ProgressNow—whose mission is to promote a politically progressive agenda and to challenge “conservative propaganda”—was initially inspired by the 2002 mid-term elections when, according to its first executive director, attorney Michael Huttner, “progressives, broadly defined, got their butts kicked so badly.” The following year, three key alliances resolved to do whatever they could to improve Democratic fortunes.
The first alliance—which included media consultant Mark Eddy and Internet millionaire Jared Polis—sought to develop what Huttner has called “a press operation that didn’t just exist in election years,” but rather could be “an ongoing operation that had the flexibility to go after issues 24/7, year-round.” The second alliance—distinguished by the likes of 2002 Colorado gubernatorial nominee Rollie Heath, former Colorado lieutenant governor Gail Schoettler, and philanthropist Linda Shoemaker—aimed to take the research of liberal think tanks and simplify it so the press and the general public could better understand it. And the third alliance—which included NewsGator chief executive officer J.B. Holston and Mobius Venture Capital co-founder Brad Feld—recognized the need for Democrats to use online technologies, including blogging, to advance their progressive agendas. These conversations eventually led to the creation of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Progressive Network (RMPN) in September 2003, to serve as a counterbalance to the conservative, Colorado-based Independence Institute. Huttner, with technical assistance from Holston, initially ran the start-up from the back of his law office. In January 2005, RMPN was relaunched as ProgressNow (PN).
PN’s founding board members included Rob McKay, Democracy Alliance co-founder Ted Trimpa, MoveOn.org founder Wesley Boyd, and the aforementioned Jared Polis. A key hire was deputy director Bobby Clark, a web-strategy expert who had worked on the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean.
Today PN is composed of approximately 20 state partners, or chapters, dedicated to “creating true, lasting change in our states.” These partners serve as multi-issue advocacy organizations that “promote progressive ideas and causes” and “counter the right wing” on a year-round basis through traditional media, cutting-edge new media, and targeted email campaigns. Each PN state partner organization employs a full-time staff of experts in media communications, online campaigns, publicity campaigns, and new media. They mobilize citizens through their extensive email lists, media events, social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, and the production of hot-topic YouTube videos. PN boasts that with the help of its state partners, it has “generated thousands of news stories in local, state, and national press.”
The 2010 book The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado, and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care, characterized PN as the “crown jewel” of the effort by progressive investors to turn the traditionally Republican state into a Democratic stronghold. By late 2012, PN had compiled an email list of more than 2.4 million supporters.
PN’s current executive director is Denise Cardinal, a journalist who also serves as executive director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota. She was formerly the communications director for America Votes (Minnesota), and a senior press officer for the National Education Association.
PN founding board member Rob McKay—who has been affiliated with the now-defunct America Coming Together, the Democracy Alliance, and the McKay Family Foundation—continues to serve on the organization’s board of directors. Other PN board members have close ties to such groups as the AFL-CIO, America Votes, EMILY’s List, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Education Association, the National Environmental Law Center, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, and U.S. PIRG.
A recipient organization of Democracy Alliance funding and a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, PN favors tax hikes on wealthy Americans and advocates a single-payer, government-run healthcare system.
In 2011, various labor unions donated more than $1.13 million to PN and its state partner networks. Significant union support came from the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the Service Employees International Union, and UNITE HERE! Other key donors to PN include the Bauman Family Foundation, Color of Change, Common Cause, the Educational Foundation of America, the Energy Foundation, the Foundation to Promote Open Society (created by George Soros), and the Tides Foundation. For a list of additional PN funders, click here.