Person

Zack Exley

Born:

December 5, 1969

Main Residence:

New York, NY

Political Party:

Democratic Party

Occupation:

Co-Founder, Justice Democrats

Co-Founder, Brand New Congress

Co-Founder, New Organizing Institute

Co-Founder, New Consensus

Democratic Party Operative

Author, Rules for Revolutionaries

Zack Exley is a former senior adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and co-founder of the left-wing political committees Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress. [1] He co-authored Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything as a guide for far-left activism based on his experiences on the Sanders 2016 campaign alongside fellow Sanders veteran and CREDO Mobile political director Becky Bond. [2]

Exley has a long history in Democratic political activism: Exley’s author biography at the Huffington Post credits him with creating the first political parody website in existence after he bought GWBush.com in 1998. [3] He was the first organizing director for MoveOn Civic Action (MoveOn.org) and has worked on several political campaigns in the United States and for the British Labour Party. [4]

Exley is a co-founder of New Consensus, a group that promotes the Green New Deal; a set of radical environmentalist policy proposals which critics have deemed a “radical, top-down, socialist makeover of the entire U.S. economy,”[5] which could cost between $50 trillion and $90 trillion, according to a February 2019 report by right-leaning economic policy group American Action Forum. [6]

Early Life

Zack Exley grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut. He attended Shanxi Normal University between 1987 and 1988, the University of Massachusetts Amherst between 1990 and 1993 where he achieved his BA in Social Thought and Political Economy. Exley also attended the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. [7]

Organizing Career

Labor Union and Radical Background

Zack Exley began his political career as a labor union organizer and received training at a workshop created by the Ruckus Society. The Ruckus Society trains and provides tools and support to organizers, but critics call it the “violent version of Forrest Gump,” training protest industry footsoldiers for newsworthy events that often lead to injuries and property damage. [8] The group also touts so-called “direct action” in protest campaigns that include “tactics to resist the unjust system. Some of these may be legal strategies while others may be outside of the law, such as the use of civil disobedience.” [9]

Exley then became a union organizer for United Automobile Workers (UAW) and the AFL-CIO. [10] “For seven months, he worked undercover at a Michigan auto parts factory,” wrote Joseph Menn, a Los Angeles Times reporter, in 2004. “The unionization effort there failed, but Exley later used a team of infiltrators to successfully organize large nursing homes in Minnesota.” [11]

Opposition to George W. Bush

Exley left his job as a union organizer at the age of 29 to become a full-time computer programmer. In December 1998, Exley bought the website domain GWBush.com, and turned the website into a parody of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s campaign website, featuring doctored pictures of Bush taking drugs. [12] Exley’s author biography for HuffPost claims it was the first political parody website in existence. [13]

Exley also bought the website domain Countercoup.org, which he made public one month before the 2000 general election between Governor George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore. On Countercoup.org, Exley posted a date and time to protest the result of the election if Governor George W. Bush should win via the electoral college but not the popular vote. After the election, many visitors of Countercoup.org used the site to set up protests in fifty significant cities around the United States. This resulted in nearly 10,000 people protesting across the country. [14]

MoveOn and 2004 Cycle

Zack Exley became the first Organizing Director for MoveOn Civic Action (MoveOn.org) in January 2003. MoveOn.org is a 501(c)(4) advocacy group founded by Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, spouses and co-founders of the San Francisco Bay area software company Berkeley Systems, to shift focus from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. [15] It began as a petition website, but soon expanded and split into two associated organizations for tax reasons: MoveOn Civic Action, the group’s 501(c)(4) lobbying arm, and MoveOn Political Action, the group’s PAC.

