The Agenda Project (AP) was established in 2010 “to build a powerful, intelligent, well-connected political movement” that could “return normal Americans to the center of the policy debate” by: “cultivating an understanding of public policy, facilitating common action, and connecting the best ideas and the strongest leaders with engaged citizens, elected officials, the media, political insiders, and experts through a variety of in-person and on-line platforms.”
By AP’s calculus, society can only function well when the influence of government dominates the workings of the marketplace. “The role of markets,” says AP, is to “efficiently” do such things as “secure a cost-effective energy supply, develop a competitive workforce, build a 21st century infrastructure, and ensure an efficient health care delivery system.” “The role of government,” meanwhile, “is to make sure [those things] get done. An effective government can spark new industries, cure disease, explore galaxies, inspire peace, spread freedom, and lay the foundation for global prosperity.”
AP’s major ongoing campaigns include the following:
* The Patriotic Millionaires campaign is led by some 200 Americans with annual incomes above $1 million, who signed a letter urging President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner to increase taxes on people in this income bracket “for the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens.”
* TopWonks.org is a multimedia website that serves as a directory for locating “knowledgeable authorities” who are actively involved in a broad range of public policy issues.
* The Bank Reform initiative seeks to impose ever-greater regulations on the large banks whose pre-2008 “risky behaviors” allegedly caused “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”
* The Breakfast Series consists of AP-sponsored gatherings where left-wing guest speakers “provide substantive insight into critical public-sector ideas and policies.” Among these speakers have been such notables as Kirstin Gillibrand, Van Jones, Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman, Charles Schumer, Melanie Sloan, and Jim Wallis.
Other noteworthy AP initiatives from recent years include the following:
- In the summer of 2010, AP launched its highly publicized “F*ck Tea” campaign to persuade Americans “to dismiss the [conservative] Tea Party and … promote the progressive cause.” This initiative featured “F*ck Tea” mugs and t-shirts, which on the back read: “Progress is the Real American Party.”
- That same summer, AP launched a “Hate Begets Hate” initiative in response to the August 2010 stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City, on the premise that such crimes against Muslims were the result of negative portrayals of the Islamic faith by the media and politicians in both major parties. At that time, many Americans were expressing opposition to Faisal Abdul Rauf‘s proposed construction of a mosque/Islamic Center called Cordoba House just 600 feet from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. AP responded by producing Hate Begets Hate, a video in support of the project. AP also published an op-ed in the Huffington Post titled “How to Kill America,” which stated that “the greatest threat to America is not what a terrorist is going to do to us, but rather what we are going to do to ourselves” by betraying the nation’s founding principles, such as freedom of religious expression.
- Also in support of Cordoba House, AP produced a video titled War on Prayer (denouncing the project’s opponents), and another titled Propaganda for Terrorists (condemning Glenn Beck, Rev. Terry Jones, and Sarah Palin for allegedly providing fodder for anti-Muslim extremists). Moreover, the organization VoteVets lent its voice to AP’s cause, emphasizing that “we didn’t fight for American values abroad to have them denigrated at home.”
- Just before the November midterm elections of 2010, AP initiated a “Vote Sanity” campaign exhorting voters to oppose Tea Party candidates at the polls. Tea Party values, meanwhile, were mocked in yet another AP-produced video titled Welcome to Crazytown.
- In 2010 as well, AP exhorted its 10,000+ supporters to call the White House and urge President Obama to allow a set of Bush-era tax cuts to expire. The response by AP activists was so heavy, that two phone lines on the White House switchboards crashed as a result of the call volume.
- In May 2011, AP ran its infamous “America the Beautiful” campaign, which featured a video showing an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman getting thrown off a cliff by a young man who bore a striking resemblance to Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. The purpose was to convey that Ryan’s budget proposal to partially privatize Medicare would prove catastrophic for senior citizens.
- On October 13, 2014, AP—on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—created an ad claiming that the recent scare regarding the deadly Ebola virus could be traced to cuts that Republican legislators had made to funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Specifically, the ad stated that while “Republicans [had] voted to cut CDC’s budget to fight Ebola,” they had fought aggressively to “protect tax breaks for special interests.” It featured brief video clips of prominent Republicans—such as Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Chris Christie—uttering the word “cuts.” And it ended with the bold-printed message: “Republican cuts kill. VOTE.”The claims in the AP ad were entitrely fraudulent, however. In the budget put forth by Congress in January 2014, the CDC received an 8.2% funding hike for fiscal 2014. This increased the CDC’s yearly budget to $6.9 billion, which was $567 million more than it had received in 2013. It was also far more than the $6.6 billion requested in President Obama’s 2014 budget.
The founder and president of AP is Erica Payne, who holds a BA from the University of North Carolina (1991) and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (2000). Payne has been a consultant to a number of campaigns and political organizations, and served as deputy national finance director for the Democratic National Committee in 1996. In 2005 she was a co-founder of the Democracy Alliance. Three years later she published The Practical Progressive: How to Build a 21st Century Political Movement—a book that Jonathan Alter of Newsweek called “a blueprint for a progressive conspiracy to help save the country.” Payne also founded the Tesseract Group, a boutique consulting firm that provides strategy and communications expertise to select public-policy and political organizations. Past Tesseract clients include: America Votes, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Independent Media (now called the American Independent News Network), and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
A noteworthy funder of AP has been the Democracy Alliance.