Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — A network of some of the nation’s wealthiest Democratic donors is weighing providing money and support to several of the new activist groups that have cropped up since Election Day to challenge President Trump and his agenda.
Organizers of January’s Women’s March on Washington and leaders of Indivisible will make presentations later this week to the Democracy Alliance when the influential donor coalition holds its private spring meeting in Washington, the group’s president Gara LaMarche said.
LaMarche said he already has sought to connect alliance contributors to Indivisible, one of the groups at the forefront of anti-Trump efforts. Its organizers, led by former Democratic congressional aides, have created a how-to manual “for resisting the Trump agenda” that is modeled on conservative Tea Party tactics and has encouraged shows of opposition at congressional town hall meetings.
More than 5,500 local groups are using the guide to fight administration policies, organizers say.
“Everybody is impressed by what’s come up in a grassroots sense and doing what we can to support that and connect that up to a larger infrastructure,” LaMarche told USA TODAY.
The alliance, aligned with billionaire financier George Soros, also is weighing building a pool of money that can be deployed for “rapid response” work by other liberal groups on an array of issues, such as challenging the Trump administration on the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Any decision by the alliance to recommend financial backing for anti-Trump groups likely will spark conservative outcry.
In a recent Fox News interview, for instance, White House spokesman Sean Spicer called the liberal activism at sometimes rowdy congressional town halls a “very paid, Astroturf-type movement.” Trump himself tweeted that many of the “so-called angry crowds” confronting Republicans were “planned out by liberal activists.”
Ezra Levin, a former congressional aide who helped start Indivisible with his wife, Leah Greenberg, and other ex-Capitol Hill staffers, said the group is “is very much led on the ground” by activists who are determined to take action against Trump and is not under the sway of any one donor or group.
Levin said the group has received more than 10,000 donations totaling more than $500,000 since last January through ActBlue, a fundraising engine for liberal candidates and causes. Levin said the group wants to continue to have a broad fundraising base, even as it looks to groups such as the Democracy Alliance for additional help.
“We’re certainly not looking for anybody to own it by providing like some kind of enormous amount,” he said. “That’s not our model.”
“If the Democracy Alliance and other folks in this space … are interested in supporting a broad movement that is fundamentally led at the ground level,” he added, “we think the movement needs their support.”
Levin and Greenberg, both of whom worked on Capitol Hill during the rise of the Tea Party, and a couple dozen volunteers helped draft their 23-page anti-Trump guide, which was posted as a Google document two weeks before Christmas.
It quickly went viral and has become a manual on how to pressure lawmakers that Levin said is now used by groups registered in every congressional district. That growth, he said, “mostly speaks to the level of energy out there and the sheer scale of the opposition to this president’s agenda.”
It’s not unusual for established political organization to align with activists. Conservative groups — such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch Koch — worked with Tea Party-fueled activists to aggressively oppose former President Barack Obama’s agenda, helping fuel a Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.
Time for liberal donors to ‘do more’
In recent years, the Democracy Alliance has focused on supporting a network of liberal groups working on long-term issues, such as boosting voting rights and increasing the minimum wage. It also has made a big investment in building liberal power in the states ahead of the 2020 Census, which will shape the next round of legislative redistricting. The GOP redistricting successes after the last Census in 2010 helped cement Republican power in Congress and the states.
Although next week’s “Resist and Rebuild” conference will include discussion of the new groups mobilizing to oppose Trump, LaMarche said the goal is not to divert money away from the alliance’s core focus. Instead, donors may be asked to give additional sums to help back the new anti-Trump work and the expanded operations at the state level.
“In a time like this, people have to step up and do more, particularly since some of the traditional sources of support for progressive causes like labor have their own challenges,” he said.
The alliance, formed in 2005, has close ties to some of the biggest names in liberal politics. Soros helped found the group along with Taco Bell heir Rob McKay and other wealthy Democrats. The network does not release the names of its donors, but other contributors identified with the group have included Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist from California who contributed more than $90 million to politically active super PACs in the 2016 election cycle.
The alliance does not donate directly to groups. Instead, its 120 or so donors — officially termed “partners” — pay annual dues to the alliance. They also are required to contribute at least $200,000 a year to organizations the alliance recommends.
Those groups currently include the Obama-aligned Organizing for Action, the liberal Center for American Progress think tank and Color of Change, whose political action arm last year successfully pressured several big corporations to boycott the Republican National Convention over Trump’s rhetoric about women, Muslims and Latinos.
The Democracy Alliance’s spring gathering will be preceded by a two-day, invitation-only summit. The summit, which opens Wednesday, will focus exclusively on liberal efforts to win back political power in the states, where Republicans currently control 33 governors’ mansions
About 420 people are expected to attend the summit, dubbed “A Time for Action,” marking the largest gathering in the alliance’s 12-year-history.
LaMarche said about 200 alliance “partners” and others will attend the main conference, following the summit. Topics will include strategies for regaining ground with the working-class voters who backed Trump.
Both events are closed to the public.