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Latino Leaders Frustrated At Liberal Donor Plan To Fund 35 Groups, Zero Latino Groups

They say key battleground states with huge Latino populations, necessitate a boost in funding for Hispanic groups. Democracy Alliance says Latino funding will now be under a newly created "New American Majority" umbrella.

Posted on April 15, 2015, at 12:38 p.m. ET

(AP Photo Manuel Balce Ceneta)

It was billed as a big announcement, the Democracy Alliance, which advises wealthy liberal donors, unveiled a plan Monday to fund 35 organizations to help Democrats take power in the states by 2020 and fight back on issues like economic inequality, voting rights and climate change.

But to Latino leaders watching, it seemed like more of the same: public statements that Latino voters matter, but a lack of investment when push comes to shove.

"This is deeply troubling and we're shocked," said Arturo Carmona, the executive director of Presente, a 300,000 member strong organization. "There seems to be a pattern emerging in how the Democratic party is investing in Latinos across the board and how supporting organizations really say that the Latino vote matters but the actions don't reflect those words."

"Given the importance of the Latino vote, it's disappointing and confusing as to why the community isn't being given more attention," said Joe Velazquez, executive director of the NCLR Action Fund, the partisan arm of NCLR. He said he is presenting a proposal to the Democracy Alliance soon to be one of the organizations to get funding after the initial groups.

BuzzFeed News reviewed a list of the 35 groups recommended for funding by the progressive donors. Two groups, the Center for Community Change and PICO National Network, do work on Latino issues and have been active on immigration. But no purely Latino advocacy organization was included.

Other groups that were included on the list by the 10-year-old organization were progressive mainstays like Center for American Progress and Media Matters as well as black advocacy organization ColorofChange.org.

Gara LaMarche, the alliance's president, said no Latino groups raised these concerns to him, but he was glad to address them.

He said that for three years, the Latino Engagement Fund existed, which raised $15 million during the last two election cycles. Now the newly created New American Majority fund will handle funding target toward Latino, black, women, and younger voters, he said.

"This is partly a way to drive more money to it," he told BuzzFeed News. "Or they can earmark to one specific group."

But a top Latino leader with knowledge of how Democracy Alliance has operated in the past said that while the money will come, it will be too late for major Latino efforts on the ground.

"They wait until we're in an election year and say 'Now take this money and let's get people on board,' but a lot of that money comes too late for things like voter registration," the leader said. "To be this close to 2016 and not see one Latino organization, with the Latino vote being so crucial in determining the next president, I hope some reaching out can happen soon."

Latino strategists told BuzzFeed News the focus is of particular urgency because conservatives have gotten their act together, pointing to serious efforts by the Republican Party and the Koch brother funded LIBRE Initiative to reach Latino voters in the Southwest and Florida.

"The right is starting to spend extraordinary amounts of money on this stuff," said longtime strategist and president of NDN, Simon Rosenberg. "They are putting together permanent institutional capacity that's serious and modern that isn't being met by folks on the center-left. It needs to be dealt with on our side."

Jose Parra, a former senior advisor to Harry Reid, pointed to two conversations that stayed with him — one with the political advisor to a major Democratic donor and one with a top Democratic political operative — that show how Latino outreach is often viewed by progressives.

He said in both instances, white men told him that they understood the Hispanic community because they come from states with large Latino populations.

On the contrary, he said, the ones that understand and build relationships are Latinos on the ground, which is why he believes Democrats should fund and create their own version of the LIBRE Initiative.

But LaMarche from Democracy Alliance seemed unconcerned.

"A lot of money from Democracy Alliance goes into Latino communities and exceeds what the Koch brothers are doing with LIBRE," he said.

Hector Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 39 of the top Latino organizations in the country, said in his experience democracy is expensive and investment in Latino communities lags behind every other group.

"Everyone talks about the possibility of the Latino vote but there is no correlation in how parties and national infrastructures invest in Latino civic participation and promotion of basic elements of democracy like voter registration, voter education, GOTV and voter protection," he said.

The other top Latino leader was more succinct on Democracy Alliance's actions.

"It's disappointing to see that in this cycle they would not yet be directly engaging Latino organizations with proven track records," they said. "We need to start now."

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