Non-profit

Democracy and Power Fund

Location:

New york, NY

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Part of:

Open Society Foundations

Formation:

2008

Type:

Left-of-Center Grantmaking Organization

President/CEO:

Will Vandenberg

The Democracy and Power Fund is a now-defunct project of the Open Society Foundations (OSF), a private grantmaking foundation created in 1993 and funded by billionaire financier and liberal philanthropist George Soros. [1] OSF is now the main hub of a Soros-funded network of more than 20 national and regional foundations.

Founded in 2008 with an annual budget that ranged from $10 million [2] to $16 million, [3] the Democracy and Power Fund primarily focused on left-of-center political organizing and get-out-the vote campaigns, particularly in key swing or possible swing states like North Carolina and Texas. [4]

The Democracy and Power Fund served as a middleman grantmaker that funneled funds from OSF to a variety of left-of-center causes including Center for American Progress, Center for Community Change, and Color of Change. [5]  After an effort in the 2008 presidential campaign to register or update the voter registrations of a claimed 1.5 million voters, [6] the Democracy and Power Fund continued its operations only for another few years, closing in either 2013 [7] or 2018. [8]

Founding and History

While most information regarding the Democracy and Power Fund has been completely removed from Open Society Foundations’ website, the fund was in operation for several years after its founding in 2008. [9] Some sources claim the fund was shuttered by November 2013 [10] while others claim the fund continued until 2018. [11]

During that time, it was led by Will Vandenberg, a longtime left-progressive activist who spent over 12 years working for OSF as well as 12 years working for the Colorado Progressive Coalition. [12] The Fund was founded as part of an $800 million commitment from the Open Society Institute (which became Open Society Foundation) in 2008 to “advance Democracy and progressive reform in the United States.” Other recipients of that $800 million seed money from the Open Society Institute included the Criminal Justice Fund, the Transparency and Integrity Fund, and the Equality and Opportunity Fund. [13]

During that time, the Democracy and Power Fund managed an annual budget of a minimum of $10 million [14] that it distributed to a wide number of left-progressive political organizations. The primary focus of the Democracy and Power Fund’s donations was on ostensibly nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts that focused on minorities, young people, and immigrants. However, its efforts have also been characterized as focused, mobilizing “youth and communities of color across a range of progressive issues.” [15]

The organizations claimed to have registered more than 1.5 million new or updated voters across the nation in the lead up to the 2008 presidential election that saw the victory of the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. [16] During that election year, the Democracy and Power Fund spent $17,386,000 on its programs, the most of any of the U.S.-based OSF programs. [17]

Left-of-Center Activism

In 2010, the Democracy and Power Fund announced that it would spend $2 million per year in its progressive advocacy and get-out-the-vote efforts in North Carolina and Texas, two Republican-leaning states that the Democratic Party has sought to control. [18]

From 2010-2012, the Democracy and Power Fund devoted $1.8 million to “social justice organizing” through arts, culture, and technology, and another $6.8 million to “advance social justice in critical states through state-based issue advocacy and organizing.” [19] Over that same time period, the organization’s annual budget increased from $13 million $16 million [20] By far, the fund spent the largest share of its funding on electioneering and get-out-the-vote efforts among the left-progressive base, spending $4.2 million on voter engagement in 2010, $4.8 million in 2011, and $5.4 million in 2012.

The Democracy and Power Fund noted that its primary challenges were “combatting the rise of right-wing populism,” “state-based social justice organizations in the South [that] are underfunded,” and “countering the Tea Party’s anti-government mantra.” [21] It claimed several successes in left-of-center politics, including driving up turnout for an immigration march advocating for the Dream Act, removing Lou Dobbs from CNN for advocating for immigration restriction, and bringing new energy to the anti-death penalty campaign. [22]

The Democracy and Power Fund granted money to a long list of left-of-center organizations. This includes Center for Community Change, a left-of-center 501(c)3 that promotes the interests of illegal immigrants and focuses on issues such as poverty, race, housing policy, and treatment of released prisoners; Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with strong ties to the Democratic Party; Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning think tank that rejects free-market capitalism as inherently unjust; Citizen Engagement Lab, which a left-of-center social organizing group that advocates for a range of liberal political issues; Color of Change, an online organizing organization created by alumni of the Obama administration and MoveOn.org; New Organizing Institute, which is a left-progressive group to train digital organizers and campaigners for the Democrat Party; and Texas Organizing Project, a left-leaning political activist group that strives to organize voters in Texas metropolitan areas. [23]

