Step One: Raise $$$

Democratic Donors Gather in D.C. to Plot the Resistance

Democratic donors, activists, and leaders will huddle in D.C. this week to map out their long road back to relevance.

03.21.17 5:15 AM ET

The Democratic Party’s top officials will meet with some of their wealthiest donors in Washington, D.C., this week to plot the Trump resistance, according to documents obtained by The Daily Beast.

The chairs of the Democratic National Committee and the party’s House and Senate campaign arms will huddle with activists, operatives, and deep-pocketed Democratic financiers at a biannual conference hosted by the Democracy Alliance, a leading left-wing donor collaborative at Washington’s ritzy Mandarin Oriental hotel.

They will discuss strategy for immediate opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies, begin laying the groundwork for Democratic campaigns in next year’s midterm elections, strategize future efforts for congressional redistricting, and promote an agenda focused on the state level, where Democrats still retain some power and hope to build a model for national progressive victories. And perhaps most importantly, map out how to fully fund their opposition to all things Trump.

“The early days of the Trump administration are reaffirming our worst fears—that his presidency represents not just a victory for conservatism but an assault on the norms and institutions that sustain a vibrant democracy,” declares an agenda for the conference, which runs from Wednesday to Saturday. “Yet the early resistance to the Trump agenda has been swift, steadfast, and multifaceted, including mass mobilizations, citizen activism, and swift legal action from ethics watchdogs and state attorneys general.”

The Alliance brings together high-dollar liberal donors—individuals, labor unions, and charitable foundations—that pledge to give at least $200,000 annually to a suite of left-wing organizations. Through its “partners,” as the donors are known internally, the Alliance in 2015 raised $75 million for its supported organizations, an annual record for the group.

Alliance-backed organizations include some of the most prominent liberal groups currently running high-level campaigns opposing the Trump White House and Republican policies at the federal level.

Those include the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy shop that has turned its 501(c)(4) arm into an anti-Trump “war room,” and Media Matters for America, a media-focused rapid response group that has recently retooled its efforts toward “fake news” and pro-Trump disinformation.

The Alliance met shortly after the election, where its donors and allied organizations, still reeling from Trump’s November victory, began devising strategies for the opposition.

On Wednesday, conference attendees will mingle at a welcome reception with Rep. Keith Ellison, the new vice-chairman of the DNC, and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

At a reception the following day, attendees will hear from former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, the DNC’s new chairman.

And on Friday, the Alliance will host what it describes as “the first in a regular series of off-the-record dialogues between progressive political donors and Democratic Party officials about the future.”

That event will feature the chairs of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, respectively—and the executive directors of both groups.

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Those officials will be on hand to answer donors’ “questions about the Democratic Party’s plans for winning in 2018 and beyond,” according to the conference agenda.

Donors in attendance will include Michael Vachon, a top aide to billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros; health care technology mogul Paul Egerman; Dallas philanthropist Naomi Aberly; Susan Sandler, the daughter of subprime mortgage pioneer Herb Sandler; and Ian Simmons, the husband of Hyatt hotel fortune heiress Liesel Pritzker Simmons.

The Alliance’s donors have recently had to step up their financial commitments as the group retools its mission from policymaking by way of an allied White House to opposition to Republican dominance at all levels of government.

In addition to their annual contribution thresholds, Alliance partners must chip in to support the donor collaborative’s operations. Partner dues increased by between $5,000 and $10,000 this year to support the Alliance’s revamped mission, BuzzFeed News reported in January.

Though that mission’s immediate goal is resistance to the Republican agenda broadly, it is disproportionately focused on the state rather than the federal level. Of the 37 on-site events scheduled for this week’s conference, 19 focus on state and local politics and policies as either a model for action at the federal level or an integral component of that action.

That dovetails with recent Alliance strategy, which has focused on reversing dramatic Democratic losses at the state level ahead of the 2020 census and redistricting process. The Alliance considers a Democrat-friendly round of redistricting essential to future progressive policy gains.

But its focus on the states also illustrates the lack of policy opportunities for a group that has suddenly found itself devoid of allies at the federal level with any ability to implement policy.

Some conference events focused on opposing Trump and congressional Republicans even couch the fights as state-level contests.

“Although the autopsy of the 2016 election is still being written, there are historical voting trends that provide insight into the results and forecasts looking ahead for how we can begin to build back power state by state,” the description of one event featuring the chief executive of Democratic data firm Catalist says.

Another event, featuring Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, will examine the “opportunity, spurred by the enormous energy of ordinary people taking grassroots action, to oppose the Trump agenda and how to channel this energy for a change in the nation’s political direction, starting with building back power and winning critical state elections in 2017 and 2018.”

On Friday, conference attendees will move off site to a number of breakout sessions at Washington-area restaurants and the homes of Alliance allies.

The first of those break-out sessions will plot “strategy and plans to protect the safety net for low-income families and individuals.” Among its attendees will be the director of US Programs for Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

That discussion will be held at Washington’s elite Cosmos Club, whose members—which have included three U.S. presidents, two vice presidents, and 12 Supreme Court justices—pay annual dues of about $2,000.