What We Do

The Center for Media and Democracy is a national watchdog group that conducts in-depth investigations into corruption and the undue influence of corporations on media and democracy. 

The findings of CMD's investigative journalism are regularly cited by the leading national and state newspapers in the U.S., including the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Washington Post. CMD's reporting is credited by news shows on major broadcast stations including HBO, Showtime, PBS, NBC, CBS, and others, and has also been featured on in-depth news programs, such as Moyers & Company, Democracy Now, and the Thom Hartmann Show, as well as NPR and other public broadcasting agencies, such as the BBC and CBC.

CMD is led by Lisa Graves, who formerly served as 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, among other strategic research and analysis roles in Washington, DC. Her vision and determination help drive CMD's substantive focus and the power of its credible story-telling. These exposés reveal how some of the most powerful corporations in the world manipulate public policy, elections, and some in the media in ways that undermine real democracy. 

CMD's breakthrough investigations of the Koch Brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its American City County Exchange (ACCE), the State Policy Network (SPN), and numerous corporations and corporate-front groups have sparked national debate and ignited waves of related reporting by other journalists in numerous outlets and in leading national magazines. CMD's reporting has also built on excellent investigative reports in magazines like the New Yorker, Mother Jones, and more.

CMD also publishes the online news journal, PRWatch; a specialized encyclopedia about corporations, their CEOs, and corporate-funded front groups, SourceWatch; a clearinghouse for news about ALEC and its award-winning investigation, ALECexposed.org; and other specialized investigative websites, like ALECclimatedenial.org.

CMD focuses on documenting key facts and revealing the impact of policies on ordinary people, not on what some PR spokesperson claims is true. With the cuts to newsrooms across the country, CMD's original and in-depth investigations are more important than ever in breaking through the spin of corporate-backed PR.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to help support our investigations, please click here.

Learn more about why characterizing CMD as a liberal partisan group are incorrect in the FAQ below.

Our 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.

To see what other journalists have said about CMD--including Bill Moyers, Amy Goodman, the late Molly Ivins and others--click here.

Our Team

CMD's Executive Director, Lisa Graves, has assembled a top-notch investigative and writing team that combines exceptionalresearch capacity with the ability to break stories and translate complex documentary evidence and policy issues into powerful narratives. She serves as CMD's editor-in-chief, working to ensure that CMD's stories use smart analysis, compelling language, and engaging images. CMD has a talented management team that can process a mountain of information and deliver excellent and timely special reports, along with in-house counsel to back up its investigative efforts. Here is more information about CMD's team.

CMD's Board of Directors consists of David Merritt, Inger Stole, Jan Miyasaki, Ellen Braune, Deborah Bey, Clarisa Long, Cosmo Harrigan, and Executive Director Lisa Graves.

CMD was founded by John Stauber, who led CMD until he retired to become an independent activist in late 2009. Stauber continued some projects with CMD into 2011.

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

Our History

Founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1993, CMD's original reporting helps educate the public and aids grassroots action about policies affecting people’s lives—our rights and the health of our democracy.

CMD publishes PRWatch.org, ALECexposed.org, SourceWatch.org, KOCHexposed.org, OutsourcingAmericaExposed.org, NFIBexposed.org, and other investigative sites, like StinkTanks.org.

Its newest collaborative website is ALECclimatechangedenial.org.

CMD launched ALECexposed.org in mid-2011, after a whistleblower gave CMD's Executive Director all of the ALEC bills secretly voted on by corporate lobbyists and elected officials, behind closed doors and out of the view of the public and the press.

CMD's ongoing investigation of ALEC--along with the corporations bankrolling its operations and "scholarships" for legislators to attend posh resorts where corporate lobbyists and elected officials vote behind closed doors on "model" legislation to change Americans' rights--has literally transformed the national conversation about these issues and has been featured in national and international TV and print, including in a documentary narrated by Bill Moyers: "United States of ALEC."

CMD also hosts CoalSwarm and FrackSwarm on CMD's SourceWatch website. CMD also partners with community groups and other research teams, including UnKoch My Campus and The Undercurrent, to help expose undue corporate influence on public institutions and our democracy.  

Sources and Uses of Contributions

CMD is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that accepts donations, such as gifts and grants. A copy of our most recent 990 filing is available by mail upon request.

The following foundations have provided at least one grant of $5,000 or more to support the work of the Center for Media and Democracy 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. If you would like to include CMD in your will, a bequest in the amount you specify may be directed to the Center for Media and Democracy  a nonprofit corporation, organized under the laws of the State of Wisconsin).

We accept no funding from for-profit corporations or grants from government agencies, except that CMD does accept funding from CREDO, which gives donations to nonprofits based on votes by its activists and customers, rather than by a corporate agenda.

You can contact CMD using the online contact form. You can also reach us by phone at 608-260-9713.


Is CMD a "Liberal Advocacy Group?" No, It Is a Non-Partisan Media Group.

Some have characterized CMD as "liberal," but CMD is actually non-partisan. Traditionally, partisan groups do not critique the actions of both major parties. CMD, however, has been very critical of both.

