Center for Media and Democracy

Not to be confused with the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.
Center for Media and Democracy
Abbreviation CMD
Formation 1993
Type Nonprofit organization
Purpose Investigative journalism and advocacy journalism
Region served
United States
Executive director
Lisa Graves
$1,007,545 (2014)[1]
11 (2015)[2]

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy organization based in Madison, Wisconsin.[3][4][5][5][6][7] CMD publishes PR Watch, SourceWatch, BanksterUSA, and


CMD was founded in 1993 by progressive writer John Stauber in Madison, Wisconsin. Lisa Graves is president of CMD.[2][8] Author Sheldon Rampton was formerly an editor of PR Watch.

In a report released on April 6, 2006, CMD listed information on 77 television stations that it said had broadcast video news releases (VNRs) in the prior 10 months. CMD said that in each case the television station actively disguised the VNR content to make it appear to be its own reporting, and that in more than one-third of the cases, the stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety. In August 2006, the Federal Communications Commission mailed formal letters to the owners of the 77 television stations, asking for information regarding agreements between the stations and the creators of VNRs, and asking whether there was any "consideration" given to the stations in return for airing the material.[9][10][11][12]

In 2014, CMD merged with The Progressive, a progressive monthly magazine, but separated after six months.[13]

CMD has investigated and reported on donor-advised funds, referring to such donations as a form of "dark money". According to the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, CMD is a recipient of donor-advised funds via the Schwab Charitable Fund.[14]


The New York Times referred to CMD as a watchdog organization.[15][16][17] The Washington Post described CMD as "a liberal organization that tracks the use of public relations by corporations and politicians."[18] A May 2012 article in Isthmus, an alternative weekly newspaper based in Madison, Wisconsin, referred to CMD as an "activist group".[2] A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political columnist referred to CMD as "left-wing" and "liberal."[19] CMD was referred to as "uber-liberal" by the conservative news website[20]

CMD describes itself as a "non-profit investigative reporting group" with a "focus on exposing corporate spin and government propaganda."[21][22]

Advocacy activities

CMD has been referred to as a "liberal advocacy group" by The Des Moines Register, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Wisconsin State Journal, and the La Crosse Tribune of La Crosse, Wisconsin.[3][4][5][5][6]

CMD has advocated against the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch brothers.[23][24]

Online projects

PR Watch is CMD's investigative reporting website.[21]

ALEC Exposed

CMD hosts the ALEC Exposed website, which is a wiki focusing on the American Legislative Exchange Council.[25] The "ALEC Exposed" project was featured in the 2012 Bill Moyers documentary film, United States of ALEC.[26][27]


CMD hosts the wiki SourceWatch.[28] According to the project's website, it "aims to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interest groups."[29] CMD sets the editorial and security policies under which SourceWatch operates.[29][30] Unlike Wikipedia, SourceWatch does not require a "neutral point of view."[31]

From 2006 to 2009, SourceWatch hosted Congresspedia, a wiki that was funded by the Sunlight Foundation and intended to document the activities of the United States Congress.[32][33]


CMD states that it accepts donations from "individuals and philanthropic foundations through gifts and grants", but "no funding from for-profit corporations or grants from government agencies." It maintains a partial list of supporters on its website.[21]

In a column for Fox News, Dan Gainor wrote that BanksterUSA received $200,000 from the Open Society Institute (OSI), a grantmaking network founded by George Soros, aimed to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform.[34] CMD stated that it received a grant from OSI "to continue work on national security issues".[21]

Fox News reported that in 2011 CMD received $864,740 in donations. $520,000, or 60% of 2011's total revenue, was received from the Schwab Charitable Fund, a donor advised fund which preserves the anonymity of donors by not disclosing individual donor names.[35]

According to the conservative news website, the Tides Foundation, a foundation known to donate primarily to liberal organizationsCitation needed, reported giving CMD $160,000 in 2011, but that money did not appear on CMD's tax return. When asked why CMD heavily criticizes conservative organizations for not revealing their donors while refusing to name all of CMD's funders, CMD's president Lisa Graves said, “The question of conservative funders versus liberal funders, I think, is a matter of false equivalency.” [20]

In June 2014, Politico reported that the Center for Media and Democracy was a recipient of funding through the Democracy Alliance, a network of progressive donors.[36][37]


CMD and progressive magazine The Nation shared a September 2011 Sidney Award, an award given by The Sidney Hillman Foundation in recognition of "socially-conscious journalism", for "ALEC Exposed."[38]

In 2012, CMD received an Izzy Award, given by the Roy H. Park School of Communications of Ithaca College for special achievement in independent media, and a Professional Freedom and Responsibility Award, given by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, for the "ALEC Exposed" project.[39][40][41]


  1. "IRS Form 990 2014" (PDF). GuideStar. Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 "Exposing ALEC: The Center for Media and Democracy goes after the right-wing powerhouse". Isthmus. 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  3. 1 2 Matthew DeFour - Wisconsin State Journal. "Leah Vukmir agrees to turn over ALEC documents to settle open records lawsuit".
  4. 1 2 Lee Enterprises. "Ameren fends off activist shareholder proposals".
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Progress Iowa calls on state lawmakers to cut ties with conservative group ALEC". The Des Moines Register.
  6. 1 2 La Crosse Tribune
  7. Mayer, Jane (2013-11-14). "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  8. "Exposing ALEC: How Conservative-Backed State Laws Are All Connected". The Atlantic. 2012-04-14. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  9. "TV Stations' 'Fake News' Scrutinized". CBS News. Associated Press. August 16, 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-17.
  10. Roland, Neil (May 25, 2006). "U.S. FCC Probes Local TV Stations Airing Ads as News (Update3)". Bloomberg News. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  11. Shields, Todd (August 21, 2006). "Fake out: FCC warns stations about airing video news releases". Mediaweek.
  12. Farsetta, Diane; Price, Daniel (April 6, 2006). "Fake TV news: Widespread and undisclosed" (PDF). Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  13. Conniff, Ruth (November 2014). "Pulling Together, Saying Goodbye". The Progressive. 78 (11). p. 5.
  14. Craver, Jack (December 7, 2013). "Progressive watchdog group gets two big anonymous donations". Capital Times. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  15. Ivry, Sara (April 16, 2007). "Now on YouTube: The Latest News From Al Jazeera, in English". New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2015. ..the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog organization...
  16. Warner, Melanie (June 12, 2005). "Striking Back At the Food Police". New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2015. A watchdog group...
  17. "Corrections". New York Times. June 19, 2005. the headquarters...of the Center for Media and Madison WI
  18. O'Harrow, Robert (2008-05-31). "McCain Campaign Calls; a Nonprofit Steps In". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
  19. "Liberal organization links Wisconsin bills to Koch-funded group". Milwaukee Journal. 2011-07-13. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  20. 1 2 Richards, Tori (2014-01-02). "Shadowy funders build liberal war chest to unseat governor". Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  21. 1 2 3 4 "About Us". Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  22. "Center for Media and Democracy About". Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  23. Graves, Lisa (July 12, 2011). "ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection". The Nation. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  24. Davidoff, Judith (February 23, 2011). "Koch brothers quietly open lobbying office in downtown Madison". The Capital Times. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  25. "ALEC Exposed".
  26. Moyers, Bill (September 28, 2012). "United States of ALEC". Moyers & Company. Public Affairs Television. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  27. "The United States of ALEC: Bill Moyers on the Secretive Corporate-Legislative Body Writing Our Laws". Democracy Now!. September 27, 2012. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  28. "SourceWatch:Purpose". CMD. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  29. 1 2 "Editorial Policy," SourceWatch, last updated May 23, 2007, accessed June 25, 2007.
  30. For further information about editing and security policies, see also: "SourceWatch: How to Fix an Error", SourceWatch: "Errors and Complaints", and "Security", both accessed June 25, 2007.
  31. Donnelly, Katie (November 3, 2009). "10 Projects that Help Citizens Become Government Watchdogs". MediaShift. Retrieved 7 August 2015.
  32. "Portal:Congresspedia". Sourcewatch. Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  33. Miller, Ellen. "Two Great Sites That Go Well Together". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  34. "Left, Obama Escalate War on Banks Into Dangerous Territory". Fox News. 11 December 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  35. Richards, Tori (December 4, 2013). "Liberal 'media' group gets $520G dark money donation for war on right". Fox News. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  36. Vogel, Kenneth (2014-06-23). "Inside the vast liberal conspiracy". Politico. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  37. "Spring 2014 Democracy Alliance Investment Recommendations". Democracy Alliance. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  38. Sedlis, Julie (July 25, 2012). "The Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation Win September Sidney for "ALEC:Exposed," A Look Into the Secretive Collaboration Between Corporations and Politicians on State Legislation". The Sidney Hillman Foundation. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  39. "2012 Izzy Awards". WSKG. April 10, 2015. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  40. Michael, Catherine (March 27, 2012). "Izzy Award winners: Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Center for Media and Democracy". ALA Connect. American Library Association. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  41. Esch, Madeleine (Spring 2012). "Center for Media and Democracy Selected for 2012 PF&R Award" (PDF). Cultural and Critical Studies. Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Retrieved February 24, 2015.

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