- Promotes campaign-finance reform designed to diminish the influence of so-called Super Political Action Committees
- Seeks to end “the dependence candidates have on large contributions and
independent expenditures,” and replace it with “support they find in
their own communities” from small donors
Friends of Democracy (FOD) was established in April 2012 to promote campaign-finance reform designed to diminish the influence of so-called Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs), which are legally permitted to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, and to spend unlimited sums on overt advocacy for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, however, Super PACs are prohibited from contributing money directly to those candidates. FOD's mission is to end “the dependence candidates have on large contributions and independent expenditures,” and replace it with “support they find in their own communities” from small donors “who give ten dollars or a hundred dollars.” Complaining that Super PACs generally maintain only “fig-leaf independence” from their favored candidates and “spen[d] tens of millions of dollars on ads trying to buy the elections,” FOD favors a public financing system like the one in New York City, which gives candidates $6 in matching funds for every $1 they receive in small donations.
Dubbing FOD “a super PAC that hates super PACs,” the Washington Post noted in July 2012: “Like all super PACs, Friends of Democracy will be able to raise unlimited funds from wealthy individuals, corporations or unions—precisely the kind of system that the group is fighting against.” But in fact, FOD is somewhat of a hybrid between a PAC and a Super PAC; i.e., it is permitted to raise unlimited sums of money from individuals and corporations, and to make contributions (of up to $5,000) directly to federal candidates.
One of FOD's three co-founders and directors, Jonathan Soros—the son of billionaire financier George Soros—said in a 2012 interview in Washington: “We openly acknowledge the irony of being a super PAC trying to address money in politics. But our goal is to eventually decrease the influence of this kind of group.... We don’t see any other path to real legislative change.” Claiming that his father was not involved in FOD, Jonathan Soros gave $100,000 in seed money to help the organization get off the ground.
Another FOD founder and director is political strategist Ilyse Hogue, who has worked for and with a host of progressive groups. Shortly before joining FOD, Hogue served as a senior adviser to Media Matters for America, and as director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org.
The third founder and director of FOD is David Donnelly, who previously (2008-10) served as campaign manager of the Campaign for Fair Elections, a multi-organizational national initiative that tried to pass the comprehensive Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), legislation designed to purge the political process of large contributions from big-money donors, bundlers, and lobbyists. FENA would permit candidates for federal office to accept only small campaign donations—limited to $100 apiece—of which each dollar would, in turn, be matched by $5 in public funds.
Utilizing television ads, mass mailings, and Web messaging to portray Republican candidates as beholden to corporations, FOD's modus operandi is to try to publicly embarrass these candidates (if they oppose FOD's brand of campaign-finance reform) and their biggest donors. “We want to make sure there is a political cost associated with opposing reform and accountability,” says co-director Ilyse Hogue.
But as Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, points out, valid arguments can be made against the reforms favored by FOD. Noting, for instance, that Arizona, which in 1998 adopted a taxpayer-financed political campaign structure for state legislative candidates, currently has the highest budget deficit of any state in the Union, Parnell rejects “the argument that giving politicians access to the public treasury to fund their campaigns will somehow lead to sound public policy decisions.” Parnell also asserts that public financing would only “further entrench incumbents,” because “almost nobody except for incumbents will be able to qualify for this handout.”
In the 2012 election cycle, FOD spent $2,462,566 on political activities. Of the $11,175 that FOD gave directly to candidates' campaigns, 100% went to Democrats.
 FENA was first introduced in Congress by 4 Democrats (including Senator Dick Durbin) in 2009. Four years later, it was reintroduced by 52 Democratic sponsors in the House of Representatives, among whom were Michael Capuano, Rosa DeLauro, Keith Ellison, Raul Grijalva, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Jim McGovern, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Major Owens, Charles Rangel, Jan Schakowsky, and Henry Waxman.