Introduction Describing itself as “the strategy center for the progressive movement,” the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) is a nonprofit organization that works to “expose the conservative agenda that has made things worse” for millions of U.S. residents. Specifically, says CAF, an “era of conservative failure” has brought about “a destabilized Middle East and Asia, the persistent threat of …
Describing itself as “the strategy center for the progressive movement,” the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) is a nonprofit organization that works to “expose the conservative agenda that has made things worse” for millions of U.S. residents. Specifically, says CAF, an “era of conservative failure” has brought about “a destabilized Middle East and Asia, the persistent threat of terrorism, a menacing climate crisis, an insecure and dwindling energy supply, unprecedented trade deficits, unchecked global corporate power, [a] broken health care system, a weakened pension system, and an increasingly inaccessible higher education system.” As a result, “Americans have had it with tired conservative politics that divide us, an economy that squeezes us, a foreign policy that weakens us, and a government that serves few of us.”
“But out of the ashes” of these calamities, CAF avers, “comes an historic opportunityfor progressives” to “salvage the American Ideal and shape this young century”; “revitalize a progressive agenda” that will make the economy “work for working people once again”; create a “future that works for all, not simply the few”; and “turn this precarious moment into a prosperous progressive era.”
CAF was founded in 1996 by some 130 prominent progressives who were “alarmed by the rightward drift of American politics and the forces undermining the widely shared prosperity that is the foundation of our democracy.” Its principal co-founders were Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey, who have served as the organization’s co-directorsever-since. Among the other 128 individuals who also played a role in CAF’s creation were such notables as Mary Frances Berry, Julian Bond, Heather Booth, Robert Borosage, John Cavanagh, Richard Cloward, Peter Dreier, Barbara Ehrenreich, Betty Friedan, Todd Gitlin, Tom Hayden, Denis Hayes, Roger Hickey, Patricia Ireland, Jesse Jackson, Joseph Lowery, Frances Fox Piven, Robert Reich, Mark Ritchie, Arlie Schardt, Susan Shaer, Andrew Stern, John Sweeney, and Richard Trumka. At least 31 of the 130 people who helped establish CAF were confirmed members of the Democratic Socialists of America or of one of its two predecessors—the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee or the New American Movement. To view a list of all 130 CAF co-founders, click here.
Also in 1996, Borosage and Hickey collaborated to establish CAF’s sister organization, a think tank known as the Institute for America’s Future.
Agendas and Priorities
CAF’s efforts and resources are devoted mainly to promoting what UndueInfluence.com describes as “anti-corporate, anti-military, welfare-state, and other ‘progressive’ programs” that advocate extensive government intervention in the economy, massive levels of wealth redistribution via steeply progressive taxation, and a dramatic expansion of spending on social-welfare programs and public education. Below are the major issues upon which CAF currently focuses, along with key statements the organization has made about each one:
- “The minimum wage is not enough for a full-time worker to lift a family of three out of poverty.”
- “[W]orkers aren’t sharing in the rewards of growing profits and productivity. Corporate profits are at new highs as a share of economy; wages at record lows. CEO salaries have soared while wages have stagnated.”
- “Thirty million American workers would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10.”
- “Repeal the obscene tax breaks that multinationals pocket for shipping our jobs abroad.”
- “Invest in areas vital to our economy—innovation, education, rebuilding our decrepit roads and sewers, and pay for it by insuring [that] the wealthy and the big corporations pay their fair share.”
- “Don’t let concerns about deficits trump support for investments vital to the economy. People understand the need for public spending on education, on first responders and teachers, on roads and sewers, on renewable energy. They want the public pillars of family security—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—protected.”
- “Broad majorities support raising taxes on the rich, the big banks, and the multinationals to help pay for what is needed.”
- “[C]urb executive pay excesses and help workers gain a fair share of profits.”
- “In their relentless demand for spending cuts as part of their crusade to impose austerity on our economy, conservatives have fixated on cuts to benefits offered by Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—the core pillars of family security. One particularly noxious idea is the ‘chained CPI.’” [Click herefor an explanation of this.] … Social Security benefits are modest and should be increased, not cut.”
