Donor Disclosure by Center for American Progress Leaves Much in the Dark

Liberal org fails to list donations from foundations, wealthy individuals

John Podesta / AP
December 13, 2013

The left-wing Center for American Progress (CAP) released a list of its corporate donors on Friday, but key details of its financial backing remain shrouded in secrecy.

CAP had 55 corporate donors in 2013, according to a list published on its website. Its 501(c)(4) arm, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, had only three corporate donors that year, it said.

The list of donors includes big names in the energy, telecommunications, insurance, financial, pharmaceutical, technology, and retail sectors.

The disclosures came in the wake of news that CAP founder and chairman John Podesta will leave the organization to advise President Barack Obama on energy issues for a period of one year.

"Funding from corporations makes up less than 6 percent of funding for the Center for American Progress and less than 3 percent of funding for the Center for American Progress Action Fund," according to the statement on the CAP website.

The list did not detail how much each of the corporations gave to the center in 2013, or whether the corporations had donated money to CAP or the CAP Action Fund in the past.

The release also listed five companies that are registered to lobby - Akin Gump, Downey McGrath, Glover Park, Ickes and Enright, and the Livingston Group - leaving open the possibility that the firms contributed on behalf of clients that do not appear on CAP’s list of contributors.

A list of 2012 corporate donors obtained by the Nation in May listed many of the same companies, including Walmart, General Electric, Google, and Bank of America, but there are were also significant changes in the makeup of CAP’s support over the two years.

The information released on Friday lists five fewer corporate contributors than in the 2012 document. Some groups that gave in 2012, such as the American Wind Energy Association, First Solar, and Lockheed Martin, do not appear on the 2013 list.

Other companies were not on the 2012 list but appear on this year’s. They include Apple, Goldman Sachs, and Toyota.

Friday’s disclosure was an attempt to head off criticism of Podesta as he leaves for the White House. Under his leadership, CAP has been dogged by allegations of conflicts of interest, and the White House reportedly worried that those allegations might follow him into the administration.

The Nation’s May piece focused on CAP’s Business Alliance. A CAP brochure described the alliance as "a channel for engagement with the corporate community."

The Business Alliance provides benefits for corporate supporters based on the size of their contributions.

For $100,000, companies can get private meetings with CAP’s executive committee. For a mere $25,000, they get access to "VIP events with leaders from government, business, and academia."

CAP downplayed its corporate support in a brief statement accompanying the 2013 donor list.

"American Progress receives more than 90 percent of its funding from individuals and foundations," the group said. However, experts say that undercounts the corporate money funding the organization.

"They're probably not telling the whole story," said Matthew Vadum, senior editor of Foundation Watch at the Capital Research Center. "The two groups' 2013 tax returns are not yet available so we can't know for certain, but if past giving patterns hold, a good sized chunk of the corporate money for this year is being funneled through corporate foundations."

"CAP isn't telling us it received 621 foundation grants totaling $114,051,327 since 2004, and its CAP Action Fund (lobbying group) received 7 grants totaling $324,000 in that time," said Ron Arnold, author of Undue Influence: Wealthy Foundations, Grant Driven Environmental Groups, and Zealous Bureaucrats That Control Your Future.

Vadum noted that wealthy businessmen fund numerous foundations that have given to CAP in the past.

They include George Soros, who runs the Open Society Institute, Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire in the medical device business behind the Wyss Foundation, and Herbert and Marion Sandler, mortgage magnates whose donations are distributed to a number of liberal groups through their foundation.

CAP said it would begin disclosing individual and foundation donors in 2014.

Zaid Jilani, who was a writer for the Action Fund’s ThinkProgress blog until 2012, said on Friday that corporate supporters influence CAP work.

"CAP is an institution I saw swayed by corporate donors heavily while working there," he wrote on Twitter.