The Patriotic Millionaires is a group of Americans who earn more than $1 million per year and advocate for left-wing economic policies. They were organized by longtime Democratic and left-wing strategist Erica Payne with help from trial lawyer and major Democratic donor Guy Saperstein in 2010, who recruited 42 signees of a letter to then-President Barack Obama to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire in 2010.
The high-profile campaign included media appearances and mentions of Patriotic Millionaires asking elected officials to raise taxes on the wealthy, even though the U.S. Treasury Department allows voluntary contributions.
Now with an estimated 200 members including Oscar Mayer heir Chuck Collins, Planned Parenthood activist Naomi Aberly, Men’s Warehouse founder George Zimmer, Daphne Foundation president Abigail Disney and television producer Norman Lear, Millionaires has involved its membership in campaigns to end carried interest tax breaks and raise the minimum wage to $15, as well as employ a registered lobbyist.
Patriotic Millionaires started as a pro-tax hike campaign in 2010 by Democratic lawyer Guy Saperstein and Democracy Alliance co-founder Erica Payne. Saperstein and Payne drafted a letter to President Obama asking him to allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire on December 31, 2010, and collected 42 signatures of people who made more than $1 million a year. The signers included former Google engineer David desJardins, Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Ben Cohen, and hedge fund financier Michael Steinhardt.
Coordinated by the Agenda Project, a liberal nonprofit political group founded by Erica Payne, Patriotic Millionaires (originally called the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength) continued to recruit more millionaires to take part in its publicity campaign for tax increases for the wealthy.
The pro-estate tax advocacy group Wealth for the Common Good worked with Patriotic Millionaires from 2010 to 2012 on the tax hike campaign. In 2015, the groups merged.
According to records accessed through the Washington, D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs public database, a non-profit corporation called “Patriotic Millionaires (The)” listing Erica Payne as its president officially dissolved March 6, 2015. The same database also lists a second a non-profit corporation called “Patriotic Millionaires Action Fund (The),” with Payne as president and a March 6, 2015 dissolution date.
On June 8, 2016, two new Patriotic Millionaires entities were filed with the District of Columbia. “The Patriotic Millionaires, LLC” lists Erica Payne, Morris Pearl, and Eugene Haigh as directors.
Pearl chairs the Patriotic Millionaires, and is also on the board of the Center for Political Accountability. Collins is the co-founder of Wealth for the Common Good and senior scholar at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies. Haigh is the organization’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and is a registered lobbyist for Patriotic Millionaires, LLC.
Patriotic Millionaires has a staff headquartered in Washington, D.C. that works with members to gain attention to the group through activities such as op-eds, media appearances and photo-ops. Eugene “Gene” Haigh is the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and lobbyist.
According to business documents filed with the District of Columbia on June 8, 2016, the directors of The Patriotic Millionaires, LLC are Erica Payne, Morris Pearl, and Eugene Haigh. Patriotic Millionaires is governed by a 22-member advisory board which is chaired by Morris Pearl. The vice chair is Stephen Prince, the founder of Card Marketing Services.
There are an estimated 200 members across the country who participate in publicity on behalf of Patriotic Millionaires through op-eds, media interviews and appearances at political events.
When referring to The Patriotic Millionaires political leanings, mainstream media have described the group as “Democratic,” ”progressive,” and “liberal.” Examples include SF Gate, which reported that Patriotic Millionaires early organizer, Guy Saperstein, is a major Democratic donor, and that at least half of the Patriotic Millionaires would identify themselves as progressive Democrats. According to the group’s brochure, the Patriot Millionaires aims to bring about the “wholesale rejection of modern conservatism” and negatively “expos[e] the dogma of ‘free enterprise, limited government, and traditional family values.”
CBS News called The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength “a Democratic-leaning group of 200-plus millionaires who have signed petitions asking President Obama to raise their taxes.” A 2015 headline in Bloomberg read “Liberal Millionaires Say ‘Tax Me!’” and in the article, called the group “a coalition of wealthy American progressives.”