Exley and MoveOn.org advised former Vermont Governor Howard Dean (D) in his 2004 presidential campaign and created what it billed the “first internet presidential primary” in which 317,000 members of MoveOn.org voted. Howard Dean won 44% of the vote. [16]

After Dean withdrew from the Democratic primaries, Exley left MoveOn.org to become the director of online communications and organization for then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA) in his 2004 presidential election campaign. This move caused controversy for Exley as a new campaign finance law introduced at the time prohibited coordination between groups that created campaign advertisements, such as MoveOn.org, and presidential candidates’ campaigns. At the time, members of the Republican Party accused John Kerry of circumventing the newly created campaign finance law by using MoveOn.org as a “slush fund” which was “illegally using soft dollars.” [17] While serving as his Director of Online Fundraising and Communications, Exley raised more than $100 million online for John Kerry during his presidential election bid. [18]

Post-2004 Election Work

Exley began working for the United Kingdom’s left-of-center Labour Party in 2005. According to the British press, the party faced controversy over “dirty tricks” after it revealed Exley would be working full-time on the re-election campaign of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. [19] A spokesperson for the Labour Party announced Exley would be working “as a campaign consultant specifically using his experience of working on www.moveon.org.” [20]

Exley co-founded the New Organizing Institute (NOI) in 2005. NOI, which dissolved in 2015, was a resource for community organizers focused on left-of-center issues to develop skills and receive training on how to be an “integrated, more diverse, and more dynamic movement for change.” [21] During this time, from 2008 until 2010, Exley also worked as a principal consultant for the IT consultancy firm, Thoughtworks. [22] He oversaw field organizing software projects for the 2008 presidential election campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama. [23]

Exley left ThoughtWorks to work for the Wikimedia Foundation in 2010, but soon returned to the consultancy firm in 2013 to take the position of practice director until 2015. [24]

Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign

After leaving ThoughtWorks, Exley moved directly into politics after he became one of Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) senior advisers in July 2015. [25] As a senior adviser to the digital team of Sanders’ campaign, Exley worked “on converting the enthusiasm we’ve seen around the senator’s message into real votes by organizing with grassroots volunteers around the country.” [26] He also had help in the form of Claire Sandberg, who worked with Exley to “secure votes and mobilize volunteers.” [27]

After he left the role of senior adviser to Senator Sanders’ failed presidential election campaign, Exley co-founded Middle Seat, a digital marketing, media, and organizing firm. He left the company in January 2018. [28]

Far-Left Activism

Exley co-founded Justice Democrats alongside The Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur, fellow Sanders campaign veteran Saikat Chakrabarti, and Young Turks Network commentator Kyle Kulinski. Justice Democrats, a Democratic Party-aligned 527 political action committee (PAC), spent $2.5 million during the 2018 election cycle. [29] It was one of the two organizations that created the radical environmentalist Green New Deal[30] and also supports universal government-run healthcare, a prohibition on private donations to politicians, and federal funding for abortions and political campaigns. [31]

Several media accounts in 2019 alleged Justice Democrats collaborated with the 2018 congressional campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Findings include that Ocasio-Cortez and campaign aide Saikat Chakrabarti had control over Justice Democrats while they simultaneously ran her candidate campaign. [32] Justice Democrats spent $2.5 million during the election cycle, $605,849 of that amount went to Brand New Congress, a PAC founded by Chakrabarti, Alexandra Rojas, and Zack Exley. Justice Democrats also paid Exley’s consulting firm Middle Seat $301,686.66, and $77,397.27 to Alexandra Rojas. [33]

It is unclear how much, if any, of the money received by Chakrabarti’s firm, was used to promote Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, however; former FEC commissioner Brad Smith told the Daily Caller News Foundation if “a complaint were filed, I would think it would trigger a serious investigation,” which if the accusations are found to be true, Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti “may have engaged in multiple violations of federal campaign finance law.” [34] According to the Justice Democrats’ new report to Washington D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on March 15, 2019, both Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti have been removed as governors of the group. [35]

Exley, alongside Chakrabarti and another former Bernie Sanders presidential campaign staffer, Alexandra Rojas, founded Brand New Congress in 2017. Brand New Congress is a far-left 527 PAC which focuses on helping elect radical “progressive” candidates. [36] Its initial aim was to recruit over 400 left-wing candidates to run for office and completely replace Congress beginning with the 2018 midterm election. [37]

According to Exley, a “majority” of candidates will be women, and a “disproportionate number will be people of color.” [38]

Exley is a co-founder of New Consensus, a 501(c)(3) group that promotes the Green New Deal; a set of radical environmentalist policy proposals which critics have deemed a “radical, top-down, socialist makeover of the entire U.S. economy,”[39] which could cost between $50 trillion and $90 trillion, according to a February 2019 report by right-leaning economic group American Action Forum. [40]

