These 15 individuals are among the most important power brokers with undeniable leverage to most shape campaigns, candidates and policies in the Democratic Party. There are other Democratic heavy hitters, to be sure, but these 15 are must-haves on any list of those who cannot be ignored.

Big Lawyers

Briefs and Cash

Gary M. Paul, President, American Association for Justice (AAJ)

Come July, the American Association for Justice, the chief political and lobbying voice of the class-action trial lawyers industry, will be headed by Gary M. Paul, a name partner in a firm -- Waters, Kraus and Paul in Los Angeles -- that proudly claims to have filed more class action asbestos plaintiffs suits than any other firm in the country.

Members of Paul's firm contributed at least $366,000 to political candidates during the 2010 campaign, with more than $364,000 of the total going to Democratic candidates and committees. And the AAJ PAC is the biggest among all legal PACs, according to, giving more than $2.7 million in 2010 contributions, all but $68,500 going to Democrats.

Master Arm Twister

Linda Lipsen, Chief Lobbyist/Executive Committee, American Association for Justice

When Members of Congress see Linda Lipsen coming, they know it's likely to involve a new request to do something or a request for a status report on the last request for a favor for the trial lawyers. And they often make requests.

Lipsen isn't personally a high dollar contributor -- having made only $15,500 in contributions to federal candidates in 2010, with all but $500 going to Democrats and Democratic groups -- despite being paid more than $360,000 annually by AAJ (according to the group's most recently available IRS Form 990).

But senators and representatives know Lipsen represents one of the most powerful lobbies in town and one that routinely is among the most generous contributors to Democrats. No wonder in naming Lipsen one of the top lobbyists on Capitol Hill in 2009, The Hill noted that "with Democrats in power across Washington, the trial bar association and Lipsen have plenty of energy."

Big Labor

Activist Leader

Gerald W. "Jerry" McEntee, President, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

International president of the 1.4 million-member AFSCME since 1981, McEntee runs one of the most politically active unions in America, dubbed the United States' largest single contributor to political campaigns by the Center for Responsive Politics, with nearly 99 percent going to Democrats. AFSCME is the nation's largest public employee and health care workers union.

AFSME campaigns for a range of issues, from urging larger unemployment benefits to fighting efforts to substitute vacation time for overtime pay. In the 2008 presidential election, AFSCME first endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton for president, then switched to Obama after he won the nomination and pledged $50 million to his campaign. McEntee is a member of the Democratic National Committee and was a "super delegate" from Pennsylvania at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Lawyerly Campaigner

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President

Elected president of the AFL-CIO in 2009, Trumka was its Secretary-Treasurer (1995 to 2009), and previously president of the United Mine Workers (1982 to 1995). He worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines to pay for college, earned a law degree from Villanova University, and went to work for the United Mine Workers as a staff attorney in 1974. He was elected UMW president in 1982.

Trumka's AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 unions with 11 million workers, wields enormous influence in Democratic politics. In 1996, Trumka allied himself with a leftist group, becoming a co-founder of Robert Borosage's Campaign for America's Future. An anti-racism speech Trumka gave in 2008 went viral on YouTube, a labor first.

Iconic union boss

Andrew L. "Andy" Stern, Former President, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

President of the 2.2 million-member SEIU from 1996 to 2010, Stern made it the nation's fastest-growing union and's 10th biggest all-time political contributor, with 93 percent going to Democrats, much of it for door-to-door canvassing and other Get-Out-The-Vote actions.

SEIU gave Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign $65 million and $60 million to President Obama's successful 2008 effort, plus another $25 million to other Democratic candidates.

Stern worked forcefully to revitalize the labor movement through legislation, helping design Obama's health care reform, pushing union growth via Card Check, disempowering business with strong regulations and higher taxes.

In 1992, Stern and his then-wife Jane Perkins, head of Friends of the Earth, started the Blue-Green Working Group to merge Big Labor with Big Green, helped by the Sierra Club's Carl Pope. In 2005, Stern pulled SEIU out of the AFL-CIO over expansion disputes.

