Non-profit

Democracy Forward (DF)

Website:

democracyforward.org

Tax ID:

82-0995286

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Formation:

2017

Type:

Left-Leaning Litigation and Advocacy Group

Executive Director:

Anne Harkavy

Notable Advisory Board Members:

John Podesta

Marc Elias

Democracy Forward (DF) is a center-left litigation and advocacy nonprofit created in early 2017 by high-level Democratic Party operatives. The organization has been aggressive in targeting the Trump administration.[1] Examples include an ethics complaint against Ivanka Trump, alleging she was illegally promoting her clothing apparel line by wearing its products at official government functions,[2] and a lawsuit claiming the Trump administration was violating the U.S. Constitution by cutting the ObamaCare advertising budget and permitting the sale of additional health coverage plans.[3]

The DF board is chaired by Marc Elias, general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and head of the political law practice at Perkins Coie that represents almost all of the nation’s most powerful Democratic Party and left-leaning political advocacy organizations.[4] Anne Harkavy, a legal counsel to the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John Kerry, is the group’s executive director.[5] The rest of the DF board and most of the other senior staffers have similar partisan work histories.[6]

Mainstream media accounts of DF’s campaigns in publications such as Newsweek[7] , the Washington Post[8], and the Chicago Sun-Times[9] frequently fail to note the partisan agenda of DF, often neutrally identifying it as a nonprofit “watchdog” organization.

Democracy Forward Foundation (DFF) is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit counterpart of the 501(c)(4) advocacy group Democracy Forward. The two organizations appear to share the same website, board and employees. As of late 2018 the DF website showed 27 employees, including a ten-lawyer legal team.[10]

Sources of funding and budget information were not known as of December 2018.

General Background

Both Democracy Forward (DF) and the Democracy Forward Foundation (DFF) were incorporated in March 2017 by Perkins Coie political law practice attorney Katherine LaBeau.[11] The groups share a website which has the following disclaimer: “This is the website of Democracy Forward Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, and Democracy Forward, a 501(c)(4) organization.”[12]

Sources of funding and funding levels were not known as of late 2018, when the website showed 27 employees, including a ten-lawyer legal team.[13] A November 2017 report in the Washington Free Beacon explained the creation of the two organizations and the intended mission of weaponizing the use of litigation against federal agencies to tie up the Trump administration and its agenda. While providing no conclusive evidence of the source of funding, the report referenced “confidential documents” obtained by the Free Beacon, relating to a January 2017 meeting at a “posh resort” with “liberal mega-donors” in which Hillary Clinton operative David Brock proposed a partisan litigation strategy for another organization that was strikingly similar to that which became DF andthe DFF.[14]

The plan that was reportedly distributed at the Brock meeting to more than 100 donors proposed a doubling of the $5.8 million budget for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), so that the left-wing organization could expand its staff to 38 employees and hire an “army of pro bono lawyers” to produce a “steady stream of open records requests” and lawsuits against Trump, his administration and his family, as the means to “keep constant attention on Trump’s unprecedented conflicts of interest.” Distributed within days of the new president taking office, The 49-page document expressed the goal of defeating him in 2020 or “through impeachment” before that.[15]

Politically Partisan Personnel

All of the board members and four of the five executive staffers at Democracy Forward are strongly allied with partisan Democratic Party and left-wing advocacy organizations, most notably the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely associated with the Democratic Party establishment.[16]
Board of Directors

Democracy Forward’s board of directors consists of former Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential election staff and other Democratic Party operatives. [17]

Marc Elias is the chair of the board. He was general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is a partner and head of the political law practice at the law firm Perkins Coie LLP. He assists Democratic political committees and other left-of-center clients, which include the Democratic Governors Association, Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Majority PAC, Senate Majority PAC, Priorities USA (PAC), and EMILY’s List.[18]

Other board members include John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and co-founder of the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress; Scott Nathan, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former staffer in several positions in the Obama administration; [19] Mindy Myers, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) during the 2018 election cycle, and the 2012 campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); [20] Matthew Miller, the spokesman for former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC); [21] Faiz Shakir, the national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a former senior adviser to former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and the former editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress.org—a left-wing website created by the Center for American Progress’s lobbying arm, CAP Action Fund; [22] Maya Harris, a policy adviser for Hillary Clinton‘s 2016 Presidential campaign and the sister of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA); [23] and Ronald Klain, a former chief of staff to Democratic Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden.