After members of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party created their own Green New Deal in 2019, Exley flew to England to meet the leading members of the group [41] and even met controversial far-left Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. [42]

Other Work

While he worked for the Labour Party in 2005, Zack Exley was a senior strategist at the fundraising and communications firm O’Brien-Garret. He began working for the firm in 2004 and left in 2008. During this time, Exley worked with organizations including Amnesty International, International Rescue Committee, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Democratic Party. [43]

Exley became the chief community officer for the Wikimedia Foundation in 2010 before becoming its chief revenue officer in 2012 until 2013. During this time, Exley was responsible for cultivating the growth of the foundation. [44]

He is a fellow for George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. While working with the Open Society Foundations, Exley was based in Missouri where he worked to create organizing models that would enable local leaders and activists to mobilize and communicate with like-minded groups who would not usually interact with each other. [45]

Alongside former Sanders adviser Becky Bond, Exley wrote Rules for Revolutionaries, a book which details both authors’ time working for the Sanders Campaign. [46]

References

  1. Kozub, Stephan. “Meet the Tech-savvy Activists Trying to Take over the Democratic Party.” The Verge. May 08, 2017. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/8/15579810/tech-savvy-justice-democrats-bernie-sanders-the-young-turks. ^
  2. Bond, Becky, and Zack Exley. Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Could Change Everything. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016. ^
  3. “Zack Exley.” HuffPost. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/author/zack-exley. ^
  4. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  5. McConnell, Mitch. “Tweet by Leader McConnell.” Twitter. March 25, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://twitter.com/senatemajldr/status/1110289975386492929. ^
  6. “The Green New Deal: Scope, Scale, and Implications.” AAF. February 25, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/the-green-new-deal-scope-scale-and-implications/. ^
  7. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  8. “Ruckus Society | Funding Sources, Staff Profiles, and Political Agenda | Activist FactsActivist Facts.” Activist Facts. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.activistfacts.com/organizations/188-ruckus-society/. ^
  9. “The Ruckus Society Campaign Strategy Handout.” Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.stopogm.net/sites/stopogm.net/files/StrategicHandouts.pdf. ^
  10. Kharkar, Geeta. “Ex-Factor – Web Designer Zack Exley Makes Some Big Enemies.” In These Times. April 16, 2001. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://inthesetimes.com/issue/25/10/kharkar2510.html. ^
  11. Menn, Joseph. “Internet Upstart Turns Insider.” Los Angeles Times. May 30, 2004. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://articles.latimes.com/2004/may/30/nation/na-exley30. ^
  12. Kharkar, Geeta. “Ex-Factor – Web Designer Zack Exley Makes Some Big Enemies.” In These Times. April 16, 2001. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://inthesetimes.com/issue/25/10/kharkar2510.html. ^
  13. “Zack Exley.” HuffPost. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/author/zack-exley. ^
  14. Kharkar, Geeta. “Ex-Factor – Web Designer Zack Exley Makes Some Big Enemies.” In These Times. April 16, 2001. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://inthesetimes.com/issue/25/10/kharkar2510.html. ^
  15. “A Short History of MoveOn | MoveOn.Org | Democracy In Action.” MoveOn.Org. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://front.moveon.org/a-short-history/#.WRW6qYkrK9Y. ^
  16. Tumulty, Chris Taylor And Karen. “MoveOn’s Big Moment.” CNN. November 17, 2003. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://edition.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/11/17/timep.moveon.tm/. ^
  17. Mercurio, John. “Kerry Hires Online Chief from MoveOn.” CNN. April 7, 2004. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://edition.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/04/07/kerry.exley/. ^
  18. “Zack Exley.” The Resource Alliance. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://resource-alliance.org/speakers/zack-exley/. ^
  19. Elliott, Francis. “No 10 in New Dirty Tricks Row over Role of US ‘garbage Man’.” The Independent. October 09, 2011. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/no-10-in-new-dirty-tricks-row-over-role-of-us-garbage-man-485040.html. ^
