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July 17, 2006
Democrats Go Underground For Think-Tank Funding

The Internet Age and the rise of the blogosphere has forced a new openness in governance. The open-source communication method routinely strips secrecy and renders political processes transparent, and across the political spectrum, has demanded honesty and full disclosure from political operations. However, the Washington Post reports that Democratic efforts to establish leftist think tanks require secrecy in their funding, and moderate Democrats have started to object:

An alliance of nearly a hundred of the nation's wealthiest donors is roiling Democratic political circles, directing more than $50 million in the past nine months to liberal think tanks and advocacy groups in what organizers say is the first installment of a long-term campaign to compete more aggressively against conservatives.

A year after its founding, Democracy Alliance has followed up on its pledge to become a major power in the liberal movement. It has lavished millions on groups that have been willing to submit to its extensive screening process and its demands for secrecy.

These include the Center for American Progress, a think tank with an unabashed partisan edge, as well as Media Matters for America, which tracks what it sees as conservative bias in the news media. Several alliance donors are negotiating a major investment in Air America, a liberal talk-radio network.

But the large checks and demanding style wielded by Democracy Alliance organizers in recent months have caused unease among Washington's community of Democratic-linked organizations. The alliance has required organizations that receive its endorsement to sign agreements shielding the identity of donors. Public interest groups said the alliance represents a large source of undisclosed and unaccountable political influence.

This goes against everything that liberals claim to value in government. They have spared no opportunity to demand the release of all sorts of information about Republican officeholders and their contributors. During the Clinton administration, liberals kept accusing Richard Mellon Scaife of funding all sorts of efforts to undermine his presidency, leading to Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy" accusations.

Now George Soros and Tim Gill, among others, do not want to let people know who funds Democracy Alliance or their outreach programs to outfits like Media Matters. Their excuse? Contributors do not want to receive criticism for their politics -- while funding groups who routinely criticize others for theirs.

In fact, the whole operation appears to be a political protection racket. Anyone who wants to join these big-ticket donors who comprise the Democracy Alliance have to pay their way into the guild. Membership requires a $25,000 initiation fee and $30,000 a year from that point forward. Membership brings the privilege of secrecy, as well as the force multiplier of combining their efforts with donors such as Soros and Peter Lewis. (see update 1 below)

So who belongs to the left-wing protection guild? John Podesta's Center for American Progress, which has been compared to the Heritage Foundation, received $5 million. In exchange, CAP will remain mum about the sources of its donations, which represents a type of American progress that many will not see as a net positive. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tells people that it is a non-partisan group -- but they joined the guild and got an unspecified amount of funding. The liberals at CREW that demand a high standard of ethics apparently have no problem with secret donations for political causes, an odd position given their supposed mission.

Who didn't get in? To no one's great surprise, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council didn't make the cut. Neither did the hawkish Truman National Security Project, designed to give Democrats a better image on defense issues. According to a Post source, they lost strictly on ideological grounds -- meaning that the Democracy Alliance has no intent to boost Democratic electoral prospects by engaging the center.

Nothing about this project breaks any laws. However, it shows an appalling tone-deafness to the larger movement towards transparency and honesty in politics. It also appears to be a de facto shakedown for liberal groups and a ego trip for those donors who will grant their funds only to those who pledge unwavering fealty to the most liberal stances.

UPDATE: I corrected a fundamental misunderstanding about the partnership buy-in. That comes from the donors, not the organizations looking for funding.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 17, 2006 5:50 AM

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At least, that's what Bill O'Reilly calls it. I don't know that I'd go that far, but it sure sounds like a shakedown operation to me. From the Washington Post: An alliance of nearly a hundred of the nation's wealthiest donors is roiling Democratic [Read More]

Tracked on July 20, 2006 9:25 AM


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