What We Do

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a nationally-recognized watchdog that leads in-depth, award-winning investigations into the corruption that undermines our democracy, environment, and economic prosperity.

The Koch brothers and their network of billionaires are operating with a reach and resources that exceed those of political parties and they are using that power to erode the integrity of our elections and sap taxpayer dollars away from investments in public infrastructure, education, and healthcare to benefit narrow special interests and global corporations.

“Every day, companies and their front groups are spending millions of dollars to benefit narrow corporate interests in ways that hurt the lives and livelihoods of people in every state – and they are trying to do this from the shadows. Our investigative work is focused on giving regular people a clear view into the deep-pocketed billionaires, pay-to-play groups and corporations that that are damaging our democratic institutions.”   – Lisa Graves, Executive Director of  CMD

CMD’s investigations, public information requests, and lawsuits have ignited national conversations on money in politics and the distortion of U.S. law and democracy – at every level of government and in every region of the country. We believe in the public’s right to know how government operates and how corporations influence our democracy – and the true motivations for their actions. When necessary, CMD litigates to defend that right and ensure those in power follow the law.

Since CMD first exposed ALEC in 2011, more than 100 corporations have dropped ALEC, including Ford, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Electric, and Google. As a result of that ongoing investigation and other reporting, CMD is often contacted by whistleblowers wanting to make a difference. CMD has also researched the array of groups that are part of ALEC, including numerous Koch-funded entities and national and state "think tanks" that are affiliated with the State Policy Network.

CMD files more than 1,000 public information requests each year. This investigative watchdog work has broken through in the national debate. For example, CMD exposed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s deep ties to the fossil fuel industry and revealed lobbyist efforts to hide Chamber of Commerce members’ overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave, among other groundbreaking investigations.

Our work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, POLITICO, the Guardian, Bloomberg, WIRED, Vice, The Atlantic and Buzzfeed as well as on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR, The Daily Show, and Last Week with John Oliver. We also partner with investigative writers at The Intercept and ProPublica to publish new reports and findings.

“…watchdog group that studie[s] the mechanics of political manipulation.” – Jane Mayer, Dark Money

“[CMD’s] requests are of federal importance.” – Sens. Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth

“…Graves, the DYNAMO who is now breaking it down about ALEC.” Ava Duvernay, director of The 13TH

Awards

CMD's investigations have been recognized for their excellence and impact. Our recent awards for investigative journalism include:

  • the "Izzy" I.F. Stone Award for outstanding achievement in independent media (shared with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous) from the Park Center for Independent Media;
  • the Sidney Award (shared jointly with The Nation) from the Sidney Hillman Foundation; and
  • the annual Professional Freedom and Responsibility Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Culture and Critical Studies Division, whose past recipients include Izzy Stone, Bill Moyers, and Molly Ivins.
  • and a "Benny" from the Business Ethics Network.

CMD has also been honored by the Milwaukee Press Club for one of its investigations into shadowy front groups influencing elections.

CMD's research was featured in Ava DuVernay's film "The 13th," which was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

How We Expose Corruption

CMD puts a spotlight hidden and unreported activities, forcing those trying to maneuver around the edges of laws and ethics out of the shadows. Our original research digs deeper than the 24-hour news cycle to answer and understand why and how special interests and dark money are reshaping American politics and elections. Our team focuses on documenting the facts and revealing the effects on communities and people in areas ranging from climate change and education to workplace standards and freedom of speech.

CMD’s groundbreaking exposés are featured on ExposedbyCMD.org. The watchdog also publishes SourceWatch, an encyclopedia of corporations, corporate special interest groups and their leaders; specialized investigative websites, including ALECExposed.org; and its founding website, PRWatch.org.

Ground-breaking books by writers from the Center for Media and Democracy include:

Governance and Funding

CMD was founded in 1993 in Madison, Wisconsin, and since mid-2009 it has been led by Lisa Graves, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice and Chief Counsel for Nominations for the Chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. CMD's team includes researchers, data experts, FOIA experts, lawyers, and fact-checkers. CMD is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit.

Here is CMD’s Board of Directors: David Merrit, Inger Stole, Jan Miyasaki, Ellen Braune, Deborah Bey, Clarisa Long, Cosmo Harrigan, and Lisa Graves.

The following foundations have provided at least one grant of $5,000 or more to support the work of CMD since its inception in 1993. Those listed in bold are recent funders.

  • American Legacy Foundation • Bauman Family Foundation • Careth Foundation • Carolyn Foundation • Changing Horizons Charitable Trust • Courtney's Foundation • CS Fund • Deer Creek Foundation • Educational Foundation of America • Ettinger Foundation • Ford Foundation • Foundation for Deep Ecology • Foundation for Political Management • Funding Exchange • Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund • Grodzins Fund• Helena Rubinstein Foundation • HKH Foundation • Litowitz Foundation • Marisla Foundation• Mostyn Foundation • Open Society Institute • Park Foundation • Public Welfare Foundation • Proteus Fund • V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation • Rockefeller Associates • Rockefeller Family Foundation • Rockwood Fund • Stern Family Fund • Schumann Center for Media and Democracy • Sunlight Foundation • Threshold Foundation • Tides Foundation • Town Creek Foundation • Turner Foundation • Wallace Global Fund • Winslow Foundation

Contributions from individuals and non-profit organizations are accepted. We accept no grants from government agencies or for-profit corporations, except for CREDO, which makes donations to nonprofits based on votes by its activists and customers.

CMD does not accept funding from for-profit corporations or grants from government agencies. Learn how you can help support and expand CMD’s groundbreaking investigations here.