About Us

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a boutique investigative research and reporting group with a demonstrated capacity to break major news stories and highlight the work of advocates. Located in Madison, Wisconsin, it is a national, non-profit watchdog organization, founded in 1993. CMD's niche is investigating and exposing the undue influence of corporations and front groups on public policy, including PR campaigns, lobbying, and electioneering. CMD's original reporting helps educate the public and aids grassroots action about policies affecting people’s lives—their rights and the health of our democracy.

CMD publishes PRWatch.org, ALECexposed.org, and SourceWatch.org.

Its special investigations, in addition to ALECexposed which CMD launched in 2011, include OutsourcingAmericaExposed, NFIBexposed, Fix the Debt/the Pete Peterson Pyramid, the State Policy Network Exposed (stinktanks.org), BanksterUSA, and the Food Rights Network, among others. CMD also hosts CoalSwarm and FrackSwarm on CMD's SourceWatch website. CMD has also done extensive work documenting and exposing dark money in federal and state politics, including original breakthrough reporting about the influence of the Koch brothers. Based on these investigations, CMD has called for 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.

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 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."

Our recent awards include:

  • the "Izzy" I.F. Stone Award for outstanding achievement in independent media (shared with Sharif Abdel-Kouddous of Democracy Now!) 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.

We accept no funding from for-profit corporations or grants from government agencies.

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

Team CMD

This national, independent, non-partisan public interest newsgroup 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 executive roles in Washington, DC. She joined CMD in late 2009. CMD's Deputy Director is Mary Bottari, who is also the Director of CMD's Real Economy Project.

CMD has assembled a top-notch team that combines extraordinary research capacity with the ability to break stories, translating complex documentary evidence and policy issues into powerful narratives, along with smart analysis, engaging language, and compelling graphics. CMD also has in-house counsel to back up its investigative efforts and a talented project management team that can process a mountain of information and deliver excellent and timely special reports.

This is CMD's Masthead:

  • Lisa Graves, Executive Director/Editor-in-Chief

  • Mary Bottari, Deputy Director/Managing Editor

  • Brendan Fischer, General Counsel/Reporter

  • Rebekah Wilce, Project Director/Reporter

  • Nick Surgey, Research Director/Writer

  • Patricia Barden, IT Director/Graphic Design

  • Sari Williams, Outreach Director/Graphic Design

  • Friday Thorn, Associate Editor/Graphic Design

  • Nikolina Lazic, Press Associate/Development Assistant

CMD also publishes freelance stories from investigative reporters and also pays graduate and undergraduate students who intern here and aid our research efforts.

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 in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1993, by John Stauber, who led CMD until he retired to become an independent activist in 2009.

Our team of writers and researchers focus on:

  • Reporting that promotes informed decision-making about policies and products affecting our lives--our economy, our environment, our health, our liberty, our security, and the health of our democracy--and analysis and opinion that aids citizen involvement and grassroots action
  • Investigating and countering PR campaigns and spin by corporations, industries, and government agencies.
  • Advancing media literacy by helping people recognize the forces shaping the information they receive.
  • And promoting citizen journalism as an alternative to the corporate media, so people from all walks of life can "be the media" and help write the history of companies, front groups, and people influencing public policy

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

To help educate the public, the Center for Media and Democracy:

  • Publishes the online magazine, PRWatch, which contains our original reporting, investigations, and analysis on corporate policies, products, and PR spin. It also publishes The SPIN, an e-periodical that highlights CMD's key reporting on these issues.  (Click here to subscribe to The SPIN).  (PRWatch was a quarterly print news periodical subscribed to by libraries and others around the world from 1993 through 2009, when it migrated to a fully online publication.)
  • Manages SourceWatch--our specialized, collaborative encyclopedia of people, groups, and issues shaping the public agenda.
  • Launches original investigations into major national issues, such as our reporting about American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),  the Wisconsin protests against efforts to destroy public bargaining, tobacco issues, and misinformation about homeland security claims.
  • Supports strategic public education campaigns, such as our work to help protect consumers and educate the public about financial reforms and also health insurance industry spin, in addition to our response to the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case expanding corporate "rights," and our continuing role analyzing surveillance of Americans.  (Prior educational outreach included our successful Defend The Press campaign with the National Press Club and other partners, and our "Election Protection" wiki in partnership with the Huffington Post and other organizations.)

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

Sources and Uses of Contributions

CMD is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that accepts donations from individuals and philanthropic foundations through gifts and grants. A copy of our most recent 990 filing is available 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 current 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

CMD does NOT accept grants from corporations or government agencies. 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 and existing under the laws of the State of Wisconsin.

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