New Democracy Alliance Donors Revealed

Why the Left's secretive group of millionaires and billionaires thinks it's morally superior to the Koch brothers.

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The highly secretive Democracy Alliance (DA), which takes great pains to keep its work disbursing millions of dollars to left-wing causes beyond public scrutiny, has made a foolish mistake. According to the Washington Free Beacon, a document left on the floor following the DA’s latest meeting at Ritz Carlton hotel in downtown Chicago reveals the names of a number of wealthy individuals committed to moving U.S. policies to the left.

Wealthy might be an understatement. The document has a list of new DA “partners” who must each contribute $30,000 in dues per year, plus an additional $200,000 in spending to groups supported by the DA. It also reveals the identities of DA “advisors,” foundation participants and other individuals who are getting a “sneak peek” at the DA’s activities. These partners include top labor, financial and business leaders as well as heirs to billion dollar fortunes, all of whom are recognized as large Democratic campaign contributors.

The event was rife with hypocrisy. Despite Democrats’ regular pronouncements about the lack of transparency in political funding, the four-day meeting was closed to the media and the public, and participants are barred from discussing the details of the proceedings. Moreover, most of those invited were barred from the “Partner’s Only” room.

Politico reporter Ken Vogel attempted to interview some the participants, but people like Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes ignored questions about the double-standard. DA staff even grabbed a reporter’s arm to prevent him from talking to George Soros’s son Jonathan, founder of the Friends of Democracy PAC that aims to spend between $5 million and $6 million in 2014 on candidates who support campaign finance reform. Other attendees removed their name tags when Beacon reporters approached them.

On the other hand, such reticence didn’t prevent attendees from demonstrating a sense of moral superiority with regard to how their own closed-door gathering differed from those of conservatives. “The people who are giving money into politics here are interested in changing the system,” said former Stride Ride president Arnold Hiatt. Hiatt donated $1.9 million to Democratic super PACs in 2012, a number that doesn’t include gifts to nonprofit organizations not required to disclose their donors. "They’re not interested in getting return on investment. You can focus on the irony, but it’s not hypocrisy because we’re not trying to get something for our donations.”

Former Obama campaign coordinator David Axelrod doubled down on the unctuous self-aggrandizement. "Most of these people would love to put themselves out of business,” he declared. “Most of these people would prefer a country in which big donors didn’t play as large a role in our politics. But so long as money in politics is required, there are going to be people on both sides who are willing to step up and provide it.”

The Democratic Alliance is one such organization. And while it does not accept direct contributions, it serves as a pass through organization for millionaire and billionaires devoted to causes promoted by left-wing entities such as the Center for American Progress, Media Matters for America, and the Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA.

The document discovered by the Beacon provided a window into the nature of the DA’s new partner list, which shows increased involvement by top labor leaders, including Noel Beasley, president of Workers United, a textile union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Keith Mestrich, president of the union-owned Amalgamated Bank. Beasley, who also a SEIU vice president, serves as chairman of the bank.

Also included on the 2014 list are:

New School professor Philip Munger whose father, Charles, is Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway; New World Foundation President Colin Greer and senior officer Heeten Kalan; Seavest CEO Rick Segal; Henry van Ameringen, President of the Van Ameringen Foundation whose father Arnold Louis van Ameringen founded International Flavors and Fragrances; and Code for Progress founder Dirk Wiggins, who was also the former outreach director for the Florida Democratic Party.

They compliment the list of 2013 partners that included George Kohl and Larry Cohen, senior director and president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), respectively; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and her assistant Michelle Ringuett, and author Amy Goldman, daughter of the late New York City real estate magnate Sol Goldman.

Contributions by partners include Amy Goldman's $1 million to Priorities USA, and $500,000 to House Majority PAC in 2012, $1.75 million to Planned Parenthood from 2011 to 2013, $750,000 to Organizing for Action in 2013, $9000 to Barack Obama and $13,000 to Hillary Clinton;  Philip Munger’s donation of more than $700,000 to various Democratic causes since 1990; Henry van Ameringen’s donation of more than $900,000 to Democrats since 1990; and real estate and insurance magnate Adam Abram's donation of more than $110,000 to Democrats since 1990.

Bundlers include Rick Segal, who put together between $250,000 and $500,000 for Presdient Obama’s reelection campaign, in addition to his $165,000 in political contributions since 1990, and Deer Oaks Mental Health Associates CEO Paul Boskind, who bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign, even as he personally donated nearly $200,000 to Democrats since 1990.

