- Lobbies federal and state policymakers to “address the economic insecurity and inequality that characterize American society today”
- Promotes “ideas for reducing gaps in wealth, income and political influence”
- Favors tax hikes for the wealthy
- Supports “Motor Voter” legislation
- Works to end “felon disfranchisement”
- Contributions and grants received in 2008: $5,714,538
- Net assets at end of 2008: $3,451,626
Founded in 2000 by Elizabeth Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, Demos is a self-described “non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization” that has established four core programs designed to pursue its major objectives:
1) The Economic Opportunity Program lobbies federal and state policymakers to “addres[s] the economic insecurity and inequality that characterize American society today.” Specifically, Demos promotes “ideas for reducing gaps in wealth, income and political influence.” These ideas center around wealth redistribution by means of a more steeply progressive income-tax structure, on the premise that “the rich must pay their fair share if communities are to thrive.” “Tax cuts,” adds Demos, “destroy hard-won social safety nets.” Articulating Demos’s reservations about free-market capitalism, one section of Demos’s mission statement says:
“Most fundamentally, a sustainable, just, and democratic future requires rethinking American capitalism as it exists today as a system of political economy. If we are going to care for people and the planet, large-scale changes are needed in how Americans consume and live, how the United States structures economic activity and measures progress, and how we engage in the global economy.”
2) The Democracy Program works to “strengthen democracy in the United States by reducing barriers to voter participation and encouraging civic engagement.” Toward these purposes, Demos works to end “felon disfranchisement,” the practice (in most U.S. states) of denying people with prior felony convictions the right to vote; urges election officials and legislators to permit “same-day registration,” where people can become registered voters on election day itself; and supports the the so-called “Motor Voter” legislation which allows people to submit voter-registration applications when transacting business at the Department of Motor Vehicles or at any Social Services office that dispenses some type of public assistance. According to Demos, “many states have roundly ignored the public-assistance provisions” of Motor Voter, thereby discriminating against low-income people. In a campaign to compel government agencies to improve their “compliance” with those provisions, Demos has partnered with Project Vote, ACORN, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Demos dismisses assertions that Motor Voter provisions and same-day registration increase opportunities for voter fraud as the calculated scare tactics of elitists who wish to implement “excessive Voter Identification requirements.”
3) The International Program seeks to create “greater public awareness” of “the realities of [global] interdependence” and promotes “policies suitable to today’s borderless world, including a more effective and democratic system of global governance.” Emphasizing “a more vigorous U.S. approach to international environmental policy,” this program maintains that America has an obligation not only to ratify and comply with the economically crippling mandates of the Kyoto Protocol, but also to send massive amounts of financial aid to help non-industrialized countries “adapt to climate change”—on the premise that pollution associated with U.S. industrial activity contributes heavily to global warming and its devastating effects on poorer countries. This prescription is of a piece with Demos’ call for “a more inclusive global economy in which all peoples and nations share in the prosperity generated by markets, growth, and trade”—i.e., a worldwide system of wealth redistribution modeled on the United Nations‘ Millennium Project. Implying further that the U.S. is guilty of violating the human rights of people around the world, the International Program demands that the “democratic values that underpin our policies at home also guide American actions abroad.”
4) The Public Works Program is dedicated to “building broad understanding of and support for the essential roles of government in this country”; promoting the notion that the public sector “acts effectively for the common good”; and persuading Americans to view taxes as “a bill gladly paid” in exchange for “the privilege of living in a decent society.”
To advance the foregoing ideas and policy recommendations, Demos publishes books, reports, and briefing papers; works at both the national and state levels with advocates and policymakers to enact reforms; hosts public events that “showcase new ideas and leading progressive voices”; and promotes a coterie of Fellows and staff in print, broadcast, and Internet venues. Bob Herbert is listed as a “Distinguished Senior Fellow” with Demos.
The president of Demos is Miles Rapoport, who belonged to the Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s. Rapoport has longstanding ties to the Institute for Policy Studies and the Democratic Socialists of America; served as director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group from 1979-1984; helped establish the Campaign for America’s Future in 1996; is a defender of ACORN; strongly supports Barack Obama‘s political agendas; and sits on The American Prospect‘s board of directors.
The Demos board of trustees features such luminaries as Van Jones and Gina Glantz, along with high-ranking officials from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the National Council of La Raza, and several other left-wing organizations. One of Demos’s founding board members in 2000 was then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama.
Demos co-founder (and current board chair) Amelia Warren Tyagi is the daughter of Elizabeth Warren, of whom Demos has been a longtime supporter. Warren promoted her book The Two-Income Trap at a December 2003 event co-sponsored by Demos. At its 10th anniversary gala in 2010, Demos presented Warren with a “Transforming America” award. And in August 2011, the Demos blog celebrated the launch of Warren’s U.S. Senate campaign, calling her “a figure of rare integrity.”
Demos has received financial support from a number of major donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Rockefeller Family Fund.