Originally known as “Democrats 2000,” 21st Century Democrats (21CD) is a political action committee (PAC) founded in 1986 by Senator Tom Harkin, Congressman Lane Evans, and left-wing political commentator Jim Hightower. Its primary mission is to “transform the Democratic Party from within” by aiding the election or re-election of “genuinely progressive Democrats” who are “the most vocal voices and fiercest fighters on progressive issues,” and who believe that “the government has a positive role to play in our country.” Such candidates, says 21CD, “will shape the direction of the Democratic Party and enact progressive public policy which transforms this country to a just, fair, and equal society for all.”
In each election cycle, 21CD directs many of its resources to the campaigns of Democratic candidates positioned to challenge “vulnerable [Republican] members of Congress who side with corporate interests instead of constituents,” and to “vulnerable [Democratic] incumbents” who are locked in tight, “competitive races.”
21CD was a relatively small PAC until 2004, when it received nearly $7 million from donors committed to unseating President George W. Bush. For example, left-wing activists Andrew and Deborah Rappaport donated $600,000 to 21CD for pro-Democrat voter-mobilization efforts. That same year, the group launched a massive Young Voter Project, also known as “Vote Mob,” in an effort to persuade tens of thousands of 18-to-29-year-olds in swing states to register and vote as Democrats. Former 21CD executive director Kelly Young reports that in 2004 her organization spent approximately $2 million to build a database of more than 200,000 young voters in Ohio, Minnesota, Oregon, and Nevada.
Also during the 2004 election season, 21CD partnered with Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, assisting the latter with grassroots training and organizing designed to help elect as many progressive Democrats as possible across the United States. Further, 21CD was a member organization of the George Soros-backed America Votes coalition, and a key constituent of the Shadow Party.
Over the years, 21CD has had a number of well-connected individuals in its employ. For example:
In 2007, former 21CD communications director Kenneth Goldman filed a lawsuit against the organization, claiming that then-executive director Kelly Young had terminated him and two other employees for their “refusal to embrace” the “religious beliefs” promoted at 21CD’s “Landmark Education” seminars. Landmark—the progeny of Erhard Seminars Training (EST), Inc.—had ties to New Age religious and spiritual practices.
In 2009, 21CD joined the Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org, Daily Kos, Democracy for America, and Color of Change in supporting the “Accountability Now PAC,” which focused its support on moderate Democratic candidates running for office in moderately liberal to moderately conservative districts. This strategy was founded on the theory that such candidates stood a better chance of winning their elections than far-left candidates.
Among the more prominent political figures supported by 21CD in recent election cycles have been Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, Keith Ellison, Mark Ritchie, Tom Udall, Andre Carson, and Sherrod Brown. For comprehensive lists of 21CD-backed candidates, click here, here, and here.
In its effort to cultivate “new generations of field organizers and campaign staff” who can help elect Democrats at every level of government, 21CD has trained thousands of high-school and college students, recent college graduates, and Democratic Party activists, and has placed hundreds of these into their first political jobs in support of progressive leaders.
In a related campaign, 21CD’s Youth Leadership Speaker Series invites prominent leftists to convey their views to young trainees. In 2009 and 2010, the guest speakers for this series included such notables as Van Jones, Barbara Lee, Barney Frank, and Dennis Kucinich.
For additional information on 21CD, click here.