Originally known as “Democrats 2000,” 21st Century Democrats (21CD) is a political action committee (PAC) founded in 1986 by Senator Tom Harkin, Congressman Lane Evans, and left-wing political commentator Jim Hightower. Its primary mission is to “transform the Democratic Party from within” by aiding the election or re-election of "genuinely progressive Democrats" who are “the most vocal voices and fiercest fighters on progressive issues,” and who believe that "the government has a positive role to play in our country." Such candidates, says 21CD, “will shape the direction of the Democratic Party and enact progressive public policy which transforms this country to a just, fair, and equal society for all.”
In each election cycle, 21CD directs many of its resources to the campaigns of Democratic candidates positioned to challenge "vulnerable [Republican] members of Congress who side with corporate interests instead of constituents," and to "vulnerable [Democratic] incumbents" who are locked in tight, "competitive races."
21CD was a relatively small PAC until 2004, when it received nearly $7 million from donors committed to unseating President George W. Bush. For example, left-wing activists Andrew and Deborah Rappaport donated $600,000 to 21CD for pro-Democrat voter-mobilization efforts. That same year, the group launched a massive Young Voter Project, also known as “Vote Mob,” in an effort to persuade tens of thousands of 18-to-29-year-olds in swing states to register and vote as Democrats. Former 21CD executive director Kelly Young reports that in 2004 her organization spent approximately $2 million to build a database of more than 200,000 young voters in Ohio, Minnesota, Oregon, and Nevada.
The former national campaign director of 21CD's Young Voter Project, Lilah Pomerance, later joinedAmerica Votes and also ran the New Mexico and Ohio affiliates of "John Edwards for President."
Former 21CD executive director Mark Lotwis also worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and managed the re-election campaign of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-New York). Moreover, Lotwis's wife, Lisa Konwinski, was appointed deputy director for legislative affairs under President Obama.
In 2007, former 21CD communications director Kenneth Goldman filed a lawsuit against the organization, claiming that then-executive director Kelly Young had terminated him and two other employees for their "refusal to embrace" the "religious beliefs" promoted at 21CD's "Landmark Education" seminars. Landmark—the progeny of Erhard Seminars Training (EST), Inc.—had ties to New Age religious and spiritual practices.
In its effort to cultivate “new generations of field organizers and campaign staff” who can help elect Democrats at every level of government, 21CD has trained thousands of high-school and college students, recent college graduates, and Democratic Party activists, and has placed hundreds of these into their first political jobs in support of progressive leaders.