The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a liberal Washington, D.C.-based think tank with strong ties to the Democratic Party establishment created in 2003 as the left-of-center alternative to the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. CAP was founded by John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton, Counselor to the President in the Obama White House, and chair of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign. Podesta’s goal, according to a New York Times article published when CAP was founded, was to “build an organization to rethink the very idea of liberalism, a reproduction in mirror image of the conservative think tanks that have dominated the country’s political dialogue for a generation.”
Notable financial supporters of CAP include the Sandler Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and Foundation to Promote Open Society associated with George Soros, and labor unions like the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Center for American Progress Action (CAP Action) is the 501(c)(4) advocacy affiliate of the Center for American Progress.
CAP and its affiliated Center for American Progress Action (CAP Action) were reportedly conceived in 2002 after Democrats lost the Presidency in 2000 to George W. Bush and lost control of both houses of Congress in 2002. John Podesta worked with then-Democratic National Committee Chairman (later Governor of Virginia) Terry McAuliffe, former Bill Clinton political director Don Sosnik, and former Clinton Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes to create CAP. They connected early with Mark Schmitt of the Open Society Institute, a philanthropic venture of liberal billionaire George Soros, to get CAP off the ground.
Originally launched in July 2003 as the American Majority Institution, the organization changed its name to the Center for American Progress on September 1, 2003. According to The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss, it was not “completely wrong to see [CAP] as a shadow government, a kind of Clinton White-House-in-exile—or a White House staff in readiness for President Hillary Clinton.” In its early days as now, CAP boasts an abundance of Clinton staff. In 2004, CAP helped Clinton-confidant David Brock to create Media Matters, a left-of-center response to conservative journalism and conservative criticism of news media.
CAP engages in rapid media response, long-term research projects, and policy creation on issues from criminal justice to race and ethnicity. CAP also has many spin-off organizations from left-of-center online publication Think Progress to youth-centered policy and advocacy organization Generation Progress.
Projects and Affiliated Organizations
Center for American Progress Action Fund
Also see Center for American Progress Action Fund (Nonprofit)
The Center for American Progress Action Fund is the 501(c)(4) affiliate to the Center for American Progress, sharing a mirror image mission to “produce bold, progressive ideas.” Originally founded in 2003, CAP Action had revenue of $6,44,380 and expenses of $7,678,925 in 2014. The first president and CEO of CAP Action was former U.S. Representative Tom Perriello (D-Virginia), who founded controversial left-of-center religious organizations like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics United, Faith in Public Life, and Faithful America. CAP Action runs a left-of-center blog, Think Progress.
Also see ThinkProgress (Nonprofit)
ThinkProgress is a proudly left-wing media organization founded in 2005. Editor-in-chief and founder of Think Progress Judd Legum was formerly a research director on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential run and a research director at CAP. Former editor-in-chief (and former senior advisor to U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)) Faiz Shakir said in 2011, “We report from a progressive perspective. We wear that ideology proudly. To the extent that there’s bias in this world, the bias is in the selection of the stories that we chose to report, but once we chose to report them, we want to present them as honestly, as candidly and as straightforwardly as we possibly can.”
On July 12, 2018, Ian Millhiser, the justice editor for ThinkProgress, published an article claiming that “The U.S. Senate is Facing a Legitimacy Crisis.” In this article, Millhiser criticized the structure of the United States Senate, claiming that “the Senate is one of the most anti-democratic bodies in any modern democracy” and “immoral.” At 5:43 AM, Millhiser tweeted, “Abolish the Senate,” with a link to the article. 
CAP’s youth wing is Generation Progress, formerly known as Campus Progress. The group engages young people in an effort to get them to “embrace progressive values” and push left-wing policies. Generation Progress supports youth activism and journalism and provides event and networking opportunities to mentor future left-of-center leaders.
Mayors for Smart on Crime
Also see Mayors for Smart on Crime (Nonprofit)
CAP Action also produces the American Worker Project to promote labor issues, Pushback.org to provide election coverage, and the National Security Leadership Alliance to promote more restricted American military action.