  20. Elliott, Francis. “No 10 in New Dirty Tricks Row over Role of US ‘garbage Man’.” The Independent. October 09, 2011. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/no-10-in-new-dirty-tricks-row-over-role-of-us-garbage-man-485040.html. ^
  21. “About.” New Organizing Institute. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://neworganizing.wellstone.org/about/. ^
  22. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  23. “Zack Exley.” The Resource Alliance. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://resource-alliance.org/speakers/zack-exley/. ^
  24. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  25. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  26. Strauss, Daniel. “Bernie Sanders Bulks up His Digital Operation.” POLITICO. August 18, 2015. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/bernie-sanders-2016-increases-digital-operation-121488. ^
  27. Strauss, Daniel. “Bernie Sanders Bulks up His Digital Operation.” POLITICO. August 18, 2015. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/bernie-sanders-2016-increases-digital-operation-121488. ^
  28. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  29. “FEC – Justice Democrats.” Federal Election Commission – Report. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00630665/?tab=spending#disbursement-transactions. ^
  30. Freedlander, David, Darren Samuelsohn, Adam Wren, and David Fontana. “‘There Is Going to Be a War Within the Party. We Are Going to Lean Into It.'” POLITICO Magazine. February 04, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/02/04/the-insurgents-behind-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-224542. ^
  31. “Justice Democrats | It’s #OurTime.” Justicedemocrats.com. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.justicedemocrats.com/issues/. ^
  32. Lee, Michelle Ye Hee. “Payments to Company Owned by Ocasio-Cortez Aide Come under Scrutiny.” The Washington Post. March 05, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/payments-to-corporation-owned-by-ocasio-cortez-aide-come-under-scrutiny/2019/03/05/ae5045ee-3f61-11e9-9361-301ffb5bd5e6_story.html?utm_term=.84c9334fb84f. ^
  33. “JUSTICE DEMOCRATS – Committee Overview.” FEC.gov. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00630665/?tab=spending#disbursement-transactions. ^
  34. Kerr, Andrew. “Ocasio-Cortez In Jail? Former FEC Chair Says It Could Happen.” Ocasio-Cortez And Her Chief Of Staff ‘Could Be Facing Jail Time’ If Their Control Over PAC Was Intentionally Hidden, Former FEC Commissioner Says. March 06, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://dailycaller.com/2019/03/04/ocasio-cortez-justice-democrats/. ^
  35. “Ocasio-Cortez, Chief-of-Staff Removed as Governors of Justice Democrats PAC.” Washington Free Beacon. March 19, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://freebeacon.com/politics/ocasio-cortez-chief-of-staff-removed-as-governors-of-justice-democrats-pac/. ^
  36. Lachman, Samantha. “Former Bernie Sanders Staffers Seek To Elect A ‘Brand New Congress’.” Huffington Post. April 27, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/bernie-sanders-congress_n_5720e608e4b0b49df6a9c933. ^
  37. Bowman, Bridget. “What’s Next for Sanders Backers? Replace the Entire Congress!” Roll Call. July 29, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.rollcall.com/news/whats-next-sanders-backers-replace-entire-congress. ^
  38. Guttenplan, D.D. “What’s Next for Bernie Sanders’s Grassroots Army?” The Nation. June 02, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/whats-next-for-bernie-sanderss-grassroots-army/. ^
  39. McConnell, Mitch. “Tweet by Leader McConnell.” Twitter. March 25, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://twitter.com/senatemajldr/status/1110289975386492929. ^
  40. “The Green New Deal: Scope, Scale, and Implications.” AAF. February 25, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/the-green-new-deal-scope-scale-and-implications/. ^
  41. Taylor, Matthew. “Labour Members Launch Green New Deal Inspired by US Activists.” The Guardian. March 22, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/22/labour-members-launch-green-new-deal-inspired-by-us-activists. ^
  42. Martin, Iain. “Tories Need to Wise up to McDonnell’s Plans.” Comment | The Times. February 15, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tories-need-to-wise-up-to-mcdonnell-s-plans-8mlmlnfhq. ^
  43. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  44. Exley, Zack. “LinkedIn – Zack Exley.” LinkedIn. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zackexley/. ^
  45. “Zack Exley.” Open Society Foundations. January 16, 2019. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/about/programs/open-society-fellowship/grantees/zack-exley. ^
  46. “Rules for Revolutionaries.” Rules for Revolutionaries. Accessed April 16, 2019. http://www.rulesforrevolutionaries.org/. ^
  See an error? Let us know!