The Washington Free Beacon has obtained documents that shed light on the rapid growth of the Democracy Alliance’s influence over the Democratic Party, including a list of dozens of members whose identities have never before been made public.
What is the Democracy Alliance? It may be the most powerful political operation you have never heard of. The group, as one former member told the Washington Free Beacon, "is the brain trust of the progressive movement." But it is much more than that: A Democracy Alliance endorsement can mean a multi-million dollar windfall, a prospect that has driven everyone from liberal startups to Barack Obama to knock on its door, hat in hand.
The Alliance operates in the shadows and steers hundreds of millions of dollars to liberal behemoths. Democratic super PACs, including President Barack Obama’s Priorities USA, the Center for American Progress (CAP), and the corrupt voter group ACORN have all benefitted from its largesse.
The secretive, invitation-only group, co-founded by hedge fund billionaire George Soros, has attracted the support of high-profile liberals such as Hollywood scion Rob Reiner. But many of its members are far more obscure. Business titans, socialites, and activists donate between $100,000 and $200,000 per year to join the elite alliance, while remaining anonymous—and, in some cases, publicly decrying the effect of secret "dark money" in American politics. An estimated 150 wealthy liberals attended its latest convention—double the 80 members it attracted in 2005.
The Alliance serves as a "pass through" organization linking progressive millionaires and billionaires to left-wing causes and groups—many of which also do not disclose their donors. The secretive nature of the Alliance is reinforced by its prohibition on members and recipients speaking publicly about its operations.
The Alliance applies a venture capital approach to political giving by concentrating its multi-million dollar reach on a small pool of organizations that have qualified for "favored organization" status. Members gather twice a year at secret, lavish conferences to witness closed-door pitches from these groups. They are then free to disburse their annual dues to their groups of choice. Organizations that do not meet criteria of interest or effectiveness will lose their status.
Increasingly, "favored organization" status is tied to how much good an organization can do for the Obama campaign.
Following the 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, Vice President Joe Biden appeared at the Alliance’s Washington, D.C., meeting to solicit support. In Feb. 2011, the Alliance abandoned its prohibition on political campaigns and began inviting Democratic Super PACs—including the Obama-affiliated Priorities USA—to its assemblies. Democracy Alliance chair Rob McKay sits on the board of Priorities USA, which produced the widely condemned attack ad that suggested Republican nominee Mitt Romney was responsible for the death by cancer of a steelworker’s wife.
This is a marked change in direction for the group, which emerged out of liberal disappointment with the 2004 election. Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis and Soros failed to oust George W. Bush, despite spending nearly $50 million in that election.
The billionaires decided their wealth would be better spent outside of the world of political parties, and helped found the Alliance to serve as a shadow party. In its infancy, the alliance poured millions into groups that established powerful communications, messaging, and policy teams to veer the party leftward.
The strategy soon found success in Lewis’ native Colorado, where independent groups took over the struggling Democratic Party, producing three liberal senators and a Democratic governor in a once-reliably red state. Alliance donations also buttressed the fledgling Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters for America (MMFA). By 2008, members had contributed at least $100 million to liberal causes, according to the Capital Research Center.
The 2012 election has proved a seminal moment in the Alliance’s brief history. The Obama administration’s struggles have led members, along with CAP and MMFA, to return to the 2004 strategy of betting millions on the electoral success of the Democratic Party.
Not everyone is satisfied, however. Lewis and a number of other members have renounced the group since the super PAC decision.
Check back regularly throughout the election campaign as the Free Beacon exposes the individuals behind this secretive effort to influence American politics.