About Us

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a non-profit investigative reporting group. Our reporting and analysis focus on exposing corporate spin and government propaganda. We publish PRWatch, SourceWatch, and BanksterUSA.

Our newest investigative site is ALECexposed.org. Our ongoing investigation of ALEC -- 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 won significant awards for investigative journalism.

Our recent journalism awards for our investigation of ALEC include:

  • the "Izzy" I.F. Stone Award for outstanding achievement in independent media from the Park Center (along with ''Democracy Now!'' correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who covered the uprising in Egypt from the ground);
  • the Sidney Award for investigative journalism (shared jointly with The Nation for our joint effort to break the story of CMD's ALECexposed project) 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.

In addition, the combined efforts to urge corporations to get out of ALEC was recently chosen for a "Benny" from the Business Ethics Network, in recognition of the work of CMD, Common Cause, Color of Change, People for the American Way, Progress Now! and other independent organizations to shine a light on ALEC's agenda and its corporate donors.

CMD has also been honored by the Milwaukee Press Club for one of our investigations into shadowy front groups influencing elections. And CMD's Executive Director was chosen for the President's Award from the Wisconsin Association of Justice for CMD's work exposing corporate efforts to make it harder for Americans whose loved ones are killed or injured by corporations to hold those companies fully accountable.

We accept no funding from for-profit corporations or grants from administrative 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 investigative 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 is the Editor-in-Chief of CMD's publications. She joined CMD in late 2009.

CMD's expert staff includes CMD's Deputy Director, Mary Bottari, who is also the Director of CMD's Real Economy Project. Former CIGNA PR executive and journalist Wendell Potter remains an advisor as our Senior Fellow on Health Care, and he works as a Senior Analyst at the Center for Public Integrity.

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.

The Center was founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1993, by John Stauber, who led the Center until his retirement 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.

CMD's 2012 Annual Report of Recent Activities

We connected the dots between corporations, politicians, and terrible bills pouring out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – such as union-busting "Right to Work" (for less) bills being pushed by ALEC and its billionaire bankrollers like the Kochs, and the "Shoot to Kill" law cited in Florida to protect Trayvon Martin's killer -- crafted by the NRA and pushed out nationally by ALEC.

We spearheaded efforts to expose ALEC’s legacy of deadly policies, such as “model” bills that would actually bar cities from banning “machine guns,” block the expansion of access to health care for working families, and thwart efforts to address climate change.

Together with our allies, we convinced 42 major corporations to dump ALEC (including global companies like GM, GE, and Wal-Mart). Plus, 70 legislators quit ALEC, and another 117 others lost their seats or left the legislature since last year.

We sued ALEC legislators trying to hide public access to records about ALEC’s lobbying through personal email accounts, and we won! And time and again, courts rejected key ALEC agenda items, such as making it harder for Americans to vote and undermining the power to reform health care.

We won five major awards for our investigative journalism and leadership of the public campaigns to expose corporate corruption of our democracy, including an "Izzy" named for the great investigative journalist I.F. Stone, a "Sidney" from the Hillman Foundation, and a "Bennie" from the Business Ethics Network.

We’re spearheading a campaign to get the Senate to “Subpoena the Koch Brothers,” and hold hearings on the role of “dark” secretive money spent in the 2012 elections, in the aftermath of the terrible “Citizens United” decision.

CMD also broke the story of how the Koch fortune has helped bankroll the American Legislative Exchange Council's extreme gun agenda with the NRA, including Florida-style "Stand Your Ground" bills, bills to stop cities from barring machine guns and cop-killer bullets or even suing weapons manufacturers, and bills against banning assault-style weapons.

Also, since CMD filed a complaint, the IRS has been investigating the “charity” shell games of Mark Block, former campaign manager for Herman Cain and former right-hand man of David Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity” operations in Wisconsin.

CMD also tracked the front groups of the 1%, like Americans for Prosperity as it rolled out misleading “issue ads,” and called them out for hiding their major donors from the American people. We also challenged newspapers misreporting AFP’s role in the recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, showing AFP alone outspent Walker's opponent in the race. We also exposed Karl Rove’s transfer of cash to the so-called “National Federation of Independent Businesses.” We have helped document the shadowy front groups that have tried to influence federal and state elections in the most expensive election year in U.S. history and, indeed, in the history of the world.

Plus, we’ve shown how corporations “fracking” for gas are squandering millions of gallons of water, while increasing foreign exports, and how PR firms have spun the news on pesticides. We also broke the story on Whole Food’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on whether “conventional” vegetables are being grown in sewage sludge.

Our break-through work on ALEC was featured in a major documentary by noted journalist Bill Moyers, in his work "The United States of ALEC," in the documentary Koch Brothers Exposed, and in other film, TV, and radio pieces such as on National Public Radio, Pacifica, Sirius Radio, and other national and local broadcasts.

In all, CMD produced hundreds of original stories and major break-through investigations. Our research was shared on PBS, MSNBC, CNBC, Democracy Now!, Current TV, Grit TV, Al Jazeera America, and the Thom Hartmann Show, and in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Toronto Star, the Guardian, and in numerous local newspapers, as well as in magazines such as The Nation, The Progressive, and more. Our research and reporting is raising awareness and reaching a broader audience every day.

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

  • Publishes the online news 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 from 1993 through 2009, when it migrated to a fully online publication.)
  • Manages SourceWatch--our specialized, collaborative online encyclopedia of people, groups and issues shaping the public agenda--and also BanksterUSA.org, which focuses on financial and economic reform. We also host wiki projects, such as CoalSwarm, on our site.
  • Launches original investigations into major national issues as well as issues in the states (including our home-state of Wisconsin), 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. In 2012, we also launched both Atrazine Exposed and NFIB Exposed to increase public awareness of both.
  • Supports strategic public education campaigns, such as our work to help protect consumers and educate the public on financial and economic literacy, in addition to our ongoing research about the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case and related judicial decisions expanding corporate "rights" and limiting the power to regulate elections, and our continuing role analyzing government surveillance of Americans. (Prior educational outreach included our successful Defend The Press campaign with the National Press Club and other partners, and our 2008 "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:
Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry
Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future
Mad Cow USA
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq
Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America Into a One-party State
The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies and the Mess in Iraq

CMD also creates clearinghouses for information on key issues through our SourceWatch wiki, such as Corporate Rights, the Real Economy, Water Policy, the Tobacco Industry, and Coal Issues, among other special features.

Sources and Uses of Contributions

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

CMD is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization organized under the laws of the State of Wisconsin.

We accept donations from individuals and philanthropic foundations through gifts and grants. CMD does NOT accept money from corporations or grants from government agencies.

Contributions from individuals and non-profit organizations may be made through clicking the "donate" button at the top-right corner of this page or by sending a check to:

Center for Media and Democracy

520 University Avenue, Suite 260

Madison, WI 53703

If you would like to include CMD in your will, a bequest in the amount you specify may be directed to the address above and any questions can be directed to our Executive Director, Lisa Graves, at 608-260-9713, or via email at lisa@prwatch.org. You can also use this online contact form to reach us.

Most of CMD's supporters are individual donors who give $5 or more a year to help support the Center's general operations.

CMD participates in Community Shares of WisconsinCMD participates in Community Shares of Wisconsin, which provides a way for state citizens to donate through their workplace and at local businesses to Wisconsin-based non-profit groups, like the Center, contribute to CSW's mission of building social and economic equity and a healthy environment.

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. Foundations 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 and 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

To request a copy of the Center for Media and Democracy's most recent 990 filing with the IRS, please contact us via mail or in person at 520 University Avenue, Suite 260, Madison, Wisconsin 53703.