'We're Not in a Great Place': Democrat Group Behind the 'Squad' Lays Off Half Its Staff

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) / Getty Images
August 4, 2023

A prominent left-wing organization laid off half its staff last month, a further sign that Democratic groups are struggling to stay afloat.

Justice Democrats, a progressive group founded in 2017 following the failed presidential run of socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, in mid-July let go 9 of its 20 staffers, Politico reported. The group works to help elect far-left candidates and is largely credited with helping create the "Squad" of House lawmakers that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.).

"It's no secret that Democratic and progressive organizations like us are in a difficult fundraising environment right now," Alexandra Rojas, Justice Democrats' executive director, told Politico last month. "We had to make tough decisions to remain one of the most impactful progressive organizations in the country for years to come."

Progressives are worried about the state of the movement in light of fundraising and growth struggles.

"We have huge champions like Bernie Sanders, AOC, Ilhan Omar, who are able to be successful political fundraisers," a progressive House aide told the Huffington Post. "But movement-wise, we're not in a great place right now."

With the prominent Justice Democrats flailing, smaller progressive groups are also getting hit.

The Sunshine Movement, a climate-change activist group, let go 35 out of the 100 people on its team, the Huffington Post reported. Middle Seat, a progressive fundraising entity, has also cut staff this year.

Justice Democrats has had to bail itself out in past months, pulling hundreds of thousands of dollars from other affiliated PACs to help keep the lights on.

The fundraising dry-up could hurt reelection campaigns for progressive House members, including Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.), whose anti-Israel positions and statements in the House are resulting in a potential primary challenge.

Bowman supports a two-state solution and recently boycotted a speech by Israeli president Isaac Herzog. He also refused to vote for a resolution last month that Israel is not "racist," leading to anger from his sizably Jewish constituency and a push for a Democratic primary challenger.

The theme is common among progressives. One aide told the Huffington Post that the Justice Democrats organization rarely met with its elected candidates, except to talk about Israel.

"Other than some Israel bills, we never talked about legislation," the aide said. "There's a perspective that people with [Justice Democrats] win their race and come to Congress and do their own thing."

Drying-up donations are a concern across the Democratic political world, Politico reported:

One of the best online fundraising days for Democrats this year was the day of Joe Biden's campaign launch—but even that day's haul was meager compared to his campaign kickoff four years ago.

That's among the findings of an analysis of fundraising for the first half of the year through ActBlue, the party's primary donation processor. Small-dollar giving at the federal level totaled $312 million in the first half of 2023—a drop-off of more than $30 million compared to this point in the 2020 cycle. The platform also had 32 percent fewer donors in the second quarter this year compared to four years prior, although its total fundraising increased slightly due to several factors, including more recurring donors and greater giving to non-federal groups.

Former Sanders campaign aide Ari Rabin-Havt told Politico that the fundraising problem points to an "enthusiasm gap" among Democrats.

"If people aren't concerned about the drop-off in contributions, then they just aren't paying attention or whistling past the graveyard," Rabin-Havt said.