- “Conservatives peddle the fiction that America has a ‘spending problem’ and [that] there is no need for more tax revenue. The reality is the current tax code is still rigged for the 1 percent.”
- “[W]e still have a revenue problem…. We can raise much of the revenues we need if we … fill the gaps that have allowed the richest Americans to escape contributing their fair share to America’s future.”
- “Profitable multinationals are exploiting loopholes and oversea tax dodges to avoid taxes altogether.”
- CAF calls for: “closing tax shelters for the wealthy,” “terminating destructive corporate tax breaks,” “taxing Wall Street trading to discourage reckless speculation,” and “placing a surtax on income above $1 million.”
- “We call for immediate spending on infrastructure to create jobs … and for federal grants to the states to put teachers, firemen and other public servants back to work.
- “We seek expanded support for students to ensure that every qualified student can attend and graduate from college.”
- “We call for major investments in scientific research and development, especially in the area of clean energy, to encourage increased economic innovation.”
- “We call for strengthening the rights of workers to bargain collectively to ensure they share in the gains their labor produces.”
- “We call for strengthening, not cutting, Social Security—and reject plans to slash Medicaid or turn Medicare into a voucher.”
- “We call for building on the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] by putting in place a public option” (a single federal health-insurance plan that would compete with private insurance companies and ultimately drive them out of business).
- “We seek to guarantee long-term economic stability by putting a price on carbon [via a cap-and-trade system] and stewarding our natural resources.”
- “We press for real progressive tax reform that will help reverse inequality, put our government on solid fiscal footing, and cut unhealthy subsidies for industries, such as big oil, that harm our environment and our society.”
- “We reject the idea that corporations are persons with the right to unlimited spending to dominate our politics.” (This is a reference to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that nullified an election-law provision barring corporations from paying for political ads that are produced independently of candidate campaigns—on grounds that the First Amendment prohibits Congress from censoring any entity’s right to engage in, or to fund, political speech.
- “We insist on the removal of all barriers that stand between citizens and their right to vote.” (CAF contends that Voter ID requirements constitute a form of vote suppression that disproportionately affects nonwhites and the poor.)
- “American companies continue to ship good jobs to China. They seek to profit from underpaid, overworked labor with few rights. They profit from Chinese subsidies and lax environmental policies…. And worse, they can write off the expenses of shipping U.S. jobs overseas from their taxes as a cost of doing business … even as Americans pay the price in lost jobs and declining wages.”
- “Some have proposed that in order to eliminate provisions in the tax code that allow corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share, seniors should accept cuts to Medicare benefits … The trade-off is morally offensive: Why should fairer taxes from the rich be allowed only if accompanied by less health care for the old or vulnerable?”
- “We don’t have an ‘entitlements’ problem; we have a broken health care system…. [T]he real problem is runaway health care costs generally, driven by the entrenched corporate interests – the drug and insurance companies and the private hospital complexes—that have made our health care the most expensive in the world.”
Other issues that CAF has focused on in recent years include the following:
(1) Prior to the passage of Obamacare in 2010, CAF’s Healthcare for All initiative pursued “progressive solutions” to the fact that “47 million Americans remain uninsured and millions of families are plunged into bankruptcy when serious illness strikes.” Embracing the premise that “[q]uality, affordable health care should be a right for everyone in America, not a privilege for the few,” CAF believes that the federal government itself, rather than private insurance companies, should provide health insurance to individuals via a “single-payer” healthcare system. Cognizant of the fact that public sentiment was strongly opposed to such a system, however, CAF was careful not to endorse single-payer. Instead, it called for a system based on a “public-private partnership” where everyone would be required to purchase insurance, and where those who could not afford a policy would have their healthcare subsidized by the government—an arrangement very similar to how Obamacare was ultimately structured.
