Monday, July 17, 2006


Uber Left "Abramoff" ?

Is there looming trouble for Democracy Alliance?

"WASHINGTON -- An alliance of nearly 100 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.

Organizers say the effort 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 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 set Washington's community of Democratic-linked organizations on edge. 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.

Democracy Alliance also has left some Washington political activists concerned about what they perceive as a distinctly liberal tilt to the group's funding decisions. Some activists said they worry the alliance's new clout might lead to groups with a more centrist ideology becoming starved for resources.

Democracy Alliance was formed last year with major backing from billionaires such as financier George Soros and Colorado software entrepreneur Tim Gill. The inspiration, founders said, was a belief that Democrats became the minority party in part because liberals do not have a well-funded network of policy shops, watchdog groups, and training centers for activists equivalent to what has existed for years on the right.

But the alliance's early months have been marked by occasional turmoil, according to several people who are now or have recently been affiliated with the group. Made up of billionaires and millionaires who are accustomed to calling the shots, the group has gotten bogged down in disputes about its funding priorities and mission.

Democracy Alliance organizers say early disagreements are first-year growing pains for an organization that has decades-long goals. Judy Wade, managing director of the alliance, said fewer than 10 percent of its initial donors have left, which is lower than anticipated for a new venture. She said the group's funding priorities are a work in progress.

Democracy Alliance works essentially as a cooperative for donors, allowing them to coordinate their giving so it has more influence. Essentially, the alliance serves as an accreditation agency for political advocacy groups.

This accreditation process is the root of Democracy Alliance's influence. If a group does not receive the alliance's blessing, dozens of the nation's wealthiest political contributors as a practical matter become off-limits for fund-raising purposes.

Alliance officials initially reviewed about 600 liberal and Democratic-leaning organizations. Then, about 40 of those groups were invited to apply for an endorsement - with a requirement that they submit detailed business plans and internal financial information. Those groups were screened by a panel of alliance staff, donors and outside experts. So far, according to people familiar with the alliance, 25 groups have received its blessing.

The goal was to invest in groups that could be influential in building what activists call "political infrastructure" - institutions that can support Democratic causes not simply in the next election but for years to come.

Those who make the cut have prospered. For example, the Center for American Progress, led by former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, received $5 million in the first round because it was seen as a liberal version of the Heritage Foundation, which blossomed as a conservative idea shop in the Reagan years, said one person familiar with alliance operations.

But Democracy Alliance's decisions not to back some prominent groups have stirred resentment. Among the groups that did not receive backing in early rounds were such well-known centrist groups as the Democratic Leadership Council and the Truman National Security Project.

These groups "were rejected [for funding] purely because of their ideologies," said one Democrat familiar with internal Democracy Alliance funding discussions."

Ok, it's a free country, but there seems to be more here than just sour grapes over not getting funding because of "ideology". Yet from what I'm hearing this story hasn't gone unnoticed to the FEC or the DOJ who are both looking into the situation according to my sources. Again, it's not to say that there is anything going on, but when you want to "play secrets" you always get the attention of those who want to know more - know what I mean George?

mexico elections

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