The Business Alliance
In 2007, after John Podesta stepped down as president of CAP, the organization established a “Business Alliance” to encourage corporations to donate in order to have special access to CAP’s research. According to a confidential donor pitch written by CAP, the Business Alliance is “a channel for engagement with the corporate community,” which includes three tiers of awards depending on the size of the donation ($25,000, $50,000, and $100,000 annually). Internal lists show that some of the donors include Comcast, Walmart, General Motors, Pacific Gas and Electric, General Electric, Boeing, and Lockheed; but other corporations are also included.
While it is common for think tanks to includes donations from businesses with an interest in specific policy research, the left-leaning Nation noted several circumstances when CAP did not report on issues directly related to members of its’ Business Alliance.
First Solar is a private green energy firm that received a $3.73 billion loan in 2012 from the Department of Energy to run the Antelope Valley project, despite allegations of corruption from congressional Republicans. During that time, CAP wrote extensively about the virtues of the Antelope Valley project, without disclosing that First Solar was part of the Business Alliance and that José Villarreal was on the board of both First Solar and CAP.
An email to Podesta reported that a ThinkProgress article was flagged because it included information critical of Goldman Sachs’ internal culture in the leadup to the great recession. The article was flagged because Goldman Sachs was just about to become a CAP donor.
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office
As a surrogate for an embassy, the Taipei office employs lobbyists specifically related to Taiwan’s relationship with the United States. In 2010, CAP issued a report which suggested that the United States needs to maintain its arms sales to Taiwan as well as increase its economic and diplomatic relations with the island government; the report was called “Ties that Bind: U.S.-Taiwan Relations and Peace and Prosperity in East Asia.”
Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON)
Internal sources within CAP suggest that the think tank was “totally in the tank for [TUSKON],” and was able to get “amazing access” to anyone in the Turkish government because of that relationship. CAP openly and strongly advocated for a stronger U.S. relationship with the Turkish government, and Podesta gave a speech at a TUSKON conference called “The Unique Importance of the Turkish-American Relationship.”
Michael Werz, a senior fellow at CAP, often focused his work on U.S. relations with Turkey and was later appointed to become the deputy assistant secretary of European affairs in the Obama administration.
Ties to the Podesta Group
The Podesta Group is a defunct lobbying firm started by longtime Clinton operative and CAP founder John Podesta and his brother, Tony Podesta. It was dissolved at the end of 2017.
Some of the Podesta Group’s clients overlapped with donors to CAP. Clients to the Podesta Group who also donated to CAP directly include organizations such as Blue Shield of California, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Google, Novo Nordisk, Quest Diagnostics, T-Mobile, Walmart, and Wells Fargo. Some of these organizations have supported left-of-center policies, including many which CAP also advocates for, such as Obamacare.
The Podesta Group also represents NBC (which is owned by General Electric, a CAP donor), whose CEO was on the Obama Administration Economic Recovery Advisory Board along with Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a CAP senior fellow.
In February 2019, Neera Tanden signed a letter criticizing Neomi Rao, President Trump’s nominee for a vacant seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The letter was written by “77 South Asian Women Civil and Human Rights Lawyers, Law Professors, and Survivor Advocates,” and claimed that Rao “has a long history of alarming viewpoints about sexual assault, multiculturalism, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, and people with disabilities.” It also calls Rao President Trump’s “point person” when it comes to deregulation. 
The Center for American Progress employs more than 300 people, from senior staff, editors, communications personnel, administrative workers, development staff, academic fellows, and more to policy experts on the following subjects: democracy and government, early childhood policy, economic policy, education-K-12, education (post-secondary), energy, faith, guns and crime, health, immigration, LGBT, legal progress, national security and international policy, poverty, public lands, technology, and women’s health.