(2) CAF routinely calls for across-the-board increases in federal funding for public schools. Specifically, the organization advocates “universal pre-school care [including] health and nutritional programs in addition to traditional academic development activities”; “the expansion of Head Start to all qualified applicants”; “immediate increases in federal school construction and maintenance funds”; “a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1”; higher pay for teachers “working in disadvantaged areas”; “universal access to after-school programs”; and more “grants and subsidized loans” for higher education.
(3) Throughout its history, CAF has been a vocal opponent of proposals to partially privatize the Social Security system—i.e., proposals that would allow people to invest a portion of their benefits in private financial vehicles that, by CAF’s reckoning, would be “too risky.” For example:
- CAF played a key role in forcing President Bill Clinton to reverse his initial support for Social Security privatization. In 1998 the Campaign was the principal organizer of the now-defunct New Century Alliance for Social Security (NCASS), an umbrella of leftist groups that collaborated to “to protect Social Security from schemes that ‘privatize’ America’s retirement system by reducing guaranteed benefits to fund private investment accounts.” Signers of the NCASS Statement of Principles included Julian Bond, Heather Booth, Kenneth Cook, Marian Wright Edelman, Peter Edelman, Mike Farrell, Heidi Hartmann, Patricia Ireland, Jesse Jackson, Steven Kest, Norman Lear, Kweisi Mfume, Robert Reich, Susan Shaer, Eleanor Smeal, Andrew Stern, and John Sweeney.
- CAF was equally adamant in denouncing President George W. Bush’s callsfor the partial privatization of Social Security. In 2005 the Campaign helped launch Americans United to Protect Social Security (AUPSS), an initiative of labor, business, and social-justice groups working to derail privatization efforts. In the aftermath of President Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address (where he discussed his privatization proposal), AUPSS staged 249 events in 45 states characterizing the Bush plan as dangerous to the financial well-being of senior citizens. Assisting CAF in founding AUPSS were the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Moveon.org, and USAction.
- In early 2011 CAF was troubled by the fact that President Barack Obama’s debt commission was recommending a partial privatization of Social Security, and warned Obama not to even consider such a measure. CAF/IAF staffer Richard Eskow penned an open letter to the president, saying: “There isn’t a single argument being thrown around today about Social Security that hasn’t been around for 75 years: ‘Ponzi scheme,’ too many old people and too few workers—you name it, we’ve heard it before…. We’ve been bound by shared dreams since the country was founded. Social Security and Medicare turned some of those dreams into reality. Let’s not turn them back into dreams.”
(4) CAF favors an ever-increasing reliance on “green energy” (water, wind, solar) and the gradual elimination of fossil fuels. “We reject the conservative alternative,” says the Campaign, “which would shackle us to a dangerous reliance on carbon-based fuels that puts our national security, our health and the very survival of the planet at risk.” CAF also views “a new green revolution” as a vehicle for addressing income inequality by providing “green jobs” for low-income minorities and thereby promoting “shared prosperity.”
(5) CAF calls for more government regulation of Wall Street, stating that “[t]he seeds of the 2008 financial meltdown were sown in a conservative ideology that worshiped Wall Street deregulation and devalued Main Street needs.”
(6) CAF maintains that for “ensuring a sustained, widely shared prosperity,” there must be an emphasis on “reviving manufacturing” in the U.S. The Campaign does not, however, address the fact that high corporate tax rates and the lavish contracts of labor-union workers have made it economically impossible for many companies to manufacture their products in America.
CAF’s devotion to big government and an ever-expanding welfare state found expression in an October 2014 report by CAF/IAF writer Mark Eskow, citing a new study where Baylor University political scientist Patrick Flavin “confirms something leftists have suspected for a long time: People are happier in countries with larger governments, a more generous ‘welfare state’ and more government intervention in the economy.” “Policies that depend on the so-called ‘free market,’ on the other hand, decrease personal satisfaction,” Eskow added. “… We now have evidence that conservative and neoliberal politicians are working against the cause of human happiness.”
