Demos (formally Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action) is a nonprofit, New York City-based left-wing public policy advocacy group founded in 2000 that favors advocates a staunchly liberal agenda. Demos has close ties to the wing of the Democratic Party associated with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and the left-wing progressive movement, advocating a far-left agenda.
The organization receives substantial funding from labor unions and progressive foundations. It is led by Heather McGhee, a liberal political operative who formerly worked for the 2008 presidential campaign of North Carolina Democrat John Edwards.
Founding and History
Several liberal policy activists joined forces back in 1999 to form Demos, including David Callahan, a fellow at the Century Foundation; Charles Halpern, president of the Nathan Cummings Foundation; Rob Fersh, now the president of Convergence Center for Policy Revolution; Stephen Heintz, a vice president at the EastWest Institute; Sara Horowitz, the founder of Working Today and the Freelancers Union; Arnie Miller of the executive search firm Isaacson Miller; former U.S. Representative David Skaggs (D-Colorado); and Clinton administration State Department official Linda Tarr-Whelan.
Heintz became the first president of Demos in March 2000, but left just a year later to become president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Miles Rapoport succeeded Heintz. A former Connecticut state legislator and secretary of state, Rapoport has long history in progressive politics. He was part of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s. He was also director of Connecticut Citizens Action Group and helped to establish the Campaign for America’s Future.
Demos advocates for substantial left-wing changes to the sociopolitical system in the United States. The organization emphasizes three areas of commitment: voting rights expansion, a hybrid environmentalist-left agenda it calls “pathways to ensure a diverse, expanded middle class in a new, sustainable economy,” and advocacy for communitarianism and a liberal interpretation of racial equality.
In practice, these commitments cover left-wing boilerplate. Amid the debates surrounding the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (known popularly as the “debt commission”) in 2010, Demos and aligned groups released a plan that would raise taxes, steeply cut the military, and raise spending on progressive priorities. In debates over healthcare reform in 2017, Demos proposed an expansion of Medicare to children, with the possibility of government-controlled “Medicare-for-all” left possible.
Demos has close ties to the wing of the progressive movement and Democratic Party led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Warren’s daughter serves as Demos board chair, and the organization’s blog hailed Warren’s leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the launch of her U.S. Senate campaign in 2011.
Demos opposed President Donald Trump’s nominations and appointments to federal agencies. Demos president Heather McGhee testified in opposition to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, citing his support of the Court’s prevailing jurisprudence on First Amendment issues as grounds to reject the nomination.
Starbucks “Racial Bias Training”
As of July 2018, Heather McGhee of Demos and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund served as curriculum advisers for coffee chain Starbucks’ racial-bias training. They also released a separate report outlining suggestions for how Starbucks could achieve a “full-scale racial equity overhaul.”
Heather McGhee, formerly Demos’ vice president of policy and outreach, now serves as the organization’s president. She previously served as the deputy policy director for the 2008 presidential campaign of former U.S. Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), a controversial figure who also served as then-Sen. John Kerry’s running mate on the 2004 Democratic presidential ticket.
Brenda Wright, the vice president of legal strategies, is a former managing attorney for the National Voting Rights Institute in Boston. She was also the director of the voting rights project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organization that frequently partners with Demos on electoral policy issues.
Demos’s board chair is Amelia Warren Tyagi, a management consultant better known as the daughter of arch-liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Tyagi co-authored her mother’s book The Two-Income Trap and was added to the Demos board in 2006.
Prominent board members include Van Jones who was a special advisor for green jobs, enterprise and innovation at President Obama’s White House Council on Environmental Quality, a position popularly known as “green jobs czar.” Jones was ousted when it was revealed that he put his name to a 9/11 “truther” conspiracy petition that embarrassed the White House enough to oust Jones from the administration.
Other current board members include Gina Glantz, who was a founding member of America Votes, America Coming Together, and the New Politics Institute. She also worked on the Presidential campaigns of Walter Mondale in 1984, Bill Bradley in 2000, and Howard Dean in 2004. Glantz has also worked for the Service Employees International Union.
Among Demos’s former board members is former President Barack Obama.
Demos has been associated with the progressive donor consortium Democracy Alliance, which lists Demos as a “recommended organization.” The Democracy Alliance also listed Demos as part of its “2020 Vision Investment Portfolio.”
Demos draws considerable financial support from a number of left-leaning foundations. Those foundations include the Tides Foundation ($1,246,469 since 2002); Ford Foundation ($1 million since 2000); W.K. Kellogg Foundation ($470,000 since 2008); Surdna Foundation ($370,000 since 2010); Rockefeller Brothers Fund ($268,000 since 2007); Rockefeller Family Fund ($190,000 since 2002); Nathan Cummings Foundation ($180,000 since 2009); Arca Foundation ($154,050 since 2010); and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($150,000 since 2005). The relatively more centrist Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also provided support ($850,000 since 2009).
Demos had a $7.8 million budget in 2012, up from $7.6 million in 2011 and $7.2 million in 2010, according to its publicly available IRS filings. In 2012 Demos had 76 employees.
Demos has received substantial contributions from labor unions, including $75,000 in 2015 from the Service Employees International Union. Other unions contributing to Demos include the United Auto Workers; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); the Communications Workers of America; the United Steelworkers, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.