  • For example, in 2009, CMD launched a major multi-year investigation of the Obama administration's failure to prosecute the Wall Street bankers who crashed the American and global economies, called BanksterUSA.org, and we also calculated the full costs of the government bailout of Wall Street firms, beyond the TARP.
  • CMD has also reported on corporate-driven policies in dozens of states across the country and has also viewed some that national agenda through the lens of its home state, Wisconsin. To take one of many such examples, CMD has reported on education "reforms"--pushed by both Democrats and Republicans--that have undermined public schools throughout the U.S.
  • CMD also helped expose the undue influence of corporations on homeland security policy, under both Democrats and Republicans.
  • When CMD began the investigation of ALEC, we did not know that 99% of its leaders were with the GOP, but we did know that unelected corporate lobbyists were getting an equal vote with elected representatives on bills to change people's rights to benefit corporations at the public's expense, which would be wrong no matter which political party were doing it.

CMD does sometimes publish editorials or op-eds on select issues, but the bulk of its work is reporting and investigating, as with many other outlets.

CMD Reports and It Litigates. Doesn't that Make It an Advocacy Group?

Like many other news outlets, CMD sometimes litigates to defend the public's right to know and to ensure that sunshine in government laws are honored by the people in power.

In recent years, at the state-level, a substantial amount of pushback against public access to information about who is influencing government has come from the party in power, which has meant that Republicans have been trying to thwart public access in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Texas. But those efforts to keep the public in the dark are a function of their partisanship, not CMD's. Some state policymakers are acting in defiance of open records laws that were enacted by Republicans and Democrats a generation or two ago, before the political process became so polarized.

CMD firmly believes that the public has a right to know if corporations, CEOs, or their lobbyists are distorting the laws that govern ordinary people, without their input in our constitutional republic, which is supposed to be a representative democracy--of the people, by the people, for the people.  

What about the Attacks on CMD?

CMD's extensive work documenting and exposing corporate influence on media and democracy has upset some of the most powerful corporations, CEOs, politicians, and PR operations in the U.S.

CMD's effectiveness has spawned even video attacks by the king of front groups, Richard Berman, and his allies in rightwing media. CMD pioneered the efforts to expose Berman and the way he and others have used the tobacco playbook to slow regulation of cancer-causing tobacco by using "third parties" to cloak the agendas of corporations through deploying front groups and promoting "experts" to defend their corporate funders' legislative wish lists. See, e.g., http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Berman_%26_Co and http://www.prwatch.org/news/2014/10/12646/rick-berman-exposed-new-audio-detailing-tactics-against-environment.

CMD has been especially effective at uncloaking secretive organizations funded by corporations to change federal and state laws without disclosure of that lobbying, as with ALEC. See, e.g., http://www.prwatch.org/files/alec-supplemental-complaint-2015-fact-sheet.pdf

And CMD has also been a leader in exposing "dark money"--that is, secretive spending by CEOs and companies to influence election results without disclosing those enormous gifts to help candidates win--through original breakthrough reporting about the growing influence of the Koch Brothers and the myriad entities their network funds to affect election outcomes. See, e.g., http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/04/10534/group-called-citizens-strong-america-operates-out-ups-mail-drop-runs-expensive-ad.

CMD has been attacked by corporate-funded or Koch-infrastructure groups that describe themselves as "conservative" or conservative media "watchdog" groups. See, e.g., http://www.prwatch.org/news/2013/12/12344/why-franklin-center-wisconsin-reporter-attacking-john-doe and  http://www.prwatch.org/news/2014/02/12383/wisconsin-club-growth-makes-false-claims-federal-court.

One of their main attacks is about an anonymous gift of nearly a half million dollars CMD received in 2011-2012. But unlike the elaborate shell game created by the Koch Brothers to keep the public--but not the politicians--in the dark about who is underwriting expensive election ads to help their political candidates win, CMD does not know the identity of that anonymous donor. The groups that have attacked CMD for our reporting about undue corporate influence know the CEOs or corporations giving them substantial sums but do not disclose to the public, so it is anonymous to you but not to them. See, e.g., http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/10/10971/franklin-center-right-wing-funds-state-news-source.

Right-wing groups have tried to smear CMD based on a press conference about the ALEC-connected State Policy Network where CMD noted that some have tried to paint an image of "false equivalency" of groups on the right and left even though corporations have tended to fund front groups on the right seeking to oppose corporate regulations but that liberal groups tend to favor regulation of corporations and are not often deployed as corporate front groups. (The right-wing Washington Times, whose editorial board includes Koch allies, was forced to issue a rare detailed correction after taking that false equivalency quote out of context: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/17/keene-free-speech-for-me-but-not-for-thee.)

Right-wing groups have also attacked CMD for receiving a donation from the Open Society Foundation, which was created by George Soros. CMD noted on its site that it had received funding from OSF. CMD has also noted that this funding was to continue the work of CMD's executive director on national security/homeland security and civil liberties issues, as part of a set of grants OSF made to groups analyzing those issues, including to the Koch Brothers' Cato Institute. The groups that have criticized CMD for OSF funding have been silent about Cato receiving even greater funding from OSF (and even more from the Koch family fortune). See, e.g., http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/10/10971/franklin-center-right-wing-funds-state-news-source.

Notably, based on CMD's investigations, it has supported amending the Constitution to repeal the Supreme Court's decision in the "Citizens United" case and related cases expanding the power of money and corporations in American democracy--in addition to supporting stronger disclosure rules for non-profits involved in buying election ads to influence elections under the guise of "issue" advocacy--just as numerous other news outlets have also editorialized in favor of reforming election laws in the wake of those judicial decisions.

Many of the right-wing groups that have attacked CMD oppose mandatory disclosure of such election spending and do not disclose their own major donors, unlike CMD which has listed all of the foundations that have supported it since it was created in 1993. See, e.g., http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/10/10971/franklin-center-right-wing-funds-state-news-source.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to help support our work, please click here.