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Rich Liberals Vow to Fund Think Tanks

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By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 7, 2005

At least 80 wealthy liberals have pledged to contribute $1 million or more apiece to fund a network of think tanks and advocacy groups to compete with the potent conservative infrastructure built up over the past three decades.

The money will be channeled through a new partnership called the Democracy Alliance, which was founded last spring -- the latest in a series of liberal initiatives as the Democratic Party and its allies continue to struggle with the loss of the House and the Senate in 1994 and the presidency in 2000. Many influential Democratic contributors were left angry and despairing over the party's poor showing in last year's elections, and are looking for what they hope will be more effective ways to invest their support.

Financial commitments totaling at least $80 million over the next five years generated by the Democracy Alliance in recent months -- at a time when some liberal groups, such as the George Soros-backed America Coming Together, are floundering -- suggest that the group is becoming a player in the long-term effort to reinvigorate the left. The group has a goal of raising $200 million -- a sum that would inevitably come in part at the expense of more traditional Democratic groups, although alliance officials say donors have committed to maintaining past contribution levels.

Alliance chairman Steven Gluckstern, a retired investment banker, said that President Bush's victory over Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) last year after millions of dollars had been poured into pro-Democratic "527" groups caused many contributors to think that a dramatically new approach is needed.

"It wasn't only the failure to win, it was the question 'What does it take to win?' " Gluckstern said. "Among the lessons learned was that to bring back the progressive majority in this country is not just a periodic election investment strategy."

The Democracy Alliance will act as a financial clearing house. Its staff members and board of directors will develop a lineup of established and proposed groups that they believe will develop and promote ideas on the left. To fulfill their million-dollar pledge, each partner must agree to give $200,000 or more a year for at least five years to alliance-endorsed groups.

The alliance is the brainchild of longtime Democratic strategist Rob Stein, who spent years studying conservative groups -- in particular their success in sustaining GOP politicians and achieving many of their policy goals. Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, is working with Stein and is a leading promoter of his effort.

Rosenberg said liberals and Democrats now face a conservative "information-age Tammany Hall, a 21st century political machine, that is simply better than what we have on our side.

"The infrastructure we have was built for a different time and mission. It was built around the congressional majority we had for 60 years in the 20th century, the labor movement and the urban-ethnic city machines," he added.

As alliance officials see it, many liberal groups are designed to protect an agenda that was enacted by past Democratic majorities -- as opposed to generating new ideas and communication strategies to win support from voters who do not belong to labor or other traditionally Democratic constituencies.

Among those on the board are Ann S. Bowers, founding trustee of the Noyce Foundation and former executive at Intel Corp.; Albert C. Yates, former president of Colorado State University; and California high-tech entrepreneur Davidi Gilo.

The goal of the alliance, according to organizers, is to foster the growth of liberal or left-leaning institutions equipped to take on prominent think tanks on the right, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, as well as such training centers as the Leadership Institute and the Young America's Foundation.


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