A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Democracy for America


Political leanings: Democratic/Liberal

Spending target: Not stated

Democracy for America was founded by Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004 and who served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 through 2009. It is an old-fashioned political action committee — not a “super PAC” — that is limited to donations of $5,000 or less from individuals and other political committees, and cannot legally accept donations from business corporations or labor unions. It discloses the identities of donors in reports to the Federal Election Commission.

Since its founding it has spent relatively little on TV ads and advertising. It raised nearly $7.2 million in the two-year 2010 election cycle, but reported spending a paltry $21,193 in independent expenditures — all of it opposing Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who crushed his Democratic opponent by nearly a 2-1 ratio anyway. In 2011, in a departure from past practice, it teamed with another liberal group to launch a TV ad campaign against Republican state Sens. Alberta Darling and Luther Olsen in Aug. 9 recall elections in Wisconsin, where a fight over Republican attempts to cut the state budget and limit the collective bargaining rights of unionized state and local employees drew national attention. Olsen and Darling survived the recall attempts.

As of June 30, the group reported raising $6.5 million for the 2012 election cycle and spending about $5.9 million.

Instead of running big advertising campaigns, Democracy for America has traditionally focused on endorsing candidates at all levels, “from School Board to the Presidency,” and running training “academies” for liberal candidates, campaign workers and activists. DFA claims to have more than a million members nationwide. Its stated goal is “to change our country and the Democratic Party from the bottom-up.” It says it is “building a grassroots infrastructure of skilled progressive activists in all 50 states.” Its chairman is Howard Dean’s brother, Jim.

Update, July 26: We updated this item to reflect campaign finance data through June 30, 2012.