Executive Staff

Anne Harkavy is the executive director of Democracy Forward. She has been a legal counsel to the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and former U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts).[24] [25]

Adam Jentleson is Democracy Forward’s public affairs director.[26] He was previously twice an employee of the Center for American Progress, most recently as a senior strategic adviser in the “war room” established by the Center for American Progress Action Fund in early 2017 to slow down and block confirmation of Trump administration appointees. He also worked for former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada).[27]

Corey Ciorciari is the policy and strategy director of Democracy Forward. Corey worked on the 2008 presidential campaign of then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, and was a policy adviser to the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.[28]

Alex Hornbrook is the group’s operations director, and also held operations and scheduling positions for Vice President Joe Biden, the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and the 2008 Obama/Biden presidential election campaign.[29]

Media Coverage

Recognition of Democracy Forward’s partisan agenda is often missing from mainstream media accounts of the organization. In an August 2018 report about assistance provided by DF to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for what the Chicago Sun-Times called his “long-running war against President Donald Trump,” the newspaper characterized it as “the non-profit known as “Democracy Forward.””[30] Washington Post accounts of DF legal disputes with the Trump administration have defined it as “a nonprofit formed last year that focuses on executive branch action” (September 2018[31]) or as a charitable legal firm representing clients.[32] Similarly, in reports regarding Ivanka Trump, Newsweek has referenced DF as a “watchdog group that scrutinizes executive branch activity”[33] or simply as a “watchdog group.”[34]

Litigation and Advocacy

Since its creation in early 2017 Democracy Forward has filed numerous lawsuits against President Trump and federal agencies under his control, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Treasury, the president’s Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Defense. In addition, DF has filed official complaints and engaged in advocacy campaigns against many of these same targets and others. Most of these campaigns follow a pattern of impeding a Trump administration policy agenda or implying corrupt behavior by the president, his family or officials appointed by him.[35]

Obamacare Lawsuits

In August 2018, Democracy Forward filed a lawsuit alleging that President Trump was sabotaging Obamacare and violating the “Take Care” clause of the U.S. Constitution by cutting back on advertising of Obamacare and tightening the enrollment period. The suit was filed on behalf of the cities of Columbus, Ohio, Baltimore, Maryland, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois.[36]

A DF news release accused the Trump administration of “raising prices” and “eliminating choices” in the health care insurance market.[37] The lawsuit references an executive order that allows individuals more options to purchase low-cost plans that are not required to comply with all of the regulations imposed by Obamacare. The DF complaint notes that competition from lower cost insurance products will “lead to decreased enrollments” in the Obamacare plans.[38]

Immigration Policy

In November 2018, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, with assistance from DF, filed suit seeking to reverse a Trump administration policy that expands the definition of “public charge” as it applies to immigrants seeking U.S. visas and citizenship. A federal law predating the Trump administration denies visas and citizenship to applicants who are deemed to be too reliant on government welfare services and not self-sufficient. Among other changes, the Trump administration’s new interpretation of the law would allow the government to count participation in a Head Start program by the schoolchildren of an immigrant family as grounds for disqualification.[39]

Private Prison FOIA

In December 2018, DF announced it had used a Freedom of Information Act request to reveal the contents of an email exchange between a private prison contractor and high-level U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials regarding the state of California’s passage of a so-called sanctuary city law in 2017. The prison contractor offered legal opinions to ICE regarding the law which later formed part of the basis for an ICE memo advising then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file suit against a California law prohibiting local law enforcement from assisting federal immigration authorities. A DF spokeswoman accused the prison contractor of gaining “privileged access and opportunities for input on important public policy decisions from which it stands to profit,” citing the contractor’s prior work detaining inmates for ICE, and the combined $475,000 it had donated to the Trump inaugural and a Trump-affiliated super-PAC.[40]

