The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) was originally established in 2012. On January 1, 2014 the Leadership Center for the Common Good merged with, and became part of, CPD. A leading backer of that merger was AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who said at the time: “The new, expanded Center for Popular Democracy is a vitally important addition to the social justice landscape … aggressively innovating and replicating public policies that expand rights and opportunities for workers, for immigrants, and for people of color.”
Composed, in part, of old local chapters of the now-defunct national community organization ACORN, CPD views the United States as a nation “suffering an acute crisis of democracy, opportunity and equality”; a country where “workers are earning less and are increasingly insecure”; where “wage theft is rampant”; where “too many workers must cobble together irregular, part-time jobs without benefits”; and where the decline of private-sector unionization has left “workers and their broader economic opportunity in jeopardy.”
CPD's mission is to work with likeminded "progressive" organizations and labor unions across the United States to promote policy agendas designed to address the aforementioned problems and advance “equity, opportunity, and a dynamic democracy.” Generally, the solutions proposed by CPD call for heavy doses of government intervention and taxpayer funding.
CPD's work focuses on the following major concerns:
Capacity Building: In an effort to increase “the strength and capacity of democratic, base-building organizations working for equity, opportunity and racial justice,” CPD helps such groups develop vital skills related to management, fundraising, technology, communications strategies, infrastructure, and alliance formation.
Building Strategic Networks: Through the development of “dynamic networks” that share and coordinate strategies, tactics, and activist campaigns, CPD aims to help build an ever-more vibrant “progressive movement.”
Economic Justice: CPD seeks to provide workers with strategies, organizing skills, information, and legal support to help them face the “daunting challenges” presented by the injustices allegedly inherent in free-market economic systems. The Center cites “stagnant wages,” “outright wage theft,” “budget constraints,” and “corporate profiteering” as particularly intransigent obstacles to the growth of “a broader workers’ movement for social justice.” High on CPD's list of priorities is the passage of minimum-wage hikes and living-wage laws.
Community Justice: Lamenting that “low-income communities persistently lack decent housing and adequate community infrastructure,” CPD aims to secure public funding for “critical” campaigns designed to help them. "Fair housing" — i.e., taxpayer-subsidized dwellings for low-income families — "is a right," the Center and its supporters steadfastly maintain. In this regard, particular emphasis is given to the needs of "communities of color."
Immigrant Rights: Denouncing everything from “punitive federal immigration-enforcement measures that tear apart families, to systematic inequalities in the provision of services and legal protections at a state and local level,” CPD calls for “a robust immigrant-integration agenda ... in the areas of labor, civil rights, language access, and access to legal services and educational opportunities.” Above all, the Center seeks to advance “the national campaign for comprehensive federal immigration reform” which would provide a path-to-citizenship for almost everyone currently living in the U.S. illegally.
Public Education: To create conditions where “all children have access to strong public schools,” CPD favors ever-higher levels of funding for public education—at the expense of initiatives like school vouchers that would siphon some of that money into the private sector. The Center adamantly opposes school privatization.
Racial Justice: Noting that a “new majority” of “people of color” have begun to wield unprecedented levels of “electoral and political power,” CPD seeks to ensure that “the growing strength of this new majority is solidified, expanded, and harnessed to achieve tangible improvements in working people’s lives.”
Voting Rights: CPD condemns “restrictive voting laws”—such as voter ID requirements and the “criminalization of third-party registration”—that allegedly constitute “increased barriers to the ballot box” for poor and nonwhite people. To address these concerns, the Center seeks to use policy research and development, grassroots mobilization, and coalition-building to create “an electoral system that is open and accessible” to all.
In June 2013, CPD strongly objected to a Supreme Court ruling which held that a Voting Rights Act provision that required mainly Southern states to undergo special federal scrutiny before being permitted to amend their election laws in any way, was based on an outdated formula that was no longer relevant to changing racial circumstances.
CPD also complains passionately about “corporations exerting an ever-larger influence on who wins elections.” At issue, here, is the Center's opposition to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that left intact a federal law prohibiting corporations and unions from making campaign contributions to politicians, but nullified a provision that barred such entities from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns. The Court maintained that the First Amendment prohibits Congress from censoring any entity's right to engage in, or to fund, political speech.
Among CPD's more noteworthy partner organizations are the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Friends Service Committee, CASA de Maryland, the Center for Community Change, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Demos, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Progressive States Network, and the Service Employees International Union. To view a list of all CPD partner groups, click here.
Key funders of CPD's work include the Bauman Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foudation, the New York Community Trust, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Surdna Foundation.
As of mid-2014, CPD had 38 staffers on its payroll and maintained offices in New York City and Washington, DC.
CPD derives the bulk of its funding from the billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
CPD's co-executive director, Andrew Friedman, co-founded Make the Road New York (MRNY), a Latino immigrant group that has worked alongside CPD on a number of campaigns against Republican President Donald Trump. A number of other CPD leaders have direct ties to the now-defunct ACORN. Some examples:
The Washington Free Beacon reports that CPD, MRNY, and NYCC, "which have combined to receive millions in funding from George Soros, funnel money to each other." For example, from 2012-14, NYCC gave $81,700 to CPD and $358,533 to MRNY. During that same period, CPD gave $406,667 to NYCC and $173,955 to MRNY, while CPD's Action Fund gave another $100,000 to NYCC.
Adds the Free Beacon: "CPD and MRNY have been extremely active in the anti-Trump arena, using protests and pressure campaigns. The two groups recently 'partnered' on a 'Corporate Backers of Hate' campaign that targeted JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Disney, IMB, Uber, Blackrock, and Blackstone, corporations they say could profit from President Trump's policies. The 'mass lobbying' campaign consists of directly pressuring higher ups at each company through emails and has been called 'unprecedented' by corporate responsibility experts."
CPD's sister organization, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, announced in May 2017 that it would be spearheading a new $80 million anti-Donald Trump network that would have a presence in 32 states and would collaborate with 48 local partners. The aim of this network would be to register and mobilize new voters, fight the enactment of Voter ID laws, and reconfigure voting districts in a way that would benefit Democrats in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.