George Soros

Billionaire financier George Soros helped launch Democracy Alliance, an organization that advises wealthy liberal donors. The alliance is urging its members to invest tens of millions in groups working to help Democrats regain influence in state legislatures. (Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

By Matea Gold
April 12, 2015 at 9:00 PM

SAN FRANCISCO — A cadre of wealthy liberal donors aims to pour tens of millions of dollars into rebuilding the left’s political might in the states, racing to catch up with a decades-old conservative effort that has reshaped statehouses across the country.

The plan embraced by the Democracy Alliance, an organization that advises some of the Democrats’ top contributors, puts an urgent new focus on financing groups that can help the party regain influence in time for the next congressional redistricting process, after the 2020 elections. The blueprint approved by the alliance board calls on donors to help expand state-level organizing and lobbying for measures addressing climate change, voting rights and economic inequality.

“People have gotten a wake-up call,” Gara LaMarche, the alliance’s president, said in an interview. “The right is focused on the state level, and even down-ballot, and has made enormous gains. We can’t have the kind of long-term progressive future we want if we don’t take power in the states.”

The five-year initiative, called 2020 Vision, will be discussed this week at a private conference being held at a San Francisco hotel for donors who participate in the Democracy Alliance. Leading California Democrats are scheduled to make appearances, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Attorney General Kamala Harris. The alliance, which does not disclose its members, plans to make some of the events available to reporters via a webcast.

The gathering coincides with the long-awaited launch of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid, infusing the event with buzz about the 2016 race. Clinton, who was invited to attend, will instead be on her debut campaign swing. But her campaign chairman, John Podesta, who has worked closely with the alliance, is set to participate in events celebrating its decade-long history.

Much of the conference will focus on the alliance’s long-term strategy. The new plan calls on the group’s members, known as “partners,” to boost the amount they have collectively pumped annually into a core group of liberal organizations in recent years from $30 million to at least $50 million.

Among the 35 groups recommended for backing are a dozen new additions, including the Washington-based Ballot Initiative Strategy Center and the State Innovation Exchange, an organization that will lobby for liberal policies in the states. The alliance also is urging its members to help expand staffing for 20 state-level donor networks, a collaboration with the Committee on States, a low-profile sister group that helps coordinate such efforts.

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