David Brock is a former conservative muckraking writer turned hard-left Democratic Party operative that a Bernie Sanders campaign operative called “one of the worst practitioners in the dark arts of dirty politics.” The founder of multiple billionaire-funded organizations that aggressively smear prominent individuals and groups on the right, Brock formed the conservative-trashing Media Matters for America, for which he paid himself an annual salary of $305,266 in 2014.
Brock is known for directing various campaigns to attacking conservative journalists and media outlets, including his “War on Fox News.” After writing an uncomplimentary biography of Hillary Clinton in the early 1990s, he rebuked the conservative movement and became a close Clinton ally who was described by Time magazine as “one of the most influential operatives in the Democratic Party.” He started or worked closely with several PACs and super PACs aimed at helping Hillary Clinton win the presidency in 2016.
In 2015, Brock resigned from the super PAC Priorities USA Action for undisclosed reasons, but prominent journalists speculated it was because of his insensitive personality alienating too many Democratic donors.
A January 23, 2017 article in the Washington Free Beacon titled “Brock Conference Organizers Embody Dems’ Big Money Problem” outlined Brock’s efforts to attract big Leftist money after Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The story described how the conference featured “Ultra-wealthy donors had gathered to figure out what went wrong in a presidential election that was, in part, a rejection of the political elite.”
That effort was an immediate failure, as outlined in a February 7, 2017 article titled “David Brock’s ‘Breitbart of the Left’ Propaganda Venture Is Not Doing Very Well.”
The Capital Research Center notes that MMfA entered the fray with claims to combat “conservative misinformation” but concentrated nearly all of its fire on Fox News Channel – which enjoys cable ratings dominance and features right-leaning-to-centrist commentators in its prime time line up, in contrast to the liberal viewpoints on all the other news networks.
Brock, who described himself as a “hit man” when he was a conservative, declared in 2011 that MMfA’s mission was to wage “war on Fox [News]” as well as “to disrupt [News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch’s] commercial interests” and to turn regulators against his media outlets. According to a Politico story on March 26, 2011:
A 2012 series of articles on Brock and Media Matters in the Daily Caller reveal an organization roiled by its leader’s volatile and erratic behavior and struggles with mental illness. The Daily Caller reported Brock’s executive assistant carried a handgun to public events in order to defend his boss from perceived threats. Brock even hired an illegally armed bodyguard to provide personal security.
According to a one-time aide named Haydn Price-Morris, who worked for MMfA from early 2009 through late 2010, he carried a concealed Glock handgun when accompanying Brock to events in the nation’s capital, which until recently had arguably the strictest gun control laws in America. The aide had no concealed-carry permit for his gun in the District of Columbia.
In addition, multiple firearms were purchased to protect Brock, with his blessing, and apparently with MMfA’s money – despite the group’s strident advocacy for gun control that reached a fever pitch following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. According to the Daily Caller:
Brock “had more security than a Third World dictator,” one Media Matters employee said, adding that Brock’s bodyguards rarely left him alone. “What movement leader has a detail?”
“Viciously mean” is a phrase used by someone who watched Brock interact with MMfA employees, according to the Daily Caller: “He spent a lot of time ripping up researchers. It was abusive. I never understood why more people didn’t quit.”
Media Matters employees were outraged that their employer was opposed to their forming a union. The organizing committee posted a statement on the website of Service Employees International Union Local 500 that criticized the nonprofit for “the unexpected and unexplained path our leadership has taken in response to our efforts to unionize,” adding that “the actions of Media Matters executives have placed employees in the impossible position of continuing to produce content espousing pro-labor values for an employer who is challenging our right to unionize.” According to the post:
“Media Matters employees often write in defense of organized labor, and our work has demonstrated the virtues of organizing through card-check and the perils of being forced through a protracted NLRB election process. It is fitting, then, that we’ve chosen to unionize and attempt to lead our own lives by the principles we regularly advocate for in our work.”
The MMA staff voted to form a union in 2014.
By 2016, Brock was part of the Democratic establishment – employing hundreds of people at organizations with budgets in the tens of millions. In 2015, his network experienced a spurt of growth – one that continued as the Democrats ramped up their efforts for the 2016 presidential election. David Brock became nearly synonymous with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but immediately came under assault by the Democratic Party, exemplified in the Washington Post headline: Does David Brock, shock troop for Hillary Clinton, help or hurt her?
Brock leveled sharp criticism at Clinton’s main rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, which angered much of the left’s political base. When Brock threatened to demand Sanders’s medical records, even Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta chastised him via Twitter: “Chill out. We’re fighting on who would make a better President, not on who has a better Physical Fitness Test.”