Neera Tanden is the president and CEO of CAP and CAP Action, having taken over for John Podesta when he became Counselor to the President in the Obama White House. Tanden previously served as a senior advisor for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration. She was the director of domestic policy for the Obama-Biden Presidential campaign in 2008 during the general election after serving as the policy director for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign during the Democratic Party primaries that same year. She previously worked on Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2000. During Clinton’s time in the Senate, Tanden served as Clinton’s legislative director. Before this, Tanden was the associate director for domestic policy in the Clinton White House and acted as a senior advisor to the first lady. Tanden is a graduate of UCLA and Yale Law School. In emails released by Wikileaks stolen from John Podesta, Tanden called Hillary Clinton’s instincts “suboptimal,” worried about Mrs. Clinton “dodging another issue” when it came to the Keystone XL pipeline, and called New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) “a bit insufferable.”
Carmel Martin is the executive vice president for policy at CAP. She previously worked as the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at the Department of Education during the Obama administration and served as a senior advisor to the former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Before joining the Obama administration, Martin was a general counsel and deputy staff director for the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), the chief counsel and senior policy advisor for former U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), and the special counsel to former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Martin worked as a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the Educational Opportunities Section at the Department of Justice and in the private sector at Hogan & Hartson’s.
Winnie Stachelberg is the executive vice president of external affairs at CAP. Stachelberg joined CAP in 2006 after spending 11 years at the powerful LGBT interest group Human Rights Campaign (HRC). She first joined HRC as a senior health policy advocate, then became the political director, and finally became the first president of the HRC Foundation, HRC’s 501(c)3 arm. At CAP, Stachelberg helped launched the immigration policy program, the LGBT Research and Communications Project, the gun-violence prevention network, and the Half in Ten antipoverty program. She is a graduate of Georgetown and received a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University.
According to a 2015 Politico report, CAP received significant donations from coastal power centers. CAP receives large donations from Wall Street, including at least $50,000 from both Bank of America and Goldman Sachs as well as at least $100,000 from Citigroup and Blackstone. It also receives donations from Silicon Valley, including at least $100,000 each from Apple, Google, and Microsoft and $5,000 from Facebook. Donors also include those is the Clinton and Obama inner circle, including Obama supporters Joan and Irwin Jacobs who gave at least $200,000, and Quinn Delaney and Wayne Jordan, who gave at least $100,0000. President Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Obama fundraiser Orin Kramer have given at least $50,000.
CAP also receives significant support from unions, including at least $100,000 from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), at least $100,000 from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and $50,000 from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Many left-of-center donors gave millions to get CAP started, including donations from the following:
|Center for American Progress Donors|
|$1,849,991||Open Society Foundations (formerly Open Society Institute)|
|$2,192,450||New York Community Trust|
|$1,900,000||Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation|
|$797,983||Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation|
Other notable donors to the Center for American Progress include companies like CVS, Walmart, Samsung, and Ernst & Young, as well as defense contractors DRS Technologies and Northrop Grumman. Below is a full list of 2013 CAP corporate supporters:
|Center for American Progress Corporate Supporters|
|Akins Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP||Blue Engine Message & Media|
|America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP||Blue Shield of California|
|American Beverage Association||BMW of North America|
|American Iron and Steel Institute||CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield|
|Apple Inc.||Comcast NBC Universal|
|Bank of America||CVS Caremark Inc.|
|Blue Cross Blue Shield Association||DeVry Education Group|
|Dewey Square Group||Goldman Sachs|
|DISH Network||Health Care Service Corporation|
|Downey McGrath Group, Inc.||Japan Bank for International Cooperation|
|DRS Technologies||Kohlberg Kravis Roberts|
|Eli Lilly and Company||McLarty Associates|
|Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas||Monitor Deloitte|
|General Electric||Motion Picture Association of America|
|Northrop Grumman||The Coca-Cola Company|
|Pearson||The Glover Park Group LLC|
|PepsiCo||The Ickes and Enright Group|
|PG&E Corporation||Time Warner Inc.|
|Samsung Electronics America||Toyota Motor North America|
|Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States||Visa Inc.|
|Tata Group of Companies||Walmart|
|The Albright Stonebridge Group||Wells Fargo|
Also see Center for American Progress Action (Nonprofit)
CAP Action lists its major donors publicly under the following categories:
|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|