Third Way organization

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The Third Way organization, which calls itself a "Senate-focused progressive advocacy group," is a 501c4 non-partisan, non-profit advocacy organization. It was founded in 2004 by Jonathan Cowan, Jim Kessler, Matt Bennett, Nancy Hale, and Nancy Jacobson.[1][2] Third Way arose as Lead... or Leave, a similar Cowan organized campaign was fading, and has since itself lost momentum. The Can Kicks Back seems to be the current third reincarnation of Cowan's "conservative effort to gin up a youth rebellion against Social Security and Medicare."[3]

New group: "Progressive centrists"

In his November 11, 2004, Washington Post article, John F. Harris wrote that Third Way had "enlisted the support of several senators from Bush-backing red states" and, in the words of communications director Matt Bennett, "hopes to rebut the notion that Democrats represent an outdated brand of liberalism by producing new policy proposals designed to create a 'moderate majority.'"

"To really reach voters, we need to have concrete legislative proposals on the table. Post-election, it's clear that progressive centrists must have a response equal in scale and scope to the tectonic changes that Bush is proposing," added Bennett.

Harris compared the group to the Democratic Leadership Council, which "was formed after Ronald Reagan's rout of Democratic nominee Walter F. Mondale in 1984. That group has since spawned a think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, and spun off a political advocacy group, the New Democrat Network."

Bennett explained his group's role within this universe as: "The DLC and PPI are aimed at promoting centrist Democratic ideas broadly, through conferences and publications. NDN seeks to influence elections through advertising." In contrast, Third Way "will focus on legislative advocacy."

Talking up telecom immunity

In January 2008, Matt Renner reported that Third Way was working with Senate Democrats to help sell a controversial measure granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. The measure "is the major sticking point over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation that is currently stalled in the Senate." During a meeting with Senator Jay Rockefeller's legislative aide for military and national security issues, Third Way's Matt Bennett suggested "talking points to help make the case for telecom immunity." Bennett said, "We thought it would be a bad idea to allow these companies to be held legally liable for cooperating with the government ... you want to encourage the cooperation of not just the telecom industry, but all other industries in the future." [4]

Third Way would not disclose whether the group receives telecom funding, but some of its board members do have telecom ties. Reynold Levy, for example, formerly served as AT&T's senior officer in charge of government relations. [4]

Third Way calls for more troops, more propaganda

On May 18, 2007, The Hill reported that "A new security study released by the Third Way, a Democratic-leaning think tank," and authored by two former Clinton administration officials, discusses how to rebuild U.S. credibility overseas. "American voters yearn for an alternative to the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy stance," say the Brookings Institution's William Galston and Harvard's Elaine Kamarck, "but neither Democrats nor Republicans are articulating a different path." Their study calls for "a robust military response to the terrorist threat," along with "a massive public relations effort akin to the Cold War propaganda machine." Militarily, the study suggests 100,000 more ground troops and "reinvigorated intelligence services." It also calls for "a massive increase to the $140 million the United States spends annually on public diplomacy," and "re-creating the United States Information Agency, which was folded into the State Department during the Clinton administration." [1]

Mission: "Modernizing the progressive cause to connect with mainstream America"

"America has moved sharply to the right. Though a plurality of Americans identify themselves as political 'moderates,' conservatives have made substantial inroads into that group, which has brought them control of every branch of government. A main reason for this shift is that conservatives have built an extensive and well-coordinated 'idea industry' that has convinced a majority of Americans that they are the true reformers who will tackle America’s challenges at the dawn of the 21st Century. By contrast, progressives – the undisputed reformers of the last 100 years – are now often seen as out-of-touch defenders of the status quo. [2]

"Third Way is tackling this problem two ways:

  • Polcy Work: The Third Way Idea Network — a virtual complex that taps the nation’s vast intellectual resources — generates innovative new ideas to bring to the Senate."
  • Projects "that will provide in-depth analysis and develop comprehensive language, messaging and strategy to modernize the progressive cause [focusing] on strengthening progressives in three areas of strategic weakness:
  • National Security: Third Way is helping to design an alternative vision to that of the neoconservatives. This includes examinations of our military structures, strategic alliances, and energy policy, among other areas.
  • The Economic/Social Compact: Third Way is working to modernize the progressive approach to issues that impact American families, in areas like the economy, the tax code, retirement security, health care costs, education, etc.
  • Cultural Issues: Third Way is launching initiatives to help progressives reconnect with the mainstream of America on cultural issues while retaining progressive values."

Americans for gun safety

"The Third Way team has taken on the task of repositioning critical policy issues before, as leaders of Americans for Gun Safety (AGS). AGS found a 'third way' on one of the most difficult and controversial issues in politics. The AGS approach led to winning Senate gun votes in March 2004 (against long odds). The NRA itself admitted that the AGS approach neutralized the issue in the 2004 presidential race." [3]

Personnel and advisors

Honorary Co-Chairs

Members of Congress

From Third Way's website:[5]

  • James Clyburn
  • John Dingell
  • Ron Kind
  • Joseph Crowley
  • Allyson Schwartz
  • Jared Polis


  • Thomas Carper
  • Claire McCaskill
  • Mark Udall
  • Jeanne Shaheen
  • Kay Hagan
  • Chris Coons


Former Co-Chairs

These names no longer appear on their website, as of June 2013, but they have previously been listed as co-chairs on the Third Way website.


From their website: [4]

Contact information

Third Way
2000 L Street, Suite 702
Washington, DC 20036
Telephone 202 775-3768
Fax 202 775-0430

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

External articles


  1. Third Way, About, organizational website, accessed June 11, 2013.
  2. Third Way, Overview, organizational website, accessed June 11, 2013.
  3. Eric Laursen, Third Way's Jon Cowan: Once Again, Ginning Up Faux Youth Outrage, The Huffington Post, September 4th, 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Matt Renner, "Telecom Group Key Player in Immunity Battle," Truthout, January 31, 2008.
  5. Third Way, Co-Chairs, organizational website, accessed June 11, 2013.