David Brock wrote in his autobiography that he grew up a closeted gay teenager in a conservative Dallas, Texas suburb, and left for college at the University of California, Berkeley in 1981 as a liberal Democrat. At Berkeley, though, he was repelled by the culture of doctrinaire leftism and moved towards conservatism.
As an undergraduate, Brock started a neoconservative weekly, the Berkeley Journal, which was financed by alumni parents of several fellow students. His activities and writing caught the attention of The Wall Street Journal, which published his op-ed titled “Combating Those Campus Marxists.” That accomplishment got the attention of John Podhoretz, then the editor of Insight, the magazine of The Washington Times. Podhoretz flew Brock to DC for an interview and gave him a job as a writer.
Later, Brock took a fellowship at the Heritage Foundation, underwritten by the John M. Olin Foundation, and later accepted a job at the American Spectator magazine, which was primarily supported by the conservative philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife. At the Spectator, one of Scaife’s heirs offered to fund a “special investigation” into Anita Hill, whose allegations of sexual harassment threatened to scuttle the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court. Brock accepted, and his investigation eventually became the 1993 bestselling book The Real Anita Hill.
Brock’s celebrity took off after The Real Anita Hill became a New York Times Best Seller on May 16, 1993, and he began a lucrative career as a conservative muckraker. Conservative publishing house Simon & Schuster gave Brock a million-dollar advance for what it hoped would be a blockbuster follow-up exposing Hillary Clinton. But The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, according to critics, was “so tame and lame it was the shame of 1996,” and “Sales slumped so Brock was dumped.” The book failed to chart on the New York Times Best Seller list upon release in October 1996.
Brock retained his celebrity status in Washington, however, by almost immediately switching sides again after The Seduction of Hillary Rodman flopped. In July 1997, Esquire published his article titled “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man,” where he wrote that his previous articles and books had all been lies. It was the start of a career trashing his former colleagues on the right. In the Esquire piece, Brock wrote that his conservative friends never trusted him or embraced him because he was gay. Many critics, on both sides of the political spectrum, wondered whether someone who said he had written nothing but lies for most of his career was telling the truth now.
The Nation called Brock “the conservative journalistic assassin turned progressive empire-builder,” to which National Review retorted that he is a “right-wing assassin turned left-wing assassin.”
In 2002, Brock wrote the book Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, completing his rebuke of former friends and ideological colleagues. But there is evidence Brock produced this screed in a state of mental stress and paranoia that required admission to the psychiatric ward of a Washington, DC hospital. According to a 2014 Capital Research Center story, the word “paranoid” accurately described Brock:
This is no mere figure of speech. He has suffered at least one full-blown mental breakdown. In summer 2001, he “was committed to the psychiatric ward of Sibley Hospital in Northwest Washington,” according to an exclusive Drudge Report story.
“The breakdown came just months before Brock finalized production of his bestselling book Blinded by the Right – a book that has been widely challenged on points of accuracy. ‘He had delusions, he thought people were trying to kill him,’ reveals a source who befriended Brock last July at the hospital. Brock told fellow patients that he did not feel safe – even inside of the hospital’s secure medical setting. “He spent time in the ‘The Quiet Room,’ there was just a mattress on the floor, and he had some books. He was so tired and stressed’” (Drudge Report, May 21, 2002).
Reached by telephone at the time, Brock did not deny the hospitalization. He told the Drudge Report, “I am not going to comment on private medical matters.” By 2010, Brock had become increasingly concerned “that he was being targeted by right-wing assassins” (Daily Caller, Jan. 27, 2013). That Brock believed anyone was trying to dispatch him is testament both to his paranoia and inflated sense of self-importance.
By the time Blinded by the Right grew into a New York Times Best Seller in 2002, Brock had made important friends on the left that would help form his first leftist venture: Media Matters for America. One of the first to offer support was former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, who had created the Center for American Progress, with its Soros / Sandler / Hillary Clinton money network. Brock had also met with a number of leading Democratic Party figures, including former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and former Vice President Al Gore.
After the 2002 midterm elections, which were a disaster for the Democrats, the paths of wealthy leftist venture capitalist Robert Jay Stein and Brock crossed, laying the groundwork for the lucrative financial backing necessary to sustain Brock’s leftist muckraking career. Stein, a former Democratic operative, told The New York Times:
“I literally woke up the day after the 2002 elections, picked up the paper, had breakfast and we were living in a one-party country. And there it was. That was my wake-up call.
“I said: ‘O.K., there’s now Republican dominance down the line. It’s not only that they control the House and the Senate and the presidency. But it’s growing. There’s no end in sight.’ It wasn’t only that they had reached a milestone, but they were ascendant.”
