What We Do

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a nationally recognized watchdog that leads in-depth, award-winning investigations into the corruption that undermines our democracy, environment, and economic prosperity.

The Koch brothers and their network of billionaires are operating with a reach and resources that exceed those of political parties and they are using that power to erode the integrity of our elections and sap taxpayer dollars away from investments in public infrastructure, education, and healthcare to benefit narrow special interests and global corporations.

CMD's investigations, public information requests, and lawsuits have ignited national conversations on money in politics and the distortion of U.S. law and democracy -- at every level of government and in every region of the country. We believe in the public's right to know how government operates and how corporations influence our democracy -- and the true motivations for their actions. When necessary, CMD litigates to defend that right and ensure those in power follow the law.

Since CMD first exposed ALEC in 2011, more than 100 corporations have dropped ALEC, including Verizon, Ford, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Electric, and Google. As a result of that ongoing investigation and other reporting, CMD is often contacted by whistleblowers wanting to make a difference. CMD has also researched the array of groups that are part of ALEC, including numerous Koch-funded entities and national and state "think tanks" that are affiliated with the State Policy Network.

CMD files more than 1,000 public information requests each year. This investigative watchdog work has broken through in the national debate. For example, CMD exposed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's deep ties to the fossil fuel industry and revealed lobbyist efforts to hide Chamber of Commerce members' overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave, among other groundbreaking investigations.

CMD's work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, POLITICO, the Guardian, Bloomberg, WIRED, Vice, The Atlantic and Buzzfeed as well as on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR, The Daily Show, and Last Week with John Oliver. We also partner with investigative writers at The Intercept and ProPublica to publish new reports and findings.

"The fight to keep our democracy from becoming a plutocracy doesn't have a scrappier warrior than the Center for Media and Democracy." -- Bill Moyers

"CMD's scrappy crew tracks the Koch Machine every day, shines a light on corruption in our democracy, and takes politicians to court when they try to hide their special-interest ties from the public." -- Robert Reich

"...watchdog group that studie[s] the mechanics of political manipulation." -- Jane Mayer, Dark Money

"[CMD's] requests are of federal importance." -- Sens. Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth

How We Expose Corruption

CMD puts a spotlight on hidden and unreported activities, forcing those trying to maneuver around the edges of laws and ethics out of the shadows. Our original research digs deeper than the 24-hour news cycle to answer and understand why and how special interests and dark money are reshaping American politics and elections. Our team focuses on documenting the facts and revealing the effects on communities and people in areas ranging from climate change and education to workplace standards and freedom of speech.

CMD's groundbreaking exposés are featured on ExposedbyCMD.org. The watchdog also publishes SourceWatch, an encyclopedia of corporations, corporate special interest groups and their leaders; specialized investigative websites, including ALECExposed.org; and its founding website, PRWatch.org.

Awards and Honors

CMD's investigations have been recognized for their excellence and impact. Our recent awards for investigative journalism include:

  • The Sidney Award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation in 2018 for the exposé "Two Faces of Janus."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The "Benny" from the Business Ethics Network.
  • CMD has been honored by the Milwaukee Press Club for one of its investigations into shadowy front groups influencing elections.
  • CMD's research was featured in Ava DuVernay's film "The 13th," which was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

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


CMD was founded in 1993 by John Stauber in Madison, Wisconsin. In March 2018, Arn Pearson became CMD's Executive Director, succeeding Lisa Graves, who served as executive director from 2009-2018 and currently serves as board President. CMD's team includes researchers, data experts, FOIA experts, lawyers, and fact-checkers. CMD is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit.

Board of Directors

  • Lisa Graves, President
  • Deborah Bey
  • Ellen Braune
  • Cosmo Harrigan
  • Gordon Lafer
  • Nancy MacLean
  • Jan Miyasaki
  • Bo Yerxa


To promote transparency, CMD voluntarily discloses its major funders. The following foundations and generous individuals have donated $5,000 or more to support the work of CMD since January 1, 2020:

  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Cloud Mountain Foundation
  • Common Counsel Foundation
  • Community Shares of Wisconsin
  • Craigslist Charitable Fund
  • CREDOMobile
  • East Bay Community Foundation
  • Wendy A. Fearnside
  • Andrew J. Goodman
  • Hopewell Fund
  • Christina Jonsson Charity
  • Gordon Lafer
  • Mindy Loiselle & Lanny Levenson Gift Fund
  • Madison Community Foundation
  • Marisla Foundation
  • Mazess Fund
  • Stewart R. Mott Foundation
  • Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund
  • Park Foundation
  • Nancy D. Peterson
  • Piper Fund
  • Michael L. Schler
  • Sustainability Group
  • Sustainable Grantmaking Partners Fund
  • Tides Foundation
  • Trehan Foundation
  • Wallace Global Fund
  • Wildbasil Fund

CMD’s most recent 990 can be found here.

Less than 10% of CMD’s annual revenues come from anonymous donors.

Contributions from individuals and non-profit organizations are accepted. We accept no grants from government agencies or for-profit corporations, except for CREDO, which makes donations to nonprofits based on votes by its activists and customers. Learn how you can help support and expand CMD’s groundbreaking investigations here.

Editorial Independence

CMD’s donors play no role in determining or reviewing CMD’s investigations and news coverage. We are committed to upholding high standards of fair and accurate journalism and follow the Code of Ethics provided by the Society for Professional Journalists.