Common Purpose Project (CPP)

Common Purpose Project (CPP)


* Produces public-opinion research designed to justify and advance left-wing agendas
* Its leadership consists of experienced political professionals, all of whom have close ties to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

The Common Purpose Project (CPP) was established in 2009 “to bring together progressive leaders and organizations in an effort to collaborate on effective public policy messaging,” with an eye toward advancing “a winning progressive agenda.” As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, CPP focuses chiefly on policy work rather than on political elections. Whenever a major public-policy debate emerges, the organization initiates short-term projects designed to produce public-opinion research promoting “creative executions of effective progressive arguments or other tactical strategies.”

In early 2009, CPP began holding meetings every Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC. These gatherings brought together top officials from a host of prominent left-wing organizations—Change to Win and being among the most notable—supportive of President Barack Obama‘s agendas. White House communications director Ellen Moran was also present at the meetings, where the top priorities were to “provid[e] a way for the White House to manage its relationships” with activist organizations, and to teach left-wing commentators to speak with a disciplined, unified voice in their day-to-day political messaging.

CPP’s founder is the Democratic Party operative Erik Smith, who advises corporations, nonprofits, and individuals vis a vis their communications strategies. Previously, Smith served as communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; senior communications advisor to Rep. Dick Gephardt’s 2004 presidential campaign; and media advisor to the Obama-Biden presidential ticket of 2008. In addition to his work with CPP, Smith is currently a board member of Business Forward. He also works for the political consulting firm Blue Engine Message & Media, which runs CPP. “The goal” of CPP, said Smith in 2009, “is to convene a group of people that identify the most effective progressive messages and to advance a progressive policy agenda.” Another key objective, Smith added, is to minimize “party infighting” as much as possible.

CPP’s first political director was Miti Sathe, who also served as associate director of the Obama White House’s Office of Public Engagement. Another key figure involved with CPP during its formative period was Rahm Emanuel.

CPP’s leadership today consists of a number of experienced political professionals, all of whom have close ties to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party:

  • Managing director and board member Laura Capps developed strategic-communications and issue-advocacy campaigns for such high-profile figures as Bill Clinton, Edward Kennedy, and John Kerry. She also served as the Ocean Conservancy’s senior vice president for government affairs and communications, and as communications director for the Alliance for Climate Protection—a nonprofit group founded and chaired by Al Gore.
  • Outreach director Clarissa Unger worked as a deputy state director (in Kansas) for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. During the 2009-10 Congressional debate over climate change legislation, she was a press assistant at the Alliance for Climate Protection.
  • State outreach director John Bivona served as a regional field director in the 2008 Obama For America campaign; a Florida field director of Organizing For America during Obama’s first term as president; and a director of special projects for the Democratic National Committee.
  • State outreach director Edgar Gonzalez worked as an outreach coordinator for Senator Obama in Illinois, and then as a regional field director in the 2008 Obama For America campaign. He was subsequently appointed program manager at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence.
  • State outreach director Nicholas Kowalski was a regional field director in the 2008 Obama For America initiative and the 2009 Virginia Democratic Coordinated Campaign. He also served as deputy field and political director for Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral run in Chicago.
  • State outreach director Maggie Thompson was a regional field director in the 2008 Obama For America campaign and then served on the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
  • Founding board member David Friedman has been active in the Democracy Alliance since its inception in 2005. An original member of Obama For America’s national finance committee, he served as a trustee of the Presidential Inaugural Committee in 2009.
  • Founding board member Carol Frillman co-chaired Obama For America’s Native American Finance Committee in 2008.
  • Founding board member Ricki Seidman spent three years as executive director of Rock the Vote, and then served as Senator Joe Biden’s communications director in the 2008 general election.
  • Board member Frank White sat on Barack Obama’s national finance committee in 2008. Since then, he has continued to work closely with the Obama administration in its efforts to improve the policies affecting small and minority-owned businesses.

In 2012, ten individual donors contributed $5,000 or more to CPP; one of these was Rob McKay, who gave $25,000.

In January 2013, Jim Messina, national chairman of the newly formed Organizing For Action (OFA)—a nonprofit issue-advocacy group dedicated to advancing President Obama’s agendas—cited CPP as “the model” on which OFA was based.

For additional information on CPP, click here.


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