- Pro-campaign-finance-reform organization
- Receives funding from George Soros’ Open Society Institute
- Member organization of the anti-tax cut coalition Fair Taxes For All
Based in Washington, DC, Democracy 21 describes itself as a “nonpartisan” group that seeks to “eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics and to ensure the integrity and fairness of government decisions and elections.” In practice, the organization has restricted citizen participation in the political process by limiting the ways in which constituents can give money to the party or candidate of their choice. Democracy 21 has also helped the network of George Soros-led Shadow Party groups gain immense influence within the Democratic Party.
Democracy 21 regularly produces reports and press releases that it disseminates to the public and the media. These items contain data analysis focusing chiefly on the following issues:
- BCRA and Other Campaign Finance Laws: Democracy 21 is a staunch supporter of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, which stipulated that political parties and candidates could only accept “hard money” contributions -- that is, donations given to a specific political party for a specific political campaign (limited to a $2,000 maximum per donor for each candidate, or $5,000 per donor if paid to a federally registered political action committee). "Soft money," by contrast, refers to political contributions which for one reason or another have been exempted from the limits imposed by the Federal Election Commission. Before McCain-Feingold outlawed such contributions, soft money donors could give as much money to political parties as they wished. Their contributions often numbered in the millions of dollars.
But the Shadow Party evaded McCain-Feingold’s limits by working through independent non-profit groups ("527 committees" -- named after Section 527 of the IRS code) that ostensibly had no connection to the Democratic Party, and which claimed to be soliciting funds not to defeat a particular candidate, but to promote “issues” and non-partisan get-out-the-vote drives. In this manner, they raised record sums of money for Democratic candidates in the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. Thus, with the aid of Democracy 21 and other organizations that supported McCain-Feingold with its built-in loophole, the rules governing the financing of political campaigns tilted in favor of the Democrats.
- 527 Groups: “In order to end the widespread practice of [Section] 527 groups spending soft money to influence federal elections," said Democracy 21 in 2007, "either the FEC must issue regulations, or legislation must be enacted that makes clear to all 527 groups that they are required to comply with federal campaign finance laws…”
- Presidential Public Financing: Democracy 21 advocates a public financing campaign system in which candidates receive a taxpayer-provided stipend if they reject private donations.
- Ethics: Democracy 21 supports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for new ethics rules for Congress, and was one of the leading organizations rebuking Tom Delay for alleged ethics violations.
- Lobbying: Democracy 21 joined the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG in calling for lobbying reform legislation that would require lobbyists to disclose certain contributions made to members of Congress.
Democracy 21 was founded in 1997 by Fred Wertheimer, who continues to serve as the organization’s President and CEO. From 1981 to 1995, Wertheimer was President of Common Cause, an advocacy organization also dedicated to campaign finance reform.
A notable Democracy 21 Board member is Nick Ucci, the Executive Vice President and CFO of People For the American Way. Like Wertheimer, Ucci also worked for Common Cause, where he served as the organization’s Senior Vice President for Management and Financial Planning.
Democracy 21 is a member organization of Fair Taxes For All, an anti-tax cut coalition co-chaired by AFSCME, Campaign for America’s Future, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, People For the American Way, and USAction. Other member organizations include: ACORN; the American Friends Service Committee; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; the Center for Community Change; the Center For Women’s Policy Studies; the Children’s Defense Fund; Defenders of Wildlife; Democratic Socialists of America; Earthjustice; Friends of the Earth; the League of Women Voters; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; MoveOn; the Ms. Foundation for Women; the NAACP; the National Council of La Raza; the National Council for Research on Women; the National Council of Women’s Organizations; the National Organization for Women; the National Partnership for Women and Families; the National Urban League; the Older Women’s League; Public Citizen; the Service Employees International Union; the Shefa Fund; the Sierra Club; and the Wilderness Society.
Democracy 21 has received heavy funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Joyce Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Institute, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.