That fear of Republican ascendency, according to a New York Times story titled “Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy,” led Stein to start slogging through left wing exposés of the right wing, looking for reasons that explained the Democrats’ 2002 midterm fiasco. At these websites, Stein said he discovered, to his dismay, that wealthy right-leaning philanthropists had long been giving money to promote conservative ideas – to the tune of nearly $3 billion since the 1970s. True or not, Stein said he needed to help create a leftist counterweight.
“He packaged his findings in a no-nonsense PowerPoint slide show full of box diagrams, flow charts and bullet points, a clear-cut, easy-to-follow executive summary dissecting and displaying the entire conservative juggernaut and how to cope with it in just 38 frames. He titled it, ‘The Conservative Message Machine’s Money Matrix.’”
According to the book Freezing in the Dark: Money, Power, Politics and The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy by Ron Arnold, Stein shopped his PowerPoint around DC with no success until Christine Varney, high-ranking Democrat – who was a former Clinton White House aide and federal trade commissioner – hosted a breakfast at her home for him to shop his slide show. At that breakfast, he met Simon Rosenberg, creator and director of the centrist and business-friendly New Democrat Network (NDN), one of the largest PACs in America.
Rosenberg had just emerged from a crucial strategic review of the NDN and was thinking about the next 10 years and the need for an ambitious new project to rebuild progressive infrastructure. Stein’s slide show pointed directly to that rebirth. Rosenberg showed Stein’s PowerPoint presentation to his close friends in the left-wing power elite, and they were on board. But they needed an issue-framing expert to disseminate unrelenting media messages – and one that understood the conservative movement. They turned to David Brock, impressed with his new book, Blinded by the Right.
Rosenberg had already shown Stein’s PowerPoint to George Soros, Peter Lewis, Silicon Valley millionaire Andy Rappaport, and many other wealthy leftists by the time he held an invitation-only private meeting in Boston the day before the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The Boston audience was primed for a Democratic resurrection – keyed by a defeat of George W. Bush – and was eager to hear from David Brock, who made his pitch for his nascent Media Matters for America (MMfA). The right, specifically L. Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center, had for decades effectively exposed liberal media bias. Media Matters for America would be the left’s version – relentless correcting “conservative misinformation” whenever it appeared in the mainstream media.
The idea was a hit, and the money started pouring in from those assembled into Brock’s new project – and went a long way to proving his conversion and making up for all the damage he did at The American Spectator and with The Real Anita Hill.
Though classified as a “nonpartisan” nonprofit by the IRS, Media Matters for America became a powerful player in Democratic politics. By 2012, Brock and his group operated in regular coordination people connected to the Obama Administration, as well as with members of Congress and progressive groups around the country.
Brock has himself become a major fundraiser on the left. He founded a super PAC called American Bridge 21st Century and media watchdog Correct the Record – both of which also specialize in relentless attacks on conservatives. He also joined the board of the super PAC Priorities USA Action, and was elected chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
Brock’s ability to fundraise for his left-wing muckraking project took a hit after the inglorious defeat of his long-time mentor, Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The big funders on the left appeared to be disheartened, and were not receptive to Brock’s plan to return to power. A January 26, 2017 story in the left-leaning Daily Beast titled “Dems to David Brock: Stop Helping, You Are Killing Us” was typical of the push back. The story stated:
As David Brock attempts to position himself as a leader in rebuilding a demoralized Democratic Party in the age of Trump, many leading Democratic organizers and operatives are wishing the man would simply disappear.
Many in the party—Clinton loyalists, Obama veterans, and Bernie supporters alike—talk about the man not as a sought-after ally in the fight against Trumpism, but as a nuisance and a hanger-on, overseeing a colossal waste of cash. And former employees say that he has hurt the cause.
Nonetheless Brock persisted in trying to gain funding for a leftist recovery. Another piece in the Inquisitr, a left-leaning British publication, showed that his efforts were failing. From a February 7, 2017 article titled, “David Brock’s ‘Breitbart of the Left’ Propaganda Venture Is Not Doing Very Well”:
According to Heatstreet, Brock’s efforts are not off to a great start. In January, Brock announced plans to raise millions of dollars to create an anti-Trump “war room” as part of his political research organization, American Bridge. The new organization was tentatively named True Blue Media. Brock tapped investigative journalist, David Sirota, to lead the effort. Sirota announced today that he would be dropping out, seemingly due to funding roadblocks.
“True Blue Media does not right now have in hand the resources for the kind of independent, nonpartisan journalism I want to continue to do and that is needed to execute on the ambitious editorial strategy that we agreed on,” Sirota said.
Media Matters for America (MMfA), a supposedly nonpartisan 501c3 nonprofit, formally launched in May 2004. However, both of Brock’s attack groups, MMfA and its lobbying arm, started receiving large foundation grants in 2003, before either group received IRS exemption approval. The money was legally passed through Drummond Pike’s Tides Foundation – which took on Media Matters for America as a special project.
