Nudging States Left

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 2006

A year after a group of liberal donors set up the Democracy Alliance, the same forces joined together to establish the Committee on States in 2006. Just as the Democracy Alliance (see 2005 entry) is a conduit for steering donor money to approved left-wing national political organizations, the Committee on States is a conduit for steering money to left-wing political organizations working on the state level. In every state where it operates, the group recruits major donors and recommends places to send money. The funds pay for political data and analysis, grassroots organizing, opposition research, fundraising, and messaging. The goal is to elect officeholders who will enact liberal policies and be in a position to influence the redrawing of election districts in the states after the 2020 census.

The committee is a nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy organization. Under IRS rules, such groups can advocate for public policies without limitation, can urge particular votes on issues, and can depict candidates in positive or negative ways, but must not make active electioneering their primary purpose. Donations to a (c)(4) are not tax-deductible, but the Committee on States has set up a parallel 501(c)(3) whose more research-related work does allow supporters to deduct their giving.

During the 2014 election cycle the committee coordinated about $50 million of donations made in 20 different states—including $9 million of spending in Wisconsin, $7 million each in North Carolina and Minnesota, and $6 million each in Colorado and Florida. The group hopes to create donor networks in seven more states for the next election. The intent is to establish durable political machines in each place, and the Committee on States aims to increase spending to $100 million per year by 2020.

Liberal philanthropists are funding not only this electoral organizing but also efforts to link liberal officeholders in affinity groups, and supply them with ideas and legislative ammunition. The Public Leadership Institute has established a Progressive Leaders Network that connects 13,000 left-leaning city, county, and state officials. A new group called the State Innovation Exchange was kicked off in 2014 by the donors of the Democracy Alliance. That organization plans to raise $10 million a year in donations “to boost progressive state lawmakers and their causes—partly by drafting model legislation…while also using bare-knuckle tactics like opposition research and video tracking to derail Republicans and their initiatives,” according to Politico.