A US News piece said Patriotic Millionaires “appear to be partisan” due to its founding “by the progressive nonprofit the Agenda Project” and appearances in support of President Barack Obama. The article also cited NuCompass Mobility Service CEO and Patriotic Millionaires member Frank Patitucci as calling himself a Democrat, and saying he believes most of the Patriotic Millionaires are as well. And chairperson Morris Pearl told HuffPo that he estimates around 99 percent of the members and all of the Patriotic Millionaires staff “generally support the Democratic Party positions.”
Scott Wallace, a Patriotic Millionaires member, is also a 2018 Democratic candidate running for a Congress seat in a Pennsylvania district.
Patriotic Millionaires’ began political activism upon its founding in 2010 with a pro-tax hike letter-writing publicity campaign to persuade President Obama to allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire. U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch responded to the campaign by writing that the U.S. Treasury Department accepts voluntary, tax-deductible contributions for the purpose of reducing the nation’s tax debt.
In 2012, President Obama appeared at the White House with a group of Patriotic Millionaires members to announce their support for his running campaign to raise taxes. Among the members in attendance were Daphne Foundation president Abigail Disney; Whitney Tilson of T2 Partners; Frank Jernigan, a Google retiree; and Lawrence Benenson, of Benenson Capital.
The group broadened their political activism to other areas including government mandated minimum wage hikes to $15 per hour and so-called “dark money” spending in political campaigns. The also group supports the SEIU-backed Fight for $15 campaign. Another major campaign for Patriotic Millionaires in 2016 was elimination of the carried interest tax break.
While Patriotic Millionaires conduct high profile national campaigns, they have also mobilized publicity campaigns in states. The group bought television advertising in Maine to support a failed minimum wage increase in Portland to $15. Chair Morris Pearl testified before Connecticut lawmakers in support of eliminating the state’s carried interest tax break.
In July 2017, Patriotic Millionaires launched a campaign called “Fix It – Healthcare at the Tipping Point” to promote a government-controlled single-payer health system.
2017 Tax Reform Act
In November 2017, the Patriotic Millionaires launched an advertisement campaign attacking U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) for his role in passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
In 2016, The Patriotic Millionaires, LLC registered as an official lobbying organization. Eugene Haigh, Patriotic Millionaires’ Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, is the group’s registered lobbyist. The government lobbying registration document digitally signed by Erica Payne on June 20, 2016, identified Haigh as being employed by “affiliate Tesseract.” Tesseract, LLC is a political consulting firm founded by Payne whose clients have included the Democracy Alliance, Center for Independent Media, and New Democrat Network.
OpenSecrets reports Millionaires spent $80,000 in lobbying in 2016, and $60,000 in 2017. Specific lobbying issues include: Carried Interest Fairness Act; Opposing the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court; Money in politics; Campaign spending.
According to online campaign finance database LittleSis, members of The Patriotic Millionaires collectively spent millions of dollars in 2016 elections. The Democratic National Committee collected the most from Millionaires members with $3,485,946, followed by $2,860,000 paid to American Bridge 21st Century, $2,927,059 to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and $2,192,820 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Planned Parenthood Votes and Organizing for Action are among a number of political committees to receive Millionaires member campaign money.
- Erica Payne: Co-Founder, President. Other: Author, “The Practical Progressive: How to Build a 21st Century Political Movement.” Editor, Practical Progress, a monthly newsletter for progressive influencers.
- Morris Pearl: Chairperson. Treasurer, Agenda Project. Board member, Center for Political Accountability. Retired, BlackRock Investment firm.
- Guy Saperstein: Original organizer and recruiter. Trial lawyer, major Democratic donor.
- David desJardins: Original organizer and recruiter. Former Google engineer, a top donor to Democratic candidates and causes. Founder of the desjardins-Blachman Foundation and the desJardins/Blachman Fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Serves on the board of the liberal donor convening Democracy Alliance and is involved in DA-connected groups including the Scholars Strategy Network and Agenda Project.
- Eugene “Gene” Haigh: Senior VP Government Affairs, lobbyist.
- Chuck Collins: Advisory board member. Co-Founder, Wealth for Common Good, Oscar Mayer heir. Senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.
- Naomi Aberly: Advisory board member. Board member, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Member, Planned Parenthood Leadership Council, the Women Donors Network, and the EMILY’s List Majority Council. Supporter, Center for Reproductive Rights and the Center for American Progress.