Department of Veterans Affairs

In October 2018, DF and Democratic-aligned veterans’ advocacy group Vote Vets sued the Trump administration, demanding compliance with a freedom of information request they had filed regarding informal discussions the president had convened with three members of his Mar-a-Lago resort, allegedly regarding ideas to reform the management and policies of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). Federal employees from the VA were reportedly brought to the resort to meet with the three informal advisers, which included Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, a Palm Beach concierge doctor, and a lawyer. A news release from DF and Vote Vets asserted the president and his “golf buddies” were “trying to hide” information about the group’s influence over policy, which they said “hurts all veterans,” but did not elaborate regarding a specific harm to veterans or any corrupt benefit to the group that may have ensued.[41]

Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter and a White House adviser, has been the target of at least two advocacy campaigns from Democracy Forward.

In January of 2018, DF issued a statement saying it was “demanding” that the U.S. Office of Government Ethics investigate whether Ms. Trump “is coordinating w/ fashion blogs to use her public office to advertise her clothing line (that she still profits from).” Ms. Trump had worn her apparel business’ products to official events, and a Wall Street Journal investigation had tabulated that the president was wearing her company’s apparel in 46 of 68 recent social media photos posted by his daughter. In an emailed response, Ivanka Trump replied that she would have stayed working in New York City – and out of the political spotlight – if making more money on the clothing line had been her objective.[42]

Then in August 2018, tying together and interpreting several internal messages obtained through a freedom of information request, DF accused Ms. Trump of influencing a decision by the Trump administration to retract the so-called “equal pay transparency rule” – a regulation enacted during the Obama administration that required employers with more than 100 employees to submit information regarding the wages and gender of staffers. The emails obtained by DF reveal Ms. Trump’s chief of staff attended official meetings regarding the issue, but – with many redactions obscuring content – do not demonstrate the specific advice provided, nor that Ms. Trump personally attended the meetings. After a decision had been made to kill the regulation, Ms. Trump provided a press statement pledging support for the equal pay concept, but stating the specific rule had not been an effective vehicle to achieve the goal. (Employers had complained the new rule was needlessly costly). A DF spokeswoman accused Ms. Trump of hypocrisy, but no legal wrongdoing was alleged.[43]

