Also see Center for American Progress (Nonprofit)
The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action), established in July 2003 by longtime Clinton family confidant John Podesta, liberal billionaire George Soros, and a handful of other former Washington, D.C. Democrats and Clinton administration officials, is a leading force in progressive media as the publisher of the left-wing blog ThinkProgress.
CAP Action is established as a 501(c)(4) advocacy group. It is the lobbying arm of the Center for American Progress (CAP) think tank. The Action Fund is also the home of the CAP Progress Report, the liberal blog ThinkProgress, and a college campus organizing group, Campus Progress.
Together, CAP Action and CAP have been described as an “action tank,” set apart from other think tanks because it was founded to not only generate ideas, but place them squarely at the center of public attention–in the media, on Capitol Hill and among the capital’s intelligentsia.
CAP Action “has spent $3.5 million on lobbying since 2004,” supporting and seeking to pass progressive legislation while at the same time opposing conservative legislative policies.
The Center for American Progress (formerly the American Majority Institute) launched on July 7, 2003, with an approximately $10 million budget. Created by a group of prominent liberal Democrats including billionaire financier George Soros, former Clinton administration White House Chief of Staff and Obama White House Counselor to the President John Podesta, and Morton Halperin from Soros’ Open Society Institute. The idea behind CAP was that it would serve as a “political research institute” that functioned as a liberal counter to conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation.
CAP’s close ties to then-U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) during its infancy fueled speculation that the organization was part of an early attempt for Clinton to separate herself from other potential candidates in the 2008 presidential race. For her part, Clinton was supportive of the group saying, “We’ve had the challenge of filling a void on our side of the ledger for a long time, while the other side created an infrastructure that has come to dominate political discourse. The center is a welcome effort to fill that void.”
According to a Boston Globe report, CAP’s formation “helped pioneer a new breed of aggressively ideological think tank.” The “founding principle” of the Center for American Progress, “was to use policy studies to press a liberal agenda.” But according to the report, “what set CAP apart from other think tanks is that, “from the moment it was created, its founders sought to aggressively push an agenda on Congress and the White House.”
Organizations exempt from taxation as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code like CAP face limits on their lobbying and advocacy activities and are barred from intervening in elections. CAP’s organizers established the Center for American Progress Action Fund in 2004 as a 501(c)(4) organization that could conduct political advocacy and unlimited lobbying.
According to CAP Action’s initial 2004 IRS filing the organization has a two-pronged overarching mission:
“To develop and present arguments that support adopting or maintaining important public policies consistent with the broad principles of progressivism…”
“To educate the public about the consequences of conservative legislation and policies and the values and special interests that such measures promote.”
Over the years this mission has condensed and is now simply, “to shape the national policy debate and transform progressive concepts into policy.”
The organization “pursues its agenda through direct lobbying, as well as through a variety of programs, websites, coalitions, and organizing groups, most notably Campus Progress.” Additionally, in 2015, CAP Action disclosed that the organization spent over $700,000 on political activities. The group states that while they do not endorse or expressly advocate on behalf of candidates, the organization “makes communications to the general public commending or criticizing particular public positions taken by candidates” through position papers, blog posts, press releases and other similar public communications.
Over the years CAP Action’s programs budget has ranged from roughly $571,000 in 2004 to as much as $6.9 million in 2010. The lion’s share of CAP Action’s spending funds four different program activities:
- Communications and rapid response that advance progressive ideas through online reporting. This includes the Think Progress website, and the use of social/news media.
- External Relations projects that seek to educate the public and shape the nation debate through a wide array of dissemination channels including faith communities, media placement, and campus organizations.
- Economic, domestic, and international/national security policy analysis.
- An energy project
In 2014, CAP Action dedicated $6.6 million (more than 100% of its annual revenue income) to these four program activities alone. In 2015, CAP Action devoted $6.9 million to communications and $486,000 to conducting and publishing domestic policy research that was focused on criminal justice, immigration, and education.
CAP Action currently lists four key projects on its website:
The American Worker Project: an effort that seeks to “strengthen unions.”
Pushback.org- a project of Generation Progress Action, which provides left-leaning coverage on key elections, issues, and policies that relate to young Americans.
