Progress Michigan a left-of-center advocacy organization in Michigan. It is one of 22 state-level networks of Progress Now, a national organization of liberal groups started in Colorado to support left-wing networking and rapid response communications.
Progress Michigan engages in political activity through social media and online communications, issuing news releases and comments for mainstream media outlets. It primarily targets Republican candidates and officeholders, Republican-led initiatives, and conservative- or libertarian-leaning organizations.
History and Mission
Progress Michigan was established in 2007 as a 501(c)(4) non-profit advocacy organization. The organization IRS 990 tax form for 2007 stated its objective was “to inform Michigan citizens about progressive issues and policies,” and works with other organizations toward this objective. A 501(c)(3) non-profit arm of Progress Michigan called Progress Michigan Education (now known as Engage Michigan) formed in 2007. Both Progress Michigan and Progress Michigan Education have shared services, facilities and equipment and paid employees, including executive directors serving simultaneous roles with both organizations.
Progress Michigan was founded by Daniel “Dan” Farough, who has also worked as the political director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, and held prominent positions in the campaigns and offices of U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and former State Representative Diane Byrum (D-Onandoga Township).
In a 2012 newspaper column, Progress Michigan’s then-executive director Zack Pohl said the group receives funding and support “from grass roots, labor and progressive community-based organizations.” According to IRS 990 tax documents, annual reports, and online databases, funding for Progress Michigan (and Progress Michigan Education) comes from foundations, labor unions, and environmental groups.
Grants to Progress Michigan include:
2006 – 2011: $91,600.00 from the United Automobile Workers (UAW), National Education Association (NEA), and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
2008: $30,000 from the New York Community Trust.
Progress Michigan Education (Engage Michigan) has received substantial funding from the Ford Foundation, whose grants to Progress Michigan Education from 2010 to 2017 have totaled $1,730,500. Ford Foundation grants of $400,000 in 2014 and 2016 constituted nearly 74 percent of each year’s reported revenue. The Foundation awarded another $400,000 in 2017.
Other contributors to Engage Michigan include the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the National Education Association, Tides Foundation, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
Progress Michigan was described in a January 2013 news article as a “left leaning advocacy group.”
The group consistently targets Republican candidates and officeholders, Republican-led initiatives and conservative/libertarian organizations in social media and other public relations campaigns.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) has been the subject of numerous Progress Michigan campaigns. One effort includes legal action to acquire emails of Schuette and staffers which the organization claims involve use of personal email accounts for official work.
Another frequent target of Progress Michigan is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank focusing on state policy. In 2013, Progress Michigan produced a report titled, “Mackinac Center Exposed: Who’s Running Michigan?” accusing the Center of having ties to the national American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Michigan Republican Party, and libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch. A subsequent investigation by the Washington Free Beacon discovered Progress Michigan had plagiarized portions of the report.
In October 2017, Progress Michigan called on Michigan State University (MSU) to divest investments in a hedge fund backed by right-wing donor Robert Mercer. Earlier in the year, Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott took part in a seminar at the MSU School of Social Work’s Advocacy Scholars Program “to provide cutting-edge training for the next generation of change agents dedicated to helping society solve difficult social problems.”
In 2013 Progress Michigan called on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) to reveal the identities of donors to a now-defunct campaign fund. A column by longtime Michigan political writer and television host Tim Skubick criticized Progress Michigan for its own lack of transparency regarding donors.
Daniel Farough is the founder of Progress Michigan. Farough served as the organization’s executive director from 2007-2009. Prior to Progress Michigan, Farough was the political director for the Sierra Club’s Mackinac (Michigan) chapter. He was also the spokesperson for former Michigan House Minority Leader Dianne Byrum (D), who is a current Progress Michigan board member. After leaving Progress Michigan in 2009, Farough worked on the staffs and campaigns of Democratic Michigan U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. He now runs a public relations firm called Farough & Associates based in Lansing. Farough was also the executive director of Progress Michigan Education, a 501(c)(3) non-profit arm of Progress Michigan also known as Engage Michigan, during his time with Progress Michigan.
Lonnie Scott has served as Progress Michigan executive director since 2013. She also serves as executive director of Progress Michigan Education (Engage Michigan). Scott is also the executive director of ProgressNow, the national parent organization of Progress Michigan. He previously worked as state director for Enroll America, a group that focused on enrolling people into Obamacare-compliant healthcare programs.
David Holtz was formerly executive director of Progress Michigan from 2009-2012. Holtz is currently the chairperson of the Michigan Sierra Club chapter. Zack Pohl succeeded Holtz and then became communications director for the Michigan AFL-CIO.
Current Progress Michigan Board Members include Amy Chapman, who serves as chair. She has been active in Democratic Party politics at the state and national levels since 1980, including serving as the 2008 Michigan state director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She currently runs a political consulting company in Michigan, whose clients include the SEIU, the Make it Work Campaign, Michigan Future and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Fund.
Other board members include Patrick Schuh, the Michigan State Director of America Votes; Bob Allison, the Executive Director of the SEIU Michigan State Council; Georgi-Ann Bargamian: Bargamian an attorney with the United Auto Workers; Libby McGaughey a director of America Votes Michigan; and Doug Pratt, the Public Affairs Director the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.
Past Progress Michigan Board Members include Chris Michaelakis, former president of the Metro-Detroit AFL-CIO Central Labor Council; Ray Plowden, Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan); and Ryan Friedrichs, chief development officer for the City of Detroit.
Affiliates and Associated Groups
Progress Michigan Education (“Engage Michigan”)
Progress Michigan Education, known as Engage Michigan, was formed around the same time as Progress Michigan as a tax exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a stated mission “that promotes solutions for Michigan through independent research, public education and the use of new media and internet outreach campaigns.”
Progress Michigan Political Action Fund (Progress Michigan PAF)
Progress Michigan created political action committee (PAC) in 2010, called Progress Michigan PAC. It dissolved in 2011, having collected $27,500 in contributions from Progress Michigan Action. In 2014, the group formed SuperPAC called Progress Michigan Political Action Fund (Progress Michigan PAF). Contributors to this fund included Progress Michigan, Inc., ($287,086 in 2014 and 2016 election cycles), Emily’s Fund ($100,000 in 2016), Conservation Voters of Michigan PAC ($80,000 in 2014 and 2016), as well as the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters, Michigan State AFL-CIO and American Federation of Teachers-Detroit.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network listed Progress Michigan PAF as 96th among the state’s top 150 political action committees in the 2016 election cycle.