References

  1. Jagpal, Niki and Kevin Laskowski. “Smash Silos in Philanthropy.” National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.ncrp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Smashing_Silos_in_Philanthropy_Multi-Issue_Advocacy_and_Organizing_for_Real_Results.pdf ^
  2. [1] Jagpal, Niki and Kevin Laskowski. “Smash Silos in Philanthropy.” National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.ncrp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Smashing_Silos_in_Philanthropy_Multi-Issue_Advocacy_and_Organizing_for_Real_Results.pdf ^
  3. “2011-2012 OSI U.S. Programs Budget: Democracy and Power Fund.” Accessed via Documentcloud.org on April 11, 2022. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3223954-2010-Tab-07-Democracy-and-Power-Fund ^
  4. “Democracy and Power Fund to Support Efforts in North Carolina and Texas.” Open Society Foundations. January 7, 2010. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/democracy-and-power-fund-support-efforts-north-carolina-and-texas ^
  5. “2011-2012 OSI U.S. Programs Budget: Democracy and Power Fund.” Accessed via Documentcloud.org on April 11, 2022. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3223954-2010-Tab-07-Democracy-and-Power-Fund ^
  6. [1] “Soros Foundations Network Report 2008.” Open Society Foundations. Accessed April 11, 2021. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/3ef7b92d-a199-4f61-bf02-789df91eb29a/ar08_20090911_0.pdf ^
  7. Jagpal, Niki and Kevin Laskowski. “Smash Silos in Philanthropy.” National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.ncrp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Smashing_Silos_in_Philanthropy_Multi-Issue_Advocacy_and_Organizing_for_Real_Results.pdf ^
  8. “Will Vandenberg (aka Bill).” LinkedIn. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/will-vandenberg-aka-bill-%F0%9F%87%BA%F0%9F%87%A6-4144885/ ^
  9.  “Open Society Institute Expands U.S. Programs Initiative.” Philanthropy News Digest. June 16, 2008. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/open-society-institute-expands-u.s.-programs-initiative ^
  10. Jagpal, Niki and Kevin Laskowski. “Smash Silos in Philanthropy.” National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.ncrp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Smashing_Silos_in_Philanthropy_Multi-Issue_Advocacy_and_Organizing_for_Real_Results.pdf ^
  11.  “Will Vandenberg (aka Bill).” LinkedIn. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/will-vandenberg-aka-bill-%F0%9F%87%BA%F0%9F%87%A6-4144885/ ^
  12. “Will Vandenberg (aka Bill).” LinkedIn. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/will-vandenberg-aka-bill-%F0%9F%87%BA%F0%9F%87%A6-4144885/ ^
  13. Open Society Institute Expands U.S. Programs Initiative.” Philanthropy News Digest. June 16, 2008. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/open-society-institute-expands-u.s.-programs-initiative ^
  14. Jagpal, Niki and Kevin Laskowski. “Smash Silos in Philanthropy.” National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.ncrp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Smashing_Silos_in_Philanthropy_Multi-Issue_Advocacy_and_Organizing_for_Real_Results.pdf ^
  15.  “Open Society Institute Expands U.S. Programs Initiative.” Philanthropy News Digest. June 16, 2008. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/open-society-institute-expands-u.s.-programs-initiative ^
  16. Soros Foundations Network Report 2008.” Open Society Foundations. Accessed April 11, 2021. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/3ef7b92d-a199-4f61-bf02-789df91eb29a/ar08_20090911_0.pdf ^
  17. Soros Foundations Network Report 2008.” Open Society Foundations. Accessed April 11, 2021. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/3ef7b92d-a199-4f61-bf02-789df91eb29a/ar08_20090911_0.pdf ^
  18. “Democracy and Power Fund to Support Efforts in North Carolina and Texas.” Open Society Foundations. January 7, 2010. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/democracy-and-power-fund-support-efforts-north-carolina-and-texas ^
  19. “2011-2012 OSI U.S. Programs Budget: Democracy and Power Fund.” Accessed via Documentcloud.org on April 11, 2022. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3223954-2010-Tab-07-Democracy-and-Power-Fund ^
  20. “ 2011-2012 OSI U.S. Programs Budget: Democracy and Power Fund.” Accessed via Documentcloud.org on April 11, 2022. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3223954-2010-Tab-07-Democracy-and-Power-Fund ^
  21. “2011-2012 OSI U.S. Programs Budget: Democracy and Power Fund.” Accessed via Documentcloud.org on April 11, 2022. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3223954-2010-Tab-07-Democracy-and-Power-Fund ^
  22. “2011-2012 OSI U.S. Programs Budget: Democracy and Power Fund.” Accessed via Documentcloud.org on April 11, 2022. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3223954-2010-Tab-07-Democracy-and-Power-Fund ^
  23. [1] “2011-2012 OSI U.S. Programs Budget: Democracy and Power Fund.” Accessed via Documentcloud.org on April 11, 2022. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3223954-2010-Tab-07-Democracy-and-Power-Fund ^
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Democracy and Power Fund


New york, NY