A television executive who has championed the creative application of hand mirrors for autodidactic gynecology is also a member of a shadowy liberal money machine.
John Schwartz is a pioneer of alternative television broadcasting. In 1995, he co-founded Free Speech TV (FSTV) as a counterbalance to religious programs that are often featured on public broadcasting stations. Under his watch, FSTV has grown from a center for "social justice documentaries and artistic media work" to the home of a number of liberal programs.
Schwartz’s bankroll has expanded thanks in part to funding breaks from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which blocks off TV licenses for nonprofit groups that broadcast "educational materials." Viewers get a decidedly partisan education on FSTV, which airs self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s weekly talk show, "Brunch with Bernie Sanders," as well as Occupy Wall Street’s official television home, "Occupy Media." Its documentaries also drift into the bizarre, such as a segment aimed at teaching women "how to perform their own pelvic exams."
Schwartz’s membership in the Democracy Alliance gives him further influence. The Alliance directs its members’ $200,000 donation pledges to Democratic Super PACs, such as Obama’s Priorities USA, and to liberal media groups, such as Media Matters and the Center for American Progress.
"These groups are the first we’ve seen that focus solely on political messaging," said conservative elections expert Jay Cost. "They are inherently tied to the White House and producing liberal talking points for the administration and cable news shows."
The Alliance does not actually handle any money, and thus is not required to reveal its members or recipients. It is further shrouded in secrecy because it prohibits its donors from speaking publicly about its operations.
Neither Schwartz nor the Alliance responded to emails for comment.
"Many wealthy donors prefer to be kept anonymous," said campaign finance expert Bradley Smith. "Part of it is that they want to protect their privacy, but there is also the fear that their message will be compromised if the public knows who is paying for it."
The Alliance has been very effective at generating money for liberal groups. It raised at least $100 million for liberal causes between its founding in 2005 and the 2008 election, according to the Capital Research Center.
It has expanded further in the run up to the 2012 election cycle: its last secretive meeting boasted an attendance of 150, nearly double the 80 members who launched the group with liberal billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis.