Billionaires for Big Government
What’s Next for George Soros’s Democracy Alliance?
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Summary: Just three years ago the Democratic Party was in disarray. Despite record high-dollar donations from affluent supporters, Democrats had failed to reclaim the White House and Congress. Shell-shocked by their defeat, George Soros and other wealthy liberals formed a loose-knit group to consider how to fund a political comeback.
Their answer: Create a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups—a kind of “vast left-wing conspiracy” to compete with the conservative movement. The group they created–called the Democracy Alliance (DA)— is meant to be a financial clearinghouse. The Alliance got off to a rocky start, but to date it’s brokered more than $100 million in grants to liberal nonprofits. The goal is not merely to elect Democrats this November, but to permanently realign U.S. politics.
The “Partners”: Who’s Who in the Democracy Alliance
The Democracy Alliance has at least 101 donor-members, both individuals and organizations. However, it has not made available an official list of its “partners.” Here are some of the known DA members:
George Soros is founder of Quantum Asset Management and the grant-making Open Society Institute. He donated close to $24 million of his own money to 527 committees that made “independent expenditures” to defeat George W. Bush in 2004. His son Jonathan is also a member of the DA.
Peter B. Lewis is a billionaire insurance magnate ‚Äî chairman of Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., the nation’s third-largest automobile insurer. He gave $23 million to 527 groups in 2004.
Herb and Marion Sandler are the co-founders of Golden West Financial Corp. They sold their S&L holding company to Wachovia in 2006 for $24 billion in cash and stock. In 2004 they gave $13 million to anti-Bush 527s.
The philanthropic interests of Silicon Valley venture capitalists Andy and Deborah Rappaport overlap significantly with those of the Alliance, but it is unclear if they are currently DA members. (The Nation’s Ari Berman reported in 2006 that the Rappaports were “disaffected with the Alliance.”) The Rappaports gave $25,000 to fund the first Yearly Kos convention in 2004, a donation that matched the $25,000 MoveOn.org to the cause. The Rappaports founded New Progressive Coalition LLC, (“Your political giving advisor”), which is technically a for-profit corporation that allows individuals to “invest” in Political “Mutual Funds.” According to the NPC: “Political giving can be easy and strategic…Simply choose an issue you care about and invest in a portfolio of powerful and unique organizations that are working effectively to solve our pressing political challenges.” This new kind of for-profit political funding entity sidesteps campaign finance laws allowing a donor’s identity to remain confidential. The Rappaports also gave $70,000 to ActBlue, a PAC that takes in donations and then distributes the money to Democratic candidates.
Tim Gill is the software entrepreneur who created Quark, the design and layout publishing program. Gill, who also dabbles in state and local politics, is president of the Gill Foundation in Denver, a funder of gay rights organizations. Gill’s political giving grew from $300,000 in 2000 to about $15 million in 2006, the Atlantic Monthly reported in March 2007. The Gill Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization created in September 2006, describes itself as “dedicated to securing
equal opportunity for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.” Its executive director is Patrick Guerriero, former president of the gay GOP group, Log Cabin Republicans. Rodger MacFarlane, senior adviser to the Gill Foundation, is also a DA partner.
Rachel Pritzker Hunter of the Hyatt Hotel Pritzkers was a DA board member after the group was created.
Gara LaMarche became president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies in April 2007. Previously, he was vice president and director of U.S. Programs for Soros’s Open Society Institute.
Guy Saperstein, is an Oakland, California trial lawyer. In 2007, he created the National Security/Foreign Policy New Ideas Fund (newideasfund.org), with DA funding.
Rob Reiner, a Hollywood actor-director, is chairman of Parents Action for Children, a 501(c)(3) advocacy group. In 2005 he promoted Proposition 82, an unsuccessful California ballot initiative that would have raised state taxes to fund preschool for all four-year-olds. (See “The Teachers Unions Fight for Universal Pre-School,” by Ivan Osorio and James Dellinger, Labor Watch, June 2007.)
Herb Miller is a Washington, D.C., real estate developer and Democratic Party fundraiser.
David A. Friedman, a philanthropist and self-described centrist, is treasurer of the Friedman Family Foundation.
Ann S. Bowers is the widow of Intel cofounder Robert Noyce, inventor of the integrated circuit and “mayor of Silicon Valley.” Bowers is board chairman of Noyce Foundation.
Albert C. Yates is former president of Colorado State University.
Davidi Gilo is a high-tech entrepreneur and founder of Vyyo Inc. who made the Mother Jones 400 list of big leftist donors. His wife, Shamaya, created the Winds of Change Foundation in 1998, and is a heavy donor to Democratic candidates.
Mark Buell is a businessman. His wife, Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founded the clothier Esprit with her ex-husband, Douglas Tompkins, who is president of the Foundation for Deep Ecology.
Fred Baron, one of America’s wealthiest plaintiffs’ attorneys, was finance chairman for Senator John Edwards‘s 2004 presidential campaign.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is an institutional member of the DA. SEIU President Andrew Stern and MoveOn.org‘s Eli Pariser have created a political action committee called “They Work for Us,” to take on Democratic candidates deemed insufficiently left-wing on economic issues. The labor coalition SEIU broke away from, the AFL-CIO, is also an Alliance member.
Alan Patricof is co-founder of private equity firm Apax Partners. From 1993 to 1995, he was chairman of the White House Conference on Small Business.
Bren Simon is president of MBS Associates LLC, a property management and development firm. Her husband, Melvin, ranks on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people. He is a part owner of the Indiana Pacers and runs the Simon Property Group, developer of shopping malls. (It is not known if Mr. Simon is active in the DA.)
Software entrepreneur Chris Gabrieli, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts governor in 2006, co-founded and heads Massachusetts 2020 Foundation.
Anne Bartley, the daughter of Winthrop Rockefeller, is vice chairman of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and a trustee of the Jennifer Altman Foundation.
Simon Rosenberg, the founder and president of the New Democrat Network (NDN), ran unsuccessfully in 2005 for the DNC chairmanship.
Lewis B. Cullman is a financier and philanthropist whose website says he and his wife, Dorothy, have given away $223 million to date.
Rob Johnson, a DA board member, is a partner at Impact Artist Management and former portfolio manager for Soros’s Quantum Fund.
Michael Kieschnick is founder of Working Assets. Every time a customer uses one of the Working Assets donation-linked services (long distance, wireless and credit card), the company donates a portion of the charges to “nonprofit groups working to build a world that is more just, humane, and environmentally sustainable,” according to the company’s website, which claims that over $50 million has been raised for progressive causes.
Steven M. Gluckstern, a former chairman of the Alliance, is a founding managing directorof Azimuth Alternative Assets, an investment banking firm.
Inventor William Budinger, who founded and ran Rodel, Inc.,is a DA board member.
DA board member Robert H. Dugger is a managing director of Tudor Investment Corporation, an asset management company. Previously he was chief economist at the American Bankers Association.
Manhattan psychologist Gail Furman, a DA board member, is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She serves on the boards of Human Rights First and The Brennan Center for Social Justice at NYU Law School.
San Francisco attorney and political organizer Steven Phillips is president and founder of PowerPAC.org, which focuses on California politics. He is a DA board member.
Charles Rodgers, a DA board member, is president of the New Community Fund, a family foundation in Massachusetts.
DA board member Deborah Sagner is a social worker and president of the Sagner Family Foundation.
Michael Vachon, a DA board member, is Soros’s spokesman and political director.
Patricia Stryker is granddaughter of Homer Stryker, who founded Stryker Corporation, a medical technology company.
Rutt Bridges is founder of Advance Geophysical. He ran for governor of Colorado in 2005 but dropped out of the race.