References

  1. “Our Mission.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/about/#.XBB3EGhKjIU ^
  2. Kwong, Jessica. “IVANKA TRUMP SHOULD ‘KNOW BETTER’: WATCHDOG DEMANDS INVESTIGATION ON FIRST DAUGHTER WEARING HER COMPANY’S CLOTHES.” Newsweek. January 24, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.newsweek.com/ivanka-trump-should-know-better-watchdog-demands-investigation-first-daughter-789808 ^
  3. “City of Columbus v. Trump.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/work/trump-sabotage-aca/#.XBCXJWhKjIU ^
  4. “Marc E. Elias, Partner.” Perkins Coie. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.perkinscoie.com/en/professionals/marc-e-elias.html ^
  5. “Anne Harkavy.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/staff/anne-harkavy/#.XBCHImhKjIU ^
  6. “Our Mission.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/about/#.XBB3EGhKjIU ^
  7. Kwong, Jessica. “IVANKA TRUMP WAS MORE THAN COMPLICIT IN OBAMA EQUAL PAY ROLLBACK—SHE HAD A HAND IN IT, WATCHDOG ALLEGES.” Newsweek. August 29, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.newsweek.com/ivanka-trump-equal-pay-complicit-obama-1093833 ^
  8. Portnoy, Jenna. “Paddlers sue Coast Guard for kicking them off the Potomac when Trump is golfing.” Washington Post. September 20, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/paddlers-sue-coast-guard-for-kicking-boats-off-potomac-when-trump-is-golfing/2018/09/20/dac363e8-bcbe-11e8-be70-52bd11fe18af_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6dc15af13630 ^
  9. Spielman, Fran. “Chicago joins lawsuit accusing Trump of ‘sabotaging’ Obamacare.” Chicago Sun-Times. August 2, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/chicago-lawsuit-accusing-trump-sabotaging-obamacare-affordable-care-act-sanctuary-cities/ ^
  10. “Our Mission.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/about/#.XBB3EGhKjIU ^
  11. Schoffstall, Joe. “Clinton Lawyer, Podesta Involved With Anti-Trump Litigation Group.” Washington Free Beacon. November 3, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://freebeacon.com/issues/clinton-lawyer-podesta-involved-with-anti-trump-litigation-group/ ^
  12. “About.” Democracy Forward. Accessed January 08, 2019. https://democracyforward.org/about/. ^
  13. “Our Mission.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/about/#.XBB3EGhKjIU ^
  14. Schoffstall, Joe. “Clinton Lawyer, Podesta Involved With Anti-Trump Litigation Group.” Washington Free Beacon. November 3, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://freebeacon.com/issues/clinton-lawyer-podesta-involved-with-anti-trump-litigation-group/ ^
  15. Schoffstall, Joe. “Read the Confidential David Brock Memo Outlining Plans to Attack Trump.” Washington Free Beacon. January 26, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018.https://freebeacon.com/politics/david-brock-memo-attack-trump/ ^
  16. Center for Organizational Research and Education. “Center for American Progress.” Activist Facts. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.activistfacts.com/organizations/528-center-for-american-progress/ ^
  17. “Our Board.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/board/#.XBB3b2hKjIU ^
  18. “Marc E. Elias, Partner.” Perkins Coie. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.perkinscoie.com/en/professionals/marc-e-elias.html ^
  19. “Scott Nathan.” Center for American Progress. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.americanprogress.org/about/staff/nathan-scott/bio/ ^
  20. “A Beto 2020 candidacy is starting to look very, very possible.” NBC News. December 11, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/card/beto-2020-candidacy-starting-look-very-very-possible-n946471 ^
  21. “Matthew Miller.” Vianovo. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://vianovo.com/people/matthew-miller ^
  22. “Faiz Shakir.” American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.aclu.org/bio/faiz-shakir ^
  23. Dovere, Edward-Isaac. “Kamala Harris’s Anti-Trump Tour.” The Atlantic. October 26, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/10/how-kamala-harris-will-campaign-against-trump/573967/ ^
  24. “Anne Harkavy.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/staff/anne-harkavy/#.XBCHImhKjIU ^
  25. “Our Mission.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/about/#.XBB3EGhKjIU ^
  26. “Adam Jentleson.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/staff/adam-jentleson/#.XBCMX2hKjIU ^
  27. Cramer, Ruby. “Democratic War Room Expands With Plans To Scrutinize Hundreds And Hundreds Of Trump Appointees.” Buzzfeed. March 2, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/rubycramer/democratic-war-room-expands-with-plans-to-scrutinize-hundred#.kno2ooO6nK ^
  28. “Cory Ciorciari.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/staff/corey-ciorciari/#.XBCIOmhKjIU ^
