The Anti-ALEC alliance

Group at heart of anti-conservative crusade is shadowy organization funded by leftwing millionaires and billionaires

June 14, 2012

ProgressNow, a leader in the leftwing campaign against free-market model legislation organization ALEC, is a shadowy organization funded by millionaires, billionaires, and leftwing philanthropies with the intent of expanding Democratic power.

Under pressure from ProgressNow and other groups, Johnson & Johnson is the latest in a string of large corporations to drop membership in the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC), a private-public partnership of state legislators and businesses that works to advance free-market legislation.

Most of ALEC’s initiatives focus on free-market and business issues, but it also has sponsored voter identification and self-defense laws that have drawn the ire of the left. Since January, a coalition of liberal groups has waged an intense campaign to dismantle ALEC by targeting its corporate sponsors, filing legal challenges, and using shareholder activism against it.

ProgressNow, a liberal non-profit organization, is one of the core groups waging the campaign against ALEC. As previously reported by the Free Beacon, ProgressNow was a featured group at a lunch forum held at the AFL-CIO headquarters in May to discuss the campaign.

"Never relent, never let up pressure, and always increase," Aniello Alioto of ProgressNow Colorado said at the forum, summing up the group’s tactics.

Along with groups such as the Center for Media and Democracy and Color of Change, which was founded by former Obama green jobs czar and 9/11 Truther Van Jones, ProgressNow has participated in forums and panels dedicated to instructing liberals in how to reduce ALEC’s influence.

So far 23 private sector members of ALEC have exited the group.

ProgressNow is perhaps the largest of the groups fighting ALEC. Founded in 2003 in Colorado, the organization has since expanded to include affiliate groups in 21 states. In the 2010 book, The Blueprint: How the Democrats won Colorado, and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care, ProgressNow was described as the "crown jewel" of progressive donors’ efforts to flip the state.

The umbrella organization promotes a variety of liberal causes, such as socialized healthcare and higher taxes on the wealthy. As of May 2012, the organization claims to have more than 2.5 million online members and plans to expand to 25 states.

ProgressNow is part of a complex network of philanthropists and foundations that discretely funnel millions of dollars to progressive groups.

Rob McKay, a prominent liberal philanthropist and Obama donor, and Ted Trimpa both serve on ProgressNow’s board. Both are also board members of the Democracy Alliance, which was established in 2005 with the express purpose of countering the political infrastructure of conservatives following liberals’ bitter disappointment in the 2004 elections.

Democracy Alliance members pay annual dues starting at $15,000, which support the organization’s staff as well as its semi-annual conferences and cocktail parties. Members are also required to contribute a minimum $100,000 to non-profit groups vetted and recommended by Democracy Alliance staff.

It is unclear which groups receive funding. Meetings are closed to the public, membership is invite-only, and organizations that receive Democracy Alliance donations are asked not to disclose the information. The Free Beacon reported earlier in the year about the Democracy Alliance’s closely guarded and lavish Miami conference.

Matthew Vadum, who investigates foundations for the Capital Research Center, said the Democracy Alliance is "very secret."

"They’re not required to file a 990 IRS form because they’re not a tax-exempt non-profit," Vadum said. "And the money doesn’t pass through their hands anyway. It’s what some people call a ‘donors’ collaborative’ for wealthy left-wingers."

However, there is significant overlap between the Democracy Alliance and ProgressNow, and it is not limited to McKay and Trimpa.

The Bohemian Foundation, which was founded by Democracy Alliance member Pat Stryker, donated $580,000 to ProgressNow between 2006 and 2010.

The Tides Foundation has kicked $460,000 to ProgressNow as well. The Tides Foundation was created by Democracy Alliance Treasurer Drummond Pike and has received millions of dollars over the years from ultra-wealthy liberal philanthropist George Soros. Vadum called the Tides Foundation "one of the most important donor-advised funds on the left."

The Foundation to Promote Open Society, created by Soros, gave $250,000. The foundation has also given more than half a million to Color of Change.

The Gill Foundation, created by Democracy Alliance co-founder Tim Gill, gave $443,125.

Anna Burger, the former Secretary-Treasurer of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is also former vice-chair of the Democracy Alliance Board. The SEIU has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to ProgressNow since its creation.

"It’s hard to know if [ProgressNow] was specifically endorsed by the Democracy Alliance because the meetings are secret," Vadum said. "But when you have all these people involved, you can make an educated guess."

Neither ProgressNow nor Democracy Alliance returned requests for comment on the nature of their relationship.

At least one foundation appears to have broken the code of silence, however. In 2008, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors donated $10,000 to ProgressNow. The description of the grant reads "For Democracy Alliance Commitment."