The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI) describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit think tank generating the ideas that fuel the progressive movement,” with the ultimate aim of persuading “policymakers and opinion-leaders” to take steps that advance its vision of “social and economic justice.” Toward that end, DMI publishes research studies and position papers focusing on such issues as immigration reform, healthcare reform, tax policy, public education funding, and, above all, the economic needs of “our increasingly fragile middle class.”
DMI was founded in 1999 by Martin Luther King III, New York attorney William Wachtel, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young. The organization’s name derives from the phrase “drum major instinct,” meaning the instinct to be a leader, which the late civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. often used.
As a general principle, DMI believes that the federal government should “increase its deficit [spending] in times of economic distress in order to create jobs … and stimulate economic growth.” Thus, in 2009 the Institute embraced the $787 billion stimulus bill signed into law by Barack Obama, whom DMI lauded as an “inspiration[al]” president whose accomplishments were “significant.” While predicting that this bill would help “create jobs [and] prevent cuts to state services,” DMI nonetheless maintained that the legislation did not authorize enough of the “transformative investments” that would be needed “to move the nation forward.” Similarly, DMI later complained that Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011, which ran a $1.27 trillion deficit, “fails to invest sufficiently in cities” where “plummeting tax revenue” had recently caused “the quality of the schools, public safety agencies, social services, and infrastructure” to deteriorate.
In 2010 DMI implored President Obama to “resist calls to cut government spending” and advocated “the repeal of [former] President Bush’s irresponsible and unaffordable tax cuts for the wealthy,” asserting that “[m]iddle-class Americans can no longer afford to subsidize the nation’s millionaires.” Along with deficit spending and high taxes, DMI also supports “living-wage” laws to help “end the cycle of poverty.”
Characterizing America’s healthcare system as both “inefficient” and inadequate, DMI in 2009 called for “a public health plan that competes with private insurers.” “Evidence from Medicare suggests that a public plan could offer quality coverage at a lower overall cost than private insurance,” said DMI.
Another area where DMI advocates increased government spending is in public education, on the theory that “educated citizens ensure higher rates of productivity and aggregate growth for a country as a whole.” Environmental spending, too, ranks high on DMI’s wish list. Warning of the danger that “global warming” poses to “Americans’ standard of living,” the Institute calls for “investment in renewable energy” coupled with steep reductions in the use of fossil fuels.
Citing “the exploitation of undocumented immigrant workers” in the United States, DMI exhorts Congress to implement “an earned legalization program” to “maximize immigrants’ economic contributions and strengthen their workplace rights.” Further, the Institute contends that “the nation cannot afford to exclude undocumented immigrants from the … Census,” lest the locales where they reside receive inadequate federal “funding for public services.” DMI also supports the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal-alien students to attend college at the discounted tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents, and to earn conditional permanent residency and a path to citizenship.
Key members of DMI’s board of directors include Robert F. Kennedy, who also serves as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. Other DMI board members have affiliations with the AFL-CIO, the Democratic National Committee, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
A noteworthy member of the DMI scholars advisory council is David Halperin, director of Campus Progress (a project of the Center for American Progress). Other advisory council members are affiliated with such organizations as George Soros‘s Open Society Institute, People for the American Way, and the Progressive Majority.
DMI receives financial support from a host of donors, including the AFL-CIO, the Arca Foundation, the Democracy Alliance, the Ford Foundation, Jewish Funds for Justice, the Open Society Institute, People for the American Way, the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, the SEIU, the Surdna Foundation, the Tides Foundation, UNITE-HERE, and Katrina vanden Heuvel.
DMI periodically publishes its Congressional Scorecard, which rates each Member of Congress in terms of whether his or her legislative voting record has benefited the American middle class. In 2008, House and Senate Democrats as a whole scored 73% and 43%, respectively, on the DMI Scorecard, while House and Senate Republicans scored 3% and 0%.