The DA was founded in 2005 by political operative Rob Stein, who served as chief of staff to Clinton administration Commerce Department Secretary Ron Brown. Its mission was to "to build progressive infrastructure that could help counter the well-funded and sophisticated conservative apparatus in the areas of civic engagement, leadership, media, and ideas.” Convinced he was living in a Republican-dominated country, Stein gave a series of power point demonstrations illuminating the GOP’s networking and funding sources, in the hopes of creating a similar leftist organization. Billionaire George Soros embraced the concept and brought together 70 like-minded millionaires and billionaires who believed conservatives were a “fundamental threat to the American way of life.”

For the last eight years the DA has endeavored to establish chapters in all 50 states. In 2011 they launched a new project called New Media Ventures, self-described as "the first national network of early-stage investors who are investing their time and money into new, cutting edge, start-ups focused on building progressive change.” Last year the DA allied itself with Organizing for Action (OFA), Barack Obama’s former campaign apparatus reincarnated as a nonprofit advocacy group aimed at advancing Obama’s legislative agenda.

The group currently holds two conferences per year, mixing entertainment with panels on progressive issues that include topics such as income inequality, climate change, drug reform, gun control, abortion rights and the death penalty. The DA’s biggest issue this year is keeping Democratic control of the Senate. “There’s a lot of anxiety about the midterms,” said San Francisco venture capitalist Rob McKay. Along with George Soros and 100 other donors, McKay is drafting a strategy aimed at giving Democrats a bigger say in the redrawing of district boundaries for state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives. It is an effort driven by the belief that the left missed an opportunity to contain the tea party in 2010. The DA's new president, Gara LaMarch, also aims to rally “the rising American electorate." “It’s becoming increasingly clear that mobilization and engagement of women, Latinos, African Americans and young people is the way to win elections,” he said, “and there’s a strong desire to invest more heavily in those communities.”

LaMarch also rejected the claims of hypocrisy that has seen the conservative Koch brothers and their “un-American” fund-raising activities become a Democratic campaign plank, even as the Democracy Alliance engages in precisely the same activity. “There is a degree of irony in using the current system to change the system,” he said. “But the alternative is a kind of unilateral disarmament.”

The left is hardly unilaterally disarming itself. On the Super-PAC front, donors have given more than $77.6 million dollars to Democrats, compared to just over $23.3 million to Republicans.

Nonetheless, LaMarch offered the same kind of sanctimonious rationale for leftist fund-raising that supposedly puts it on a higher moral plane than its GOP counterpart. “George Soros isn’t trying to get a tax break or relief from regulation or whatever. He is basically saying, let’s have a system where somebody like me would be taxed more heavily,” he contended, even as he asserted that conservative donors treat their contributions as “a business expense” that “coincides with self-interest in a narrower sense more than it does on the progressive side, so I think that is a distinction that is significant.”

DA contributor and San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer makes an utter mockery of such distinctions. Steyer made a great deal of his fortune in coal mining, and his newfound passion for environmentalism has to do with the fact that banning coal-fired plants will boost his investments in solar projects.

On the conservative side of the ledger, David Koch, who is one of the left’s favorite whipping boys, also undermines LaMarche’s ridiculous contention. Since 2000, Koch has given away more than $629 million to “self-interested” causes more familiarly known as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the American Ballet Theater, the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Columbia University. This year alone he donated $100 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital to help build a state-of-the-art ambulatory care center.

What did his “nobler” leftist counterparts do? The New York State Nurses Association, SEIU Local 1199, the New York State NAACP and the Working Families Party protested the donation, holding demonstrations outside the hospital and Koch’s apartment.

Yet despite the abject unseemliness and overt hypocrisy of singling out the Kochs and other GOP mega-donors, Jon Carson, a former top Obama White House aide who now runs OFA, said organizations like his own and the DA will continue to abase them “as a call to action” for Democratic donors. “What’s actually going on is a conversation about motivation for why people put money in politics and I think on all sides, some people genuinely have policy views they care about,” he contended.

The DA, like any fund-channeling organization, is entitled to give their contributions to whomever they choose, and maintain as much secrecy as the law allows. But their self-professed contention that they are morally superior because they are fighting for causes inimical to the interests of their members, such as higher taxes, is preposterous. There is nothing stopping any one of these mega-donors from cutting a check to the federal government for whatever they believe their “fair share” of wealth re-distribution ought to be. Nor is there anything preventing the DA from holding their meetings open to the press and the public. That they refuse to do so puts the lie to their claims of moral superiority. They and their donors are just another group of self-interested political elitists. Nothing more, nothing less.

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