. Her failure to appear on CBPP’s IRS filings documenting top-paid employees suggests she makes less than $142,000.
Nevertheless, she personally contributed $213,000 over the past three election cycles, including $38,100 to Obama, $70,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $34,500 to the DNC.
The prolific giving earned the couple an invitation to the Democracy Alliance, which requires $200,000 contribution pledges from its members. That money ends up in the hands of Democratic Super PACs and groups closely aligned to the White House, such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters. The Alliance does not handle the money directly, allowing recipients and members to remain anonymous.
Neither Huffer nor the Democracy Alliance returned requests for comment.
While Huffer’s husband is a public member of the group, he has allowed Huffer to remain anonymous.
Dugger has joined in the ideological battle over economic theory. In 2009, he co-founded the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), which aims to combat traditional capitalist theory using a $3.8 million grant from hedge fund billionaire George Soros. Dugger serves as treasurer of the group, while Soros’ right-hand man, Michael Vachon, is the group’s vice-chairman, according to the group’s most recent IRS filing.
"The havoc wrought by our recent global financial crisis has vividly demonstrated the deficiencies in our outdated current economic theories, and shown the need for new economic thinking – right now," INET says in its mission statement. "INET is supporting this fundamental shift in economic thinking through research funding, community building, and spreading the word about the need for change."
Dugger did not return calls for comment.
The couple’s work on behalf of liberal economics has won them an open door at the White House: Huffer visited the White House five times since leaving the Senate on social and business occasions. The couple attended the 2010 White House Christmas Party on an invitation extended to Dugger, who bundled $136,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign.