Back in 2003, three rich families–Soros, Lewis, Sandler–decided to spend a few million dollars to create a new think tank in Washington. (They also recruited their friends.) It wasn’t a lot of money. With a budget of $10 million or so when it started, the annual budget of the Center for American Progress now hovers around $25 million. Compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to run a campaign, or the tens of millions corporations and interest groups spend on lobbyists, this is chump change. But in terms of political power, the return on investment has been astronomical. There is no group in Washington with more influence at this moment in history. I have a story up on Time.com explaining the power of the group called CAP and its leader John Podesta.
[N]ot since the Heritage Foundation helped guide Ronald Reagan’s transition in 1981 has a single outside group held so much sway. Just as candidate Obama depended on CAP during the campaign for opposition research and talking points, President-elect Obama has effectively contracted out the management of his own government’s formation to Podesta. . . . Podesta himself is leading Obama’s transition effort, holding press conferences to speak for the President-elect, with an operation beneath him filled with CAP alum. The transition’s operations director, the general counsel and the co-director all have come over from similar jobs at the think tank. At least six other CAP alums or board members, including Daschle and former EPA Commissioner Carol Browner, continue to advise the transition or campaign on matters of policy; Daschle looks likely to become a part of Obama’s cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services, in part because he wrote a book about health policy, with funding from CAP.