Podesta's CAP Fuels Dark Money Group Hitting Trump with Lawsuits

Democracy Forward received $1M from Center for American Progress, marks same address on legal docs

John Podesta / Getty Images
June 22, 2019

A "nonpartisan" dark money group that regularly files litigation against President Donald Trump's administration is powered by money from the Center for American Progress (CAP), the liberal think tank founded by former Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

The Democracy Forward Foundation, a D.C.-based 501(c)3 nonprofit, was founded in 2017 to "help expose the rampant corruption in the Executive Branch and fight in court on behalf of the people it hurts." The group also has a 501(c)4 "social welfare" arm that goes by Democracy Forward. The foundation has filed suit against numerous government agencies, such as the Department of Justice, Department of Treasury, and the Office of Management and Budget, and has aided other entities with similar litigation, including Baltimore's lawsuit against the Trump administration over immigration policy.

The group, which has maintained a relatively low profile despite its litigation efforts against the administration, dubs itself "nonpartisan" and is referred to as "anti-corruption" by major media outlets. The group's leadership, however, is made up of Democratic operatives, including Podesta himself.

Democracy Forward's initial tax returns, which cover a time span of just over a month from May 19 to June 30, 2017, does not disclose its donors but shows that the group received $705,000 in seed money. The group lists a P.O. Box in D.C. as its address on the forms, the same contact address that is listed on its website.

However, a review of the group's legal documents shows its attorneys mark the same address as Podesta's Center for American Progress. And while the Democracy Forward Foundation did not disclose its source of funding on its initial tax forms, the Center for American Progress's own tax forms from 2017 show that Podesta's group passed $1 million to the foundation.

Democracy Forward did not respond to requests for its complete 2017 tax forms. The Center for American Progress did not respond to inquiries into its funding of the foundation or to questions about its being located in the same building as their organization.

Democracy Forward was incorporated on March 29, 2017, by Katherine LeBeau, an associate at the Perkins Coie law firm, records filed to D.C.'s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs office show.

Updated records provide a fuller list of the group's governors: Marc Elias, an attorney at Perkins Coie who was the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton's campaign, and now holds the same position in Sen. Kamala Harris's (D., Calif.) campaign; Ron Klain, a Democratic operative who was President Barack Obama's "Ebola Czar"; Maya Harris, also a Democratic operative and the sister of Sen. Harris; and Podesta.

Those four were also listed as board members of the organization at the time of its launch alongside five other individuals, initial tax forms show. However, the group's website currently does not show Harris as a board member.

Democracy Forward is just one of a number of groups whose sole mission is to hit the Trump administration with a steady flow of litigation. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), another group regularly referred to as "nonpartisan" in the media, does similar work.

The Washington Free Beacon previously found that CREW shares employees with Media Matters, the liberal watchdog founded by Clinton loyalist and Democratic operative David Brock. The Free Beacon was also on site for a Brock donor retreat in early 2017 and obtained confidential documents handed out to those in attendance detailing how they planned to fight Trump. Those documents contained a section on CREW, despite Brock stepping away from the group on paper.

Another group, American Oversight, was also launched with a mission like that of CREW and Democracy Forward.

Democracy Forward, CREW, and American Oversight are all approved groups for funding by the Democracy Alliance, the left's largest dark money donor network. Members of the alliance also helped fund and propel the Center for American Progress and Media Matters. The alliance has spent $1.83 billion on progressive infrastructure since its inception in 2005, confidential documents obtained by the Free Beacon at its latest gathering showed.