Non-profit

Onward Together

onward together hrc logo (link)
Website:

www.onwardtogether.org

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Formation:

2017

Onward Together is a political fundraising organization established by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the wake of her loss to President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The 501(c)(4) organization receives anonymous donations, and distributes the majority of that money to a small number of partner organizations, all of which are left-of-center activist groups. In addition to direct financial support, Onward Together also offers fundraising assistance, strategy advice, meetings with key donors, and endorsements. [1]

Background

Hillary Clinton co-founded the organization with Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, after Clinton lost the 2016 U.S. Presidential election as the nominee of the Democratic Party. [2] According to CNN, the concept for a new Super PAC originated from a meeting between young activists and Clinton months before the group launched in May 2017. The purpose of the group, as Clinton put it, was “to lend support to leaders—particularly young leaders—kicking off projects and founding new organizations to fight for our shared progressive values.” [3]

Amy Ruiz and Adam Parkhomenko, veterans of Clinton’s previous presidential campaigns, were hired to staff Onward Together. Ruiz worked as state director of her campaign in Nevada and Colorado. Parkhomenko served as her director of grassroots engagement. Longtime members of Clinton’s staff, including vice chair on the 2016 campaign, Huma Abedin; finance director of the 2016 campaign, Dennis Cheng; and former press secretary Nick Merrill were also reported to be working on the project. [4]

In the wake of the 2016 election, the creation of Onward Together was seen as a clear signal that Hillary Clinton would continue to be involved in the Democratic effort to win the 2018 midterm elections, and in politics generally for the foreseeable future. [5]

Funding

Hillary Clinton launched Onward Together in May of 2017. She said the group would be “an organization dedicated to advancing the progressive vision that earned nearly 66 million votes in the last election,” referring to Clinton’s total ballots received in the election. The group’s original motto was “Resist, insist, persist, enlist,” a quote attributed to Clinton. [6]

Onward Together took in $3.1 million in donations in its first year. A large portion of that money, $800,000, was transferred directly from Clinton’s 2016 campaign committee Hillary for America two weeks before Onward Together was publicly launched. [7] The day after the transfer, Clinton announced in an interview with CNN that she was “back to being an activist citizen and part of the resistance.” [8]

Soon afterward, the Washington Free Beacon reported that the organization received contributions from “seven unnamed individuals in the amounts of $800,000, $500,000, $11,419, $7,266, $7,000, $5,710, and $5,190. The remaining $1.8 million came from individuals who provided $5,000 or less.” [9] 

During the midterm elections, it came to light that half of the individuals who received more than $5,000 from Onward Together had personal connections to Clinton or her presidential campaign. Twenty-six people received money from the non-profit, more than a dozen of whom had a history of working with Clinton. Mike Levin, a former environmental attorney running for a California congressional seat, was one such recipient. While attending Stanford University, Levin was introduced to Chelsea Clinton, and later worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Deb Haaland, who served as the chairwoman of New Mexico’s Democratic Party and as a superdelegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, also received money for her congressional campaign. [10] In total, Onward Together contributed $280,000 to 60 Democratic candidates during the 2018 midterm race. [11]

Individuals who received money from Onward Together, but had no prior connection to Clinton, were running for races in states where she narrowly won against Donald Trump. Reporters for Politico also noticed that several of those districts used outdated ballot systems, and were considered at increased risk for election fraud, which was a key narrative for the Clinton campaign in the wake of the election. [12]

Nearly a full year after Clinton announced Onward Together, a donor in Seattle opened a complaint with the state’s attorney general after weeks of unsuccessful attempts to cancel his recurring donation to the non-profit. “Onward Together (OT) accepts payment information, but provides no ability to alter or cancel donations once the initial donation is received,” he wrote. Despite starting his donation in May, he had never received a receipt for his monthly contributions. Onward Together added a cancel button to its website in response. [13]

Partner Organizations

Onward Together announced five initial partner organizations: Color of Change, Emerge America, Indivisible, Swing Left, and Run for Something. The organization claims to have granted $2.5 million to its partners since its foundation. A second cadre of organizations has since been added to Onward Together’s program: Youth Action, The Arena, Collective PAC, iVote, Latino Victory, and Voto Latino. [14]

When Onward Together made its debut, one of the five original advocacy organizations, The Indivisible Project, which represents a coalition of 5,800 local groups, said it would not accept the offer of financial support. [15]

In addition to funding its regular partners, Onward Together has approved small grants in “urgent” political moments. Recipients include EMILY’s List, APIA Vote, National Redistricting Foundation, the Victory Institute, and Greater Wisconsin.

