Mario Morino: The Progressive’s Cutting Edge

Lefty tech guru and powerful fundraiser is member of Democracy Alliance
Morino

Morino

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Editor’s Note: Details of the WFB’s Democracy Alliance exposé can be found here.

Mario Morino has been on the cutting edge of most everything he’s done—including his massive support for left-wing causes.

Morino made money on computers before it was common to get rich in the field, creating LEGENT Corporation prior to companies such as Apple and Microsoft becoming household names. He completed the largest software company sale in history at the time when he offloaded LEGENT to a venture capital firm in 1995.

He then helped revolutionize the art of political giving when he turned his newfound wealth into the Morino Institute and Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) in the mid-1990s. He was among the first wealthy patrons to apply venture-capital-style giving to the world of traditional foundation-based advocacy. The tactics he pioneered have culminated in his participation in the Democracy Alliance, a secretive, elite club of wealthy progressives and Democrats.

“Some of the [Alliance] donors are business people and they were looking at ways to measure effectiveness,” said campaign finance expert John Samples. “A lot of donors found the foundation world ineffectual, they wanted to see measurable return on investment—election results are an obvious metric to apply.”

The Alliance applies a venture capital approach to political giving. Rather than writing grants to traditional liberal causes, as foundations often do, the Alliance recruits liberal donors to concentrate their donations among a select group of Democratic candidates and causes.

“The group concentrates on setting up messaging teams and voter lists, operations that are typically the domain of parties,” said Jacob Laksin, co-author of The New Leviathan, a book about the “left-wing money machine.

“In effect, they helped establish shadow parties.”

The recipients of the Alliance’s generosity have come to include Democratic Super PACs and outside groups with close ties to the White House, such as Media Matters and the Center for American Progress.

“These groups are different from some of the traditional think tanks on the right, such as the Heritage [Foundation] or American Enterprise Institute,” Laksin said. “The left-wing interest is in elections, rather than policy. They are much more likely to toe the line of the White House, instead of challenging it.”

Morino is already a hefty Obama supporter in his own right. He visited the White House in 2011 and has contributed nearly $25,000 to Obama since 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He has also donated more than $200,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates over the past three election cycles.

Morino declined to comment.

The Alliance has experienced turmoil in recent months as some members, including insurance billionaire co-founder, Peter Lewis, have left the group following its decision to begin funding Obama’s re-election campaign.

“I think they’re having problems deciding where to go,” Samples said. “At the start they were doing party-building, creating the network integral to party organization. Now, they are tying themselves too closely to Obama’s election message and that’s causing tension.”

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He is a 2008 Cornell University graduate and lives in Alexandria, Va with his wife Teresa and daughter Olivia. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.