  29. “Alex Hornbrook.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/staff/lorem-ipsum-dolor-3/#.XBCLG2hKjIU ^
  30. Spielman, Fran. “Chicago joins lawsuit accusing Trump of ‘sabotaging’ Obamacare.” Chicago Sun-Times. August 2, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/chicago-lawsuit-accusing-trump-sabotaging-obamacare-affordable-care-act-sanctuary-cities/ ^
  31. Portnoy, Jenna. “Paddlers sue Coast Guard for kicking them off the Potomac when Trump is golfing.” Washington Post. September 20, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/paddlers-sue-coast-guard-for-kicking-boats-off-potomac-when-trump-is-golfing/2018/09/20/dac363e8-bcbe-11e8-be70-52bd11fe18af_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6dc15af13630 ^
  32. Aratani, Lori. “Veterans group seeks court’s help in making airplane bathrooms more accessible.” Washington Post. December 1, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/veterans-group-seeks-courts-help-in-making-airplane-bathrooms-more-accessible/2018/12/01/fea80adc-f32f-11e8-aeea-b85fd44449f5_story.html?utm_term=.97fa8651def0 ^
  33. Kwong, Jessica. “IVANKA TRUMP SHOULD ‘KNOW BETTER’: WATCHDOG DEMANDS INVESTIGATION ON FIRST DAUGHTER WEARING HER COMPANY’S CLOTHES.” Newsweek. January 24, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.newsweek.com/ivanka-trump-should-know-better-watchdog-demands-investigation-first-daughter-789808 ^
  34. Kwong, Jessica. “IVANKA TRUMP WAS MORE THAN COMPLICIT IN OBAMA EQUAL PAY ROLLBACK—SHE HAD A HAND IN IT, WATCHDOG ALLEGES.” Newsweek. August 29, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.newsweek.com/ivanka-trump-equal-pay-complicit-obama-1093833 ^
  35. Schoffstall, Joe. “Clinton Lawyer, Podesta Involved With Anti-Trump Litigation Group.” Washington Free Beacon. November 3, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://freebeacon.com/issues/clinton-lawyer-podesta-involved-with-anti-trump-litigation-group/ ^
  36. “City of Columbus v. Trump.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/work/trump-sabotage-aca/#.XBCXJWhKjIU ^
  37. “City of Columbus v. Trump.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/work/trump-sabotage-aca/#.XBCXJWhKjIU ^
  38. King, Robert. “Cities sue Trump, calling ‘sabotage’ of Obamacare unconstitutional.” Washington Examiner. August 2, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018.https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/healthcare/cities-sue-trump-calling-sabotage-of-obamacare-unconstitutional; and City of Columbus v. Donald J. Trump. IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND. Case 1:18-cv-02364-DKC. August 2, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/ACA-Sabotage-Complaint.pdf ^
  39. Milligan, Carley. “Baltimore City is suing the Trump administration over ‘invidious’ immigration policy change.”Baltimore Business Journal. November 28, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/news/2018/11/28/baltimore-city-is-suing-the-trump-administration.html ^
  40. Pauly, Madison. “When the Biggest Prison Company Complained About a California Sanctuary Law, ICE Listened.” Mother Jones. December 7, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/12/geo-memo-private-prison-california-immigration/ ^
  41. “Trump Administration Sued for Unlawfully Withholding Records Detailing Mar-a-Lago Shadow Rulers’ Illegal Influence on Veterans Policy.” Democracy Forward. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://democracyforward.org/press/trump-administration-sued-for-unlawfully-withholding-records-detailing-mar-a-lago-shadow-rulers-illegal-influence-on-veterans-policy/#.XBGGU3RKjIV; and Saintsing, Matt. “Two groups sue VA over key documents related to ‘Mar-a-Lago crowd.’” ConnectingVets.com. October 11, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://connectingvets.radio.com/articles/votevets-and-democracy-forward-sues-va-over-mar-lago-crowd ^
  42. Kwong, Jessica. “IVANKA TRUMP SHOULD ‘KNOW BETTER’: WATCHDOG DEMANDS INVESTIGATION ON FIRST DAUGHTER WEARING HER COMPANY’S CLOTHES.” Newsweek. January 24, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.newsweek.com/ivanka-trump-should-know-better-watchdog-demands-investigation-first-daughter-789808 ^
  43. Kwong, Jessica. “IVANKA TRUMP WAS MORE THAN COMPLICIT IN OBAMA EQUAL PAY ROLLBACK— SHE HAD A HAND IN IT, WATCHDOG ALLEGES.” Newsweek. August 29, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://www.newsweek.com/ivanka-trump-equal-pay-complicit-obama-1093833 ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Faiz Shakir
    Board Member
  2. Scott Nathan
    Board Member
  3. Matthew Miller
    Board Member
  4. Mindy Myers
    Board Member
  5. Ronald Klain
    Board Member
  6. Maya Harris
    Board Member
  7. Anne Harkavy
    Executive Director
  8. Marc Elias
    Board Member
  9. John Podesta
    Board Member
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