While CAF is outspoken on a wide range of political and economic issues, it generally avoids commenting on matters related to abortion and marriage, and is mostly silent on foreign policy as well.
Among the more prominent members of CAF’s current board of directors are United Steelworkers of America president Leo Gerard and the longtime communist revolutionary Van Jones. A noteworthy former member of the CAF board was Eli Pariser.
Over the years, CAF has received funding from such donors as the AFL-CIO, the AFSCME, the Agnes Gund Foundation, the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Income Life Insurance Company, the Arca Foundation, the Barbra Streisand Foundation, the Communication Workers of America, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, MoveOn.org’s PAC, George Soros‘s Open Society Institute, the Philanthropic Collaborative, Rockefeller Family Association, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Sheet Metal Workers International Union, the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the United Steelworkers of America.
Historical Highlights and Activities
In the aftermath of 9/11, CAF helped create the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental, and social-justice groups professing a commitment to the development of “good jobs and energy independence.”
Along with USAction and Americans United For Change, CAF in 2006 brought together numerous activist groups to establish Change America Now (CAN), a coalition that promoted legislation advocating a variety of left-wing economic policies. To view a list of fellow CAN member groups, click here.
In its quest to “forge the enduring progressive majority needed to realize the America of shared prosperity and equal opportunity that our country was meant to be,” CAF regularly holds events designed to “convene and educate progressive thinkers, organizers and community activists” so their “voices will be coordinated, cogent and potent.” Each year from 2003-08, for instance, CAF and IAF together hosted an annual “Take Back America” conference in Washington, DC, which the two organizations described as “a catalyst for building the infrastructure to ensure that the voice of the progressive majority is heard.” Many prominent leftists spoke at these events, laying out their vision for a progressive future.
- At its March 2008 “Take Back America” conference, CAF joined six other organizations in announcing plans for “the most expensive [$350 million] mobilization” of voter-registration, voter-education, and get-out-the-vote drives in American history. The other members of CAF’s coalition included ACORN, the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org, the National Council of La Raza, Rock the Vote, and the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.
- Also at the March 2008 conference, CAF presented its Lifetime Leadership Award to Norman Lear, recognizing him “for his work as both a groundbreaking television producer and an outspoken progressive activist and benefactor”; for “fighting the rising influence of the religious right in American politics”; and for founding People for the American Way, “an organization that has been a staunch critic of the right and a fierce defender of the principle that progressive Americans must have their faith and their patriotism acknowledged and respected.” Moreover, CAF honored Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky “for her advocacy in Congress.”
In 2009-10, the “Take Back America” gatherings were renamed “America’s Future Now,” and since 2011 they have been called “Take Back the American Dream.” Among the noteworthy speakers who have addressed these conferences since 2003 are: Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, John Conyers, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Barbara Ehrenreich, Russ Feingold, Alan Grayson, Arianna Huffington, Jesse Jackson, Benjamin Todd Jealous, Van Jones, John Kerry, Barbara Lee, Bill Moyers, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Cecile Richards, Bernie Sanders, Jan Schakowsky, Hilda Solis, Andrew Stern, John Sweeney, Antonio Villaraigosa, Maxine Waters, Quentin Young, Antonio Villaraigosa, Maxine Waters, Quentin Young, and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga.
In addition to the aforementioned major conferences, CAF also organizes frequent meetings where congressional aides, union strategists, scholars, pollsters, and advocates can share ideas and strategies for advancing their respective agendas.
Meanwhile, CAF’s writers disseminate—via traditional and new-media channels alike—“progressive responses and policy prescriptions for a sustainable course forward.”
In 2012, CAF launched a new website called WageClassWar.org, whose mission is to protect the interests of middle-class people who are “besieged” by “America’s extreme inequality and rigged [economic] system” and are “looking for champions” to stand up for them.
In April 2015, activists from the Black Lives Matter movement held a “Populism 2015” assembly at a Washington, DC hotel. The event was sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future, National People’s Action, USAction, and the Alliance for a Just Society.
For additional information on CAF, click here.