Organization Trends

Grassroots Organizing Gone Corporate


The best way to reach people is always at home with a good old-fashioned grassroots campaign, and for years America’s left-leaning billionaire donors have sought to use their money to replicate one. The problem is that true grassroots activism requires a sincerity and local reputation that money can’t buy. Additionally, grassroots work often centers around single-issue goals specific to local communities, making it hard to coordinate on a large scale.

To overcome this problem America’s uber-rich have found a crafty alternative. Instead of trying to create grassroots activism from scratch, they have used their money to buy influence over local groups that already exist. During the 2020 election cycle, three interconnected organizations—State Voices, America Votes, and ProgressNow—received more than $100 million from wealthy donors to fund phony grassroots organizing on a massive scale.

State Voices, America Votes, and ProgressNow

Enticing local activists to work with them with promises of money, allies, and sophisticated digital tools, State Voices, America Votes, and ProgressNow have built networks that give them some degree of control over grassroots activism on a massive scale.

State Voices, for example, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that oversees “civic engagement tables” in 22 states that have unassuming names such as Michigan Voices, ProGeorgia, and Blueprint North Carolina. These tables are coalitions of unrelated but like-minded left-leaning nonprofits within the state, and State Voices works to get them to cooperate, maximizing their impact to help win local policy battles on all fronts.

As a perk of joining the coalition, State Voices offers its members numerous benefits. For example, its Tools for All program promises local groups access to the sophisticated digital tools and databases used by national organizations. Membership in the civic engagement tables seems to come with the promise of money as well, since State Voices regrants millions of dollars each year to its state tables, and the state tables make many smaller grants to local members.

America Votes works in a very similar way. As a 501(c)(4) organization, it is allowed to spend money on lobbying and contributions to political action committees (PACs), which it does generously. It also operates a network of state-affiliate organizations that work year-round to keep voters engaged and to lobby for left-of-center voting and election reforms. According to the America Votes website, more than 400 state and local organizations have partnered with them, and many of these organizations appear on America Votes’s financial disclosures as the recipients of large grants.

Like America Votes, ProgressNow is also a 501(c)(4), but it operates a much larger 501(c)(3) wing called ProgressNow Education. Since it was founded in 2003, ProgressNow has developed a “network of state partner organizations to fill a unique and critical role in the progressive infrastructure of key states.” Along the way it has also compiled an email list of more than 4 million people and “generated thousands of news stories in local, state, and national press.”

Each group offers resources in exchange for cooperation, which affords them a high degree of control over what issues their member organizations choose to support. Over the years, each has created a “multi-issue progressive infrastructure” spanning dozens of states. But despite the similarities in their work, the 2020 election produced more than enough funding to go around for each of them.

Unprecedented Funding

With the start of the 2020 election cycle, State Voices, America Votes, and ProgressNow began to receive funding like never before.

In 2018, ProgressNow Education, ProgressNow’s 501(c)(3) wing, received roughly $1.7 million, and in 2019, its revenue dropped to just over $920,000. In 2020, the organization’s latest public disclosures show that it raked in $29.3 million. That’s a 3,000 percent increase.

The story was similar for America Votes and State Voices.

Since America Votes operates on a June–July fiscal calendar, dividing funding by calendar year is difficult. But from mid-2017 to mid-2018, America Votes raised about $12.6 million. By mid-2019, as the election cycle began, America Votes had raised $63.7 million more, increasing its revenue fivefold in just a year. Recent reports featuring leaked documents show that America Votes continued to fundraise well in 2020, earning $29.3 million from mid-2019 to mid-2020, for a combined revenue of roughly $90 million from the start of the election cycle in 2019.

State Voices, already a well-established organization before the election, raised $9.8 million in 2018 and a whopping $15.4 million in 2019. Although its financial disclosures from 2020 are not yet publicly available, the organization has stated that 2020 was a record-breaking year. State Voices’s post-election 2020 report claims “State Voices raised and regranted more money than ever before. This included $9.4 million that we regranted to support on-the-ground organizing and electoral justice work at our 23 State Tables.” Given that State Voices regranted just $3.2 million in 2019, it likely tripled its revenue during 2020.

