The Movement Advancement Project has received specific grants targeting religious exemptions. In 2014, the Arcus Foundation gave $100,000 to the Gill Foundation to support the project's "research and messaging on religious exemptions." The Evelyn & Walter Hass Haas Jr. Fund made $100,000 grant to the Gill Foundation in 2014 to support the project's work, including "research to develop messaging around gay rights and 'religious liberty' issues."
That messaging research may also influence Democratic Party leaders, the leaked emails suggest.
Levin followed up in an April 12 message to Miranda, the DNC's communication director: "glad to hear you are interested. We've been able to do a really deep dive with this research which, once all synthesized [and] boiled down, led to very clear (if sometimes surprising!) message and target imperatives."
On May 16, Palermo asked Miranda who he wanted at the religious exemption research meeting. Miranda replied "Mark, Tom, and Marilyn Davis." Davis is the DNC's director of community engagement, while Mark Paustenbach was copied on Palermo's email.
Gehrke's April 11 message said that the research to be presented to the DNC leaders was a 501c3 project "independent of any of the message work we have done on campaigns." He said no candidate or specific situation would be presented.
CNA searches of the DNC e-mails published by WikiLeaks did not reveal further discussion on the meeting with the Movement Advancement Project.
A spokesperson for the Movement Advancement Project told CNA July 26 that Benenson Strategy Group is "a contract researcher that has done work with MAP." It had arranged the meeting to share recommendations from its messaging guidance "Talking about Religious Exemption Laws."
"Further information around the messaging recommendations can be found in the guide," the spokesperson said.
"MAP does not have a relationship with the DNC beyond being invited as a guest to that meeting. MAP also provides messaging briefings to a myriad of allies on both sides of the political aisle," the spokesman continued.
The Movement Advancement Project has published several editions of its messaging guidance, which lists as partners both Benenson Strategy Group and the Center for American Progress. The guide's 2016 edition aims to build "effective conversations" about "harmful" religious exemptions that it says undermine public safety, legal protections for people who identify as LGBT, and women's "reproductive freedom."
Other leaked e-mails from the DNC mention Tim Gill and Jon Stryker, the Arcus Foundation founder and wealthy heir. Their names are mentioned in the context of invitations to the White House, donor outreach, and using LGBT advocacy to engage millennial voters.
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The Movement Advancement Project has organized strategy to advance LGBT advocacy within U.S. religious denominations, seminaries, clergy coalitions and media "to counter religious opposition," the Gill Foundation's 2006 annual report said.
The Gill Foundation and the Arcus Foundation are also backers of groups like Catholics United. The Arcus Foundation has funded Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic dissenting groups including Call to Action, Dignity USA, and New Ways Ministry. Some funding aimed to shift the narrative on LGBT issues at the Catholic Church's Synod on the Family.
The source of the leaked emails is uncertain. In previous months, the Washington Post reported that some cybersecurity experts believed the hackers who had penetrated the DNC's computer network had links to Russian intelligence. Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, also cited these claims about the leaked emails in a Sunday appearance on CNN's show State of the Union.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told NBC News there is "no proof whatsoever" that his organization acquired the emails from Russian intelligence. He said DNC servers have had security holes for years and many sets of documents have been made public through multiple sources.
CNA contacted the DNC and the Benenson Strategy Group for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.