The National Security Leadership Alliance: a group of prominent Democratic former government officials working to oppose President Donald Trump’s military and foreign policy statements. The group’s members include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
In 2017, CAP Action announced that the organization was seeking to become the “nerve center for the anti-Donald Trump resistance” and announced a plan to create a war-room “which its leaders hope will provide Democrats with a centralized resource to oppose the president-elect’s moves — starting with his Cabinet nominations.” Adam Jentleson, the war room’s recently hired director, said that his hope is “to bring is a relentlessly aggressive attitude and orientation toward holding Trump accountable every single day.” Further, he said, “they [CAP Action] have incredible resources here, a large staff, and I think what I hope to do is look to weaponize all of the resources that CAP can bring to bear.”
Observers noted that CAP Action’s shift to an anti-Trump was something of a return to the organization’s root function.
“The anti-Trump focus marks something of a readjustment for an organization that has spent most of its existence under the two-term presidency of Barack Obama, and comes at a time when what unifies the Democratic Party most is opposition to the president, rather than singular policy aims or a shared economic message.
“But the shift is also a return to CAP’s roots. The think tank and political group was formed opposite George W. Bush, and amid the liberal activism of the 2000s. “It thrives in the opposition,” said Jentleson, who has worked at CAP twice before.”
According to lobbying disclosure information compiled by The Center for Responsive Politics, CAP Action has spent $3.79 million on lobbying activities since 2004, including $975k in 2009 and $862k in 2010.
Legislation that CAP Action has lobbied on relates to a wide variety of progressive subjects, including: Obamacare, gay rights issues such as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, national defense spending, environmental issues such as the GREEN Act of 2008 or 2010, immigration, unemployment, paycheck fairness, and abortion among other issues. Between 2008 and 2013, CAP Action has disclosed that it lobbied on approximately 137 bills.
The CAP Action 501(C)(4) organization is largely funded by grants and other assistance provided by the larger CAP 501(C)(3) organization. In fact, from 2005-2007 CAP disclosed granting more money to CAP Action then CAP Action actually reported receiving.
|Year||Total CAP Contributions to CAP Action||Total CAP Action Contributions||% of CAP Action “Contribution” Revenues|
In addition to CAP support, CAP Action discloses having received financial support from the following entities:
|CAP Action Supporters|
|$1,000,000 or more|
|Center for American Progress|
|$5,000 to $999,999|
|Service Employees International Union (SEIU)|
|$100,000 to $499,999|
|[Three Anonymous Donors]|
|Nick and Leslie Hanauer|
|$50,000 to $99,999|
|American Federation of Teachers|
|Joan and Irwin Jacobs|
|Motion Picture Association of America|
|National Public Education Foundation|
|$5,000 to $49,999|
|Blue Shield of California|
|Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees|
|Douglas H. Phelps|
CAP and CAP Action Business Alliance
In 2013, The Nation revealed that CAP and CAP Action, had created a “a secret group of corporate donors,” known as the Business Alliance, which is “a membership rewards program for corporate contributors” that “exploded when Obama was elected in 2008.”
“A confidential CAP donor pitch” for the Business Alliance stated, “‘CAP and CAP Action, launched the American Progress Business Alliance in 2007, as a channel for engagement with the corporate community.” The Nation report detailing CAP Action’s Business Alliance endeavors, noted that CAP Action-Business Alliance donor pitch letter outlined “three membership levels, with the perks to top donors ($100,000 and up) including private meetings with CAP experts and executives, round-table” and provided members “the opportunity to…collaborate on common interests.’”
The Nation’s report further explained, “many Washington think tanks effectively serve as unregistered lobbyists for corporate donors, and companies strategically contribute to them just as they hire a PR or lobby shop or make campaign donations.” It continued, that because these think tanks “are not subject to financial disclosure requirements,” it is “impossible for the public and lawmakers to know if a think tank is putting out an impartial study or one that’s been shaped by a donor’s political agenda.” The report noted, that at the time, that CAP and CAP Action were “among the most secretive of all think tanks concerning its donors,” and that a CAP spokesman, “flatly refused to discuss specific donors or to provide an on-the-record explanation for why CAP won’t disclose them.”
Further reporting indicated that CAP “and its ‘Action’ activist arm frequently worked to advance the interests of high-profile Business Alliance donors.” In one specific instance, the report noted that “CAP and Lockheed both lobbied Congress on 18 of the same pieces of legislation throughout 2010 and 2011,” and that CAP Action’s Think Progress Blog covered Lockheed positively during the period.