According to research posted in the undueinfluence.com website, the first MMfA foundation grant came from the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation in 2003 – $100,000 earmarked for “research and education.” Silberstein founded Innovative Interfaces Inc., the world’s leading supplier of computer software for the automation of college and city libraries. Silberstein is an alumnus of the University of California at Berkeley, as is David Brock.
But the real financial empire that put Brock and his Media Matters group on the map was the Tides Network. In May 2004, Tides passed through $2,165,497 to MMfA – a single grant comprised of many gifts from a roster of affluent donors including Leo Hindery Jr., former cable magnate; Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of Esprit clothing (and a close ally of Hillary Clinton); James Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist and SPAM heir; Bren Simon, wife of shopping-mall developer Mel Simon; and New York psychologist and philanthropist Gail Furman.
Other large gifts that year came from the Gruber Family Foundation ($100,000), the Goatie Foundation ($150,000), and the pro-Castro Arca Foundation ($100,000). They would become the first donors to form the left-wing Democracy Alliance. In its first year, the Democracy Alliance funneled $1.75 million in new funding to Media Matters, making up more than one-fifth of its total budget.
The Nation reported on November 25, 2014 about Brock’s American Bridge 21st Century Foundation — another Brock nonprofit that is not remotely nonpartisan. The article noted that Brock is “an avid Hillary Clinton supporter,” and he’s“already deeply engaged in the presidential contest.”
His group, American Bridge, captures almost every public utterance by prominent Republican politicians, using both DC-based researchers and a national network of professional trackers; it currently has people following all of the even remotely plausible contenders for the Republican nomination. By means of this group, Brock took the Media Matters method—which involves monitoring virtually every word uttered by the right-wing media—and transferred it to the realm of Republican politicians.
“There’s no organization that does the level of tracking and research that we do,” says American Bridge president Brad Woodhouse, who previously served as communications director for the DNC. “The parties don’t do it; the campaigns don’t invest in it. There’s no one that has the ability to pull this type of stuff—video, news archives, our own video archives—as quickly and as cleanly to use in a rapid-response fashion as we do.”
American Bridge 21st Century Foundation was formed and registered with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on March 2, 2011 with contributions for the year in the amount of $891,000 from fundraising by the Bonner Group Inc, which was paid $796,763 for the campaign. The foundation had a five-person board of directors with Brock receiving $6,000 as a director.
In 2012 American Bridge 21st Century Foundation had total revenue of $2,576,800 and paid Bonner $1,313,393 for fundraising. In 2013, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation had $1,945,000 total revenue and no fundraising recorded. In 2014 the foundation had $3,334,429 total revenue with $2,801,625 that went to Bonner for fundraising. American Bridge was given a grant of $25,000 by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Inc in 2014. Brock’s salary remained at $6,000.
Complementing American Bridge is another Brock-directed organization called Correct the Record, a subsidiary that Brock registered with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on May 15, 2015 to push back against “misinformation” about Democratic presidential candidates. That meant nothing else but defending Hillary Clinton constantly and consistently. No financials are available.
In August of 2015, Brock took over the watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington — yet another progressive “nonpartisan” group that does nothing but attack Republicans. Before Brock took over, the group went after members of both parties.
CREW has received 160 grants from 50 foundations totaling $8,913,768 from 2001 to 2014. CREW’s funders include liberal political “mega-donors,” such as billionaire George Soros, Colorado heiress Pat Stryker, Colorado software tycoon Tim Gill, California liberal technology multimillionaire Steven Silberstein, Getty family heiress Anne Getty Earheart (of the Marisla Foundation), and Texas oilman and abortion-rights activist Leland Fikes. Those donors, and more, have given hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to CREW through their foundations. CREW has also been funded by labor unions to the tune of $245,000. David Brock is listed in the 2014 Form 990 as a director without salary.
The same month he acquired CREW, Brock announced the formation of the American Democracy Legal Fund, and registered it on September 3, 2014 with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The new fund is a group known to be a “dark money ally” of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which is intended to battle the Republican Party in the courts. It had filed 15 complaints against Republicans and Republican-aligned groups as of September 2016. No financials are available.
Brock’s latest organization (as of fall 2016) is a new journalistic grant-making outfit called the American Independent Institute, which will give out $320,000 in 2016 to reporters investigating “right-wing misdeeds.” It was not registered with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs as of September 2016. No financials are available.
Grant Total: $45,965,661 # Grants: 561 # Foundations : 141
Visit the David Brock Muckety Map for an interactive view of the Brock social network.