A leading left-wing community organizing group is building a massive grassroots advocacy and voter turnout operation in battleground states that could decide November’s presidential and Senate elections, documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon reveal.
The Center for Popular Democracy is working to raise more than $7 million to support local and state-level organizing work that it hopes will translate issue-oriented advocacy into political power in November.
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Documents detailing those efforts shed new light on how the left’s organizing apparatus is collaborating with prominent progressive groups such as MoveOn.org, labor unions, and foundations to build a campaign apparatus that can win short-term policy victories and translate those victories into a lasting political operation.
The nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy and its 501(c)(4) dark money arm, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, work with 42 partner organizations—including labor unions, community organizing groups, and other left-wing nonprofits—in 30 states to advance its goals.
The group’s $14 million budget supports a staff of more than 60 employees. In 2015, it sub-granted more than $7 million to its partner organizations. Those partners boast more than 400,000 members, 800 state-based staffers, and combined budgets of roughly $85 million.
That organizing power is diffused throughout the states, but a document obtained by the Free Beacon reveals that efforts have been underway since December to centralize decision-making in committees that represent both CPD and its local and state partners.
CPD is working to leverage its resources and the resources of its partners to get independents on board with its message and key issues ahead of the 2016 elections, and to turn out its base of core voters, known as the Rising American Electorate—young people, single women, and people of color.
That organizing will take place primarily through a partnership with the Working Families Organization, the dark money arm of the left-wing Working Families Party.
CPD and WFO "are working in 2016 to elevate an ambitious progressive agenda, elect candidates who will stand up for the issues that matter most to working families, and build towards progressive majorities in Congress and in statehouses across the country," according to an outline of the partnership obtained by the Free Beacon.
The operation’s $5.9 million budget will support organizing efforts in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nevada. All nine states are considered swing states for the presidential election, and all will hold competitive Senate elections this year that will determine partisan control of the chamber.
The goal of the partnership is to collect a total of 179,000 voter "pledge cards" in those states.
Turnout of the RAE demographics is crucial to a Democratic presidential win in November, according to a memo by leading Democratic pollsters published by the Free Beacon last week.
Polling and focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps, a nonprofit research firm run by Clinton allies James Carville and Stan Greenberg, show that Democrats need "to expand the scope of registration efforts and mobilize infrequent voters."
The Center for Popular Democracy plans to canvass neighborhoods with high concentrations of voters that data show are not likely to turn out in November. They will then follow up with alternative forms of contact. Each voter "will receive at least ten contacts."
The groups are also eyeing canvassing efforts aimed at independent voters. "Persuasion could also become part of our program depending on general election voter research on a Trump candidacy," the partnership document stated.
The Working Families Party is significantly to the left of the Democratic Party mainstream—its board voted "overwhelmingly" to support Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt., I.) over his presidential rival Hillary Clinton—but CPD hopes that its relatively low profile will allow canvassers to make inroads with voters who don’t realize how liberal the group is.
"Our polling … shows that the Working Families brand is viewed as a credible messenger and a moderate voice rather than one on the far left," the document stated.
That same polling showed that voters who had an accurate view of the Working Families Party—those who saw it as more liberal—had an unfavorable view of it, while those who incorrectly perceived it as moderate or even conservative viewed the group more favorably.
As a result of its relative obscurity, "our brand and message has … shown strong resonance as an independent validator with independent-leaning voters."
More well-known groups might be providing significant support for WFO and CPD joint organizing efforts. According to internal documents, the groups "are in the early phases of a conversation about collaborating with MoveOn.org," a leading left-wing activist group.
"We’re exploring whether MoveOn could bring a surge of volunteers in the final few weeks before the election, which would lower our canvassing costs during the GOTV phase and reduce our cost per vote," the documents reveal. They are also looking to collaborate with 350.org, a leading environmental group.
As nonprofits, CPD and its action arm are prohibited from directly advocating for or against candidates for public office. But the groups’ issue activity directly supports political goals, according to internal documents.
"We work with partners to run their campaigns in a way that in fact builds their base, builds lasting internal infrastructural [sic] and external coalition infrastructure, and positions partners to ‘electoralize’ the issue," one of those documents stated.
Another of CPD’s 2016 organizing initiatives aims to produce short-term policy victories, while emphasizing the importance of lasting political infrastructure.
The initiative is steering $1.2 million into efforts to raise minimum wages and expand publicly-financed paid worker leave in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, according to internal documents.
CPD plans to partner with the dark money arm of another community organizing group, the Center for Community Change, to funnel money from individual and institutional donors affiliated with the left-wing Democracy Alliance into state and local organizing efforts.
Those efforts will pursue short-term policy goals, but as with CPD’s other organizing efforts, it seeks to build lasting political infrastructure—in this case, a union-backed "national table" supporting federal policy changes.
"We anticipate that support from the Democracy Alliance will raise the visibility of these [state-level] campaigns within the national funding community and catalyze support from national donors," according to an outline of the strategy.
The strategy comes as Democrats at the national level are pushing for minimum wage hikes and paid worker leave. Both have been staples of President Obama’s recent policy remarks.
"On the national level, we are building a formal table to amplify the media reach of the local and state campaigns and drive a narrative about public demand for federal action," according to the CPD.
The group anticipates funding from the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the Wyss Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, all of which are Democracy Alliance "partners," as the group calls its donors.
"Our primary national strategic partners are SEIU and AFT," the group wrote. "SEIU and AFT provide substantial communications, policy, and research support – both for particular in-state efforts where their locals are deeply engaged, and for the national table."
True to its organizing strategy, CPD’s goal with these state-based issue campaigns is to build a large and lasting organizing infrastructure.
"We link these shorter term bread-and-butter victories … with a plan to build momentum for more game-changing victories," the group wrote.