The report also noted that during this period, Tom Periello, a former U.S. Representative and 2017 candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia, headed “the CAP Action Fund, an advocacy unit, which operates out of the same offices [as CAP] and shares personnel.”
A CAP spokesman summarized the report in the following manner, “The inference at the heart of the author’s story is that corporate donations shape or drive the content of CAP and CAP Action.” CAP’s spokesman denied this inference.
Since this report, CAP has provided more detailed information about their donors.
CAP’s website lists the names of 199 donors who CAP took money from. According to CAP’s 2016 announcement, “The Center for American Progress receives more than 93 percent of its charitable contributions from individuals and foundations. Corporate funding comprises less than 6 percent of the budget, and foreign government funding comprises only 2 percent.” Some of CAP’s donors included Comcast, the Walton (Walmart) Family Foundation, Ford Motor Company, Pacific Gas and Electric, General Electric, BAE Systems, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Bank of America. The full list of CAP’s current 2016 donors can be found, here. Previous years donor disclosures are also available for 2015, 2014 and 2013.
CAP Action’s website lists over 300 staff members, their current responsibilities within the organization, and a corresponding biography for each individual.
Neera Tanden is the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tanden previously served as senior adviser for health reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama, and she served in high level policy roles for both the Obama-Biden Presidential campaign and Hillary Clinton’s first Presidential campaign. Tanden took over as president from former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D) in February 2015.
Carmel Martin is executive vice president for policy. Martin previously served as a senior policy official in the Obama administration’s Department of Education. CAP Action’s Executive Vice President for policy external affairs, Winnie Stachelberg, previously spent 11 years with the Human Rights Campaign. CAP Action’s Chief Operating Officer, Denise Turner Roth, served as the administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration under President Obama.
CAP Action’s senior vice presidents include; Shane Bateman, Finance and Administration/CFO; Alex DeMots, General Counsel; Daniella Gibbs Leger, Communications and Strategy; Judd Legum, Editor in Chief; and Michael Sozan, Government Affairs. These CAP Action leaders have ties to prominent Democratic candidates and institutions including; the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the Federal Election Commission, and various Democratic Hill offices.
Board of Directors
CAP founder John Podesta served as board of directors chairman until January 2014, when he joined the Obama White House as Counselor to the President. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for CAP.
CAP Action’s board of directors is comprised of the following individuals:
CAP and CAP Action have played a role in every presidential campaign since it was formed by former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta in 2003. During the Bush administration and leadup to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, CAP was “widely seen as an unofficial outpost of Team Hillary.”
According to a report by the New Republic, “this sense was fueled not only by Podesta’s long-standing ties to Bill and Hillary, but also by the swarm of Clinton administration refugees drawn to the center … From birth, CAP was not infrequently referred to as the ‘Clinton White House in exile’” or, more specifically, “‘Hillary’s think tank,’ a comfy holding pen where out-of-power wonks could hatch white papers while dreaming of the day when another, blonder Clinton would return them to glory.”
2008 Presidential Election
In 2008, it was suggested that CAP and CAP Action formed “an ideas factory for the expected presidential run of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).” According to Podesta, “The right describes us as Hillary’s think tank.”
The CAP organization’s ties to the Clintons didn’t prevent the group from working for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign after the Democratic nominee defeated Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primary. “Obama depended on CAP during the campaign for opposition research and talking points.” As CAP Action’s communications director put it, “There was not a policy ad that Obama did that did not quote us.”
CAP Action’s role in electing Obama combined with John Podesta’s leadership position in the President-elect’s transition effort to lead some to label it “the most influential independent organization in Obama’s nascent Washington.”
2016 Presidential Election
In 2016, John Podesta served as chair of the Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign, and Neera Tanden (a longtime friend and adviser to Hillary Clinton) served as president of CAP and CAP Action. With these relationships to the Democratic front runner, CAP’s leaders were accused of running the organization “like a mini-Clinton White House instead of a center for progressive ideas.” During the campaign, Podesta’s emails were hacked, and “in many of the emails, Tanden offers advice or gives policy ideas to Podesta and other Clinton aides,” which critics said highlighted alleged coordination between CAP and the Clinton campaign.