During 2020, billionaire donors were clearly willing to shell out more than ever before to pay for the appearance of grassroots activism, and their investments appear to have paid off. Their success is hard to measure accurately, but the State Voices post-election report claims that its network contacted over 228 million voters and registered 2.1 million people to vote. If America Votes and ProgressNow were as active, the three were a serious force in the 2020 election.

Grassroots or Swamp Vines?

The donors behind these three groups make it clear that they have more in common with the tangled vines of the DC political swamp than with  homegrown grassroots activists.

Prominent donors to State Voices include the Hopewell and New Venture Funds, creations of the shadowy Arabella Advisors consulting firm, one of the Left’s largest “dark money” organizations. Other large grants, approximately $1 million each, come from the Tides Foundation and NEO Philanthropy, two of the Left’s largest pass-through entities. State Voices also received millions of dollars from the Voter Registration Project and the Voter Registration Project Education Fund, two secretive organizations bankrolled by billionaire donors that exclusively fund “nonpartisan” voter registration in swing states.

America Votes has a similarly deep-pocketed roster of donors, receiving $14 million in 2019 from Majority Forward, a “dark money” organization closely tied to Chuck Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC. America Votes also received funding from Arabella Advisors groups, receiving a $2.1 million dollar grant from the New Venture Fund and a $7 million grant from the Sixteen Thirty Fund during 2019.

The donors behind ProgressNow Education’s remarkable $29 million funding spike during 2020 are still uncertain, but the organization has received large grants from the same sources as State Voices and America Votes, including NEO Philanthropy, the Tides Foundation, and the New Venture Fund.

The ties between State Voices, America Votes, and ProgressNow are strong, and that makes sense. The three groups essentially work as sheep dogs for the well-endowed political interests of Washington. DC. Together, they herd grassroots activist groups of all sizes together to create a hegemonic “intersectional” organizing machine that operates year-round and reaches far beyond one-issue advocacy.

Voices Vote Now

Leaked documents from as far back as 2014 show that the ties among the three groups run far deeper than their overlapping missions and donors. They are all members of the shadowy left-leaning Democracy Alliance.

Created in 2005, the Democracy Alliance has been called “the country’s most powerful liberal donor club.” The group meets in secret every year to help its billionaire members decide which political organizations to fund and to set the Left’s political agenda for the year. A briefing book for the Democracy Alliance’s 2014 meeting, obtained by Politico, revealed that State Voices, America Votes, and ProgressNow were all aligned with the Democracy Alliance and funded by its members.

A side note in the briefing book’s introduction for each group reveals yet another connection among the three. In 2014, the three groups formed Voices Vote Now (VVN), a political consulting firm that would “share backend operations” among the groups.

Voices Vote Now, a clever fusion of the groups’ names, appears to be in operation to this day. Its website shows that it works closely with State Voices and America Votes and that it specializes in helping organizations use massive voter contact databases such as NGP VAN and Catalist, the closely guarded electioneering superweapons of the Democratic Party and its allies.

VVN’s origins reveal another disturbing truth about these organizations. They are not only working together to indirectly control hundreds of left-leaning “grassroots” groups but also probably gathering the data from the millions of voters reached and registered by their member organizations and entering that data into the Democratic Party’s mega-databases for future use.

Local Activists in Lockstep with National Leaders

Clearly there is nothing “grassroots” about State Voices, America Votes, or ProgressNow except their camouflage, and the same can be said of their many state-based puppet organizations. The influence they have consolidated over local activism groups by leveraging their resources is concerning and warrants further attention. Because of these organizations, there is a good chance that your friendly neighborhood activists are less local than even they know.

Parker Thayer

Parker Thayer is a research assistant at Capital Research Center. A native of Michigan, he recently graduated from Hillsdale College.
+ More by Parker Thayer