Democracy Alliance-Backed Professor Downplays Liberal Donor Network

Theda Skocpol
Theda Skocpol
October 12, 2015

An academic quoted in a recent NPR story downplaying the size of Democrats’ financial backing works for an organization supported by the Democracy Alliance, a secretive network of left-wing political donors.

The story quotes Harvard professor Theda Skocpol to support its view that political donors, especially Republican-leaning ones, are creating shadow parties that rival Democrats and Republicans in their scale and finances.

Skocpol is a sociologist and political scientist who leads the Scholars Strategy Network, a group of progressive academics. She's been studying the Koch network for several years, and said it is emulating what political parties and labor unions used to do.

In fact, the Koch network perhaps can do it better. The network can persuade donors to keep giving in non-election years, while progressive efforts struggle to maintain a presence. In other words, progressive groups and unions cannot keep pace with the Koch network.

"No. Not even close," Skocpol said.

Besides cash-flow problems, the progressive infrastructure is fragmented, with hundreds of groups targeting their own specific issues.

"That's not what you see on the right," Skocpol said. "You see much more of an effort to create an overall strategy."

Unmentioned in NPR’s story is that the Scholars Strategy Network is one of nearly 180 groups in the Democracy Alliance’s network of supported organizations.

The DA’s "partners," as it calls its donors, must contribute at least $200,000 to the nonprofit and political groups in its portfolio.

The core of that portfolio comprises 20 or so "aligned network" organizations, but partners can also satisfy their giving commitments by donating to one of about 160 groups on what it calls its "progressive infrastructure map," which includes the Scholars Strategy Network.

Two members of SSN’s steering committee, David desJardins and Lee Wasserman, are Democracy Alliance partners.

The DA works to unite left-wing donors behind a coordinated and comprehensive vision for political giving in line with the type of "overall strategy" that Skocpol attributes to right-leaning donors.

SSN does not disclose its donors, only saying on its website that it is funded by "more than a dozen public-spirited philanthropists and foundations."