Controversies

Hillary Clinton sold her donor list and campaign software used in the 2016 election to the Democratic National Committee in exchange for more than $2 million in donations to Onward Together. The DNC paid $1.65 million to rent the campaign’s resources, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee bought the same material for another $700,000. At the time, the DNC was deeply in debt. [16]

The very existence of Onward Together, a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, stands in contrast to Clinton’s rhetoric on the subject of campaign finance law. In the final presidential debate of the 2016 election, Clinton said she would nominate Supreme Court justices that would “say no to Citizens United, a decision that has undermined the election system in our country because of the way it permits dark, unaccountable money to come into our electoral system.” [17] Onward Together, like other 501(c)(4) nonprofits, is not required to disclose its donors under IRS rules. [18]

References

  1. “Program.” Onward Together. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.onwardtogether.org/program/. ^
  2. “Program.” Onward Together. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.onwardtogether.org/program/. ^
  3. Merica, Dan. “Clinton to Launch ‘resistance’ PAC.” CNN. May 04, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/04/politics/clinton-pac-resistance-trump/.

    “Program.” Onward Together. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.onwardtogether.org/program/. ^

  4. Cramer, Ruby. “Hillary Clinton Hires Two Former Campaign Aides For “Resistance” PAC.” BuzzFeed News. August 05, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/rubycramer/hillary-clinton-hires-two-former-campaign-aides-for. ^
  5. Combe, Rachael. “Hillary Clinton Is Getting Back in the Game, But Some Critics Would Prefer She Sit This One Out.” ELLE. October 11, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/news/a45320/hillary-clinton-onward-together-critics/. ^
  6. “Mission.” Onward Together. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.onwardtogether.org/mission/.

    Combe, Rachael. “Hillary Clinton Is Getting Back in the Game, But Some Critics Would Prefer She Sit This One Out.” ELLE. October 11, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/news/a45320/hillary-clinton-onward-together-critics/. ^

  7. Hasson, Peter. Hillary Using $800K In Campaign Funds For New Political Group. August 14, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://dailycaller.com/2017/08/14/hillary-using-800k-in-campaign-funds-for-new-political-group/. ^
  8. Merica, Dan. “Clinton to Launch ‘resistance’ PAC.” CNN. May 04, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/04/politics/clinton-pac-resistance-trump/. ^
  9. Joe Schoffstall. “Hillary’s Dark Money Group Relies Heavily on Six Donors and Campaign Money.” Washington Free Beacon. January 21, 2019. Accessed January 22, 2019. https://freebeacon.com/politics/hillarys-dark-money-group-relies-heavily-on-six-donors-and-campaign-money/. ^
  10. Martinez, Didi, and Elena Schneider. “Hillary Clinton Political Group Gives to Candidates Who Helped Her Campaigns.” POLITICO. August 01, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/08/01/hillary-clinton-campaign-donations-757228. ^
  11. “PAC.” Onward Together. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.onwardtogether.org/pac/. ^
  12. Martinez, Didi, and Elena Schneider. “Hillary Clinton Political Group Gives to Candidates Who Helped Her Campaigns.” POLITICO. August 01, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/08/01/hillary-clinton-campaign-donations-757228. ^
  13. O’Sullivan, Joseph. “One Seattle Man’s Quest to Cancel His $10.48 Monthly Donation to Hillary Clinton’s Nonprofit.” The Seattle Times. April 28, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/one-seattle-mans-quest-to-cancel-his-10-48-monthly-donation-to-hillary-clintons-nonprofit/. ^
  14. “Program.” Onward Together. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.onwardtogether.org/program/. ^
  15. Chokshi, Niraj. “Hillary Clinton Starts Onward Together, a New Political Group.” The New York Times. May 16, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/15/us/politics/hillary-clinton-onward-together.html. ^
  16. Vespa, Matt. “Vampire Hillary: How She’s Sucking The Cash-Strapped DNC Dry.” Townhall. April 26, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2018/04/26/vampire-hillary-how-shes-sucking-the-cash-strapped-dnc-dry-n2474676.

    Bragman, Walter, and Michael Sainato. “The Democratic Party Is Paying Millions for Hillary Clinton’s Email List, FEC Documents Show.” The Intercept. April 25, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2018/04/25/hillary-clinton-email-dnc-democratic-party/. ^

  17. Cqualursi, Veronica. “What Hillary Clinton Wants in a Supreme Court Justice.” ABC News. October 24, 2016. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/hillary-clinton-supreme-court-justice/story?id=43014620. ^
  18. Taddonio, Patrice. “Flashback: What Role Do 501(c)(4)s Play in Campaign Finance?” PBS. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/flashback-what-role-do-501c4s-play-in-campaign-finance/. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Dennis Cheng
    Co-Founder

Coalition Memberships

  1. Run for Something (RFS)
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