The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) is the think-tank of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), an organization founded in 1985 and counting among its past chairs former President Bill Clinton, Congressman Richard Gephardt, and Senator Joseph Lieberman. The DLC characterizes itself as the “founding organization of the New Democratic movement,” the goal of which is to “modernize the progressive tradition in American politics.” The DLC further highlights its commitment to a “Third Way” agenda that includes some apparently conservative as well as leftwing guiding principles. Under its name on the homepage of its website, the Progressive Policy Institute displays the caption, “Defining the Third Way.”
During the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Mikhail Gorbachev promoted the so-called “Third Way” as an alternative to free markets. This new way of governing would be neither capitalist nor communist, but something in between. In a similar vein, President Clinton said in his 1998 State of the Union address, “We have moved past the sterile debate between those who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer. My fellow Americans, we have found a Third Way.” This Third Way calls for business and government to join hands as “partners.” As Clinton told the Economic Club of Detroit in February 2002, “We are working with business to use technology, research and market incentives to meet national goals. Some have called this political philosophy the Third Way.” In short, Big Business would own the economy (as under capitalism), while Big Government would run it (as under socialism). Corporations would be persuaded to comply with government directives through subsidies, tax breaks, customized legislation, and other special privileges.
The DLC publishes a daily newsletter, the New Dem Daily, and a periodical called Blueprint Magazine (published four to six times per year), which advocate moderately leftwing social, political, and economic agendas for America. Despite its open hostility to Republicans and its open cheerleading for Democrats in both the New Dem Daily and Blueprint Magazine, the DLC identifies itself as a tax-exempt nonprofit that is “not a political committee and not set up to influence elections.”
The PPI was established in 1989 and after the 1992 election gained notoriety as “Bill Clinton’s idea mill.” Its founder and still-president is Will Marshall III, co-founder and first Policy Director of the DLC. A longtime friend of Clinton and a supporter of Al Gore, Marshall has also been a speechwriter and policy analyst for Louisiana’s late Democratic Congressman Gillis Long, and a speechwriter and spokesman for Democrat Jim Hunt’s 1984 Senate Campaign in North Carolina. The connection to Long also linked Marshall to Al From, the guiding spirit behind the DLC and PPI. From began public life by working for Senator Edmund Muskie, then for two years served as Jimmy Carter’s adviser on inflation. From then directed the House Democratic Caucus until 1985, when he started the DLC. He was an early promoter and mentor to Bill Clinton, moving him to the chair of the DLC before his run for president in 1992.
PPI receives relatively little direct foundation sponsorship: most of the money PPI has received (about $300,000) has come from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which contributes to a variety of both leftwing and conservative foundations. Additional PPI money has come from the AT&T Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the BP Foundation, and the Eastman Kodak Charitable Trust.