Big Green

Left-wing Makeover Master

Carl Pope, Executive Chairman, Sierra Club

A 30-year Sierra Club veteran, Pope grew from associate conservation director (1980s) to long leadership as executive director, and stepped down last year to continue as chairman with a focus on climate change. Pope transformed Sierra from a litigious nature preservation group to an activist-oriented left-wing political machine.

Pope's levers on Democratic policy also come from his also being a director or adviser of numerous other key groups: Apollo Alliance, Alliance for Climate Protection, Clinton Global Initiative, California League of Conservation Voters, Public Voice, National Clean Air Coalition, California Common Cause and Zero Population Growth.

Brains and Power

Joshua S. Reichert, Managing Director, Pew Environment Group

Josh Reichert has been the giant Pew Charitable Trusts' smartest and most effective star since 1990, and now leads its Pew Environment Group. He is the chief architect and founder of an incredible catalog of environmental groups, including Oceana, the National Environmental Trust, SeaWeb, Earth Force, the Ocean Law Project, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Clear the Air, the Campaign for America's Wilderness, the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, the Ocean Wildlife Campaign and the Pew Oceans Commission.

Reichert holds a PhD in anthropology and the strings to a Pew-sized purse of grant money to other environmental groups, and is known for treating each grant as an investment that must produce results. He is courted and feared by environmental leaders for his Godfatherly listening mannerism and his doom-or-destiny decisions. He's also a Humane Society of the United States director.

Biggest Big Green Resume

Albert A. Gore, Jr., Chairman, Alliance for Climate Protection, investor

As 45th vice-president of the United States, narrator of "An Inconvenient Truth," which won an Academy Award and prompted his Nobel Peace Prize, Gore is co-founder and chairman of Current Media, LLC.

He is chairman of Alliance for Climate Protection and Generation Investment Management; a director of Apple, Inc. and World Resources Institute; a senior advisor of Google, Inc. and Silver Spring Networks, Inc.; a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (venture capital firm), an investor in Capricorn Investment Group, a donor to the Climate Project, a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, and a visiting professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Gore's net worth is estimated to be in excess of $100 million.

Big Insiders

Quirky Left-Wing Messiah

George Soros, Open Society Institute, Soros Fund Management

A Hungarian-born American billionaire who once said he felt "godlike," Soros is chairman of Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Institute, and a former board member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He spent millions undermining the governments of the Soviet Union, Serbia, Hungary, and Georgia, then decided communism was no longer the problem, it was capitalism.

Soros spent $23 million trying to defeat President George W. Bush's re-election in 2004. He was also an initial donor to the Center for American Progress and the Democracy Alliance and routinely funds a wide range of left-leaning groups. His Open Society Institute spends about $600 million a year on left-wing programs in more than 60 countries. His 2010 net worth was $14.0 billion, making him the 35th richest man in the world.

Tentacles of the Left

Drummond Pike, Tides Network of organizations

With over 200 groups under his Tides umbrella, hundreds of members in the Tides Nonprofit Centers Network, and $143 million given in 3,532 grants in 2010 alone, Pike funnels more money to more left-wing infrastructure than anyone else. Pike's Tides Foundation opened in 1976 with the money of Jane Bagley Lehman, Reynolds tobacco heiress and president of Arca Foundation, and gradually grew into today's vast network.

Pike is a board member of the Democracy Alliance, the Environmental Working Group, and the Network for Good, and is chairman and CEO of the Tides Advocacy Fund, a lobbying group. He has incubated numerous groups that later became successful stand-alones, including projects of the Pew Charitable Trusts. He has developed the anonymous "donor-advised fund" into a powerful tool for anonymous donors to support controversial groups.

Mortgage Moguls

Herb and Marion Sandler, The Sandler Foundation

Founders of the scandal-plagued Golden West Financial Corporation that sank Wachovia, leading to its cut-rate sale to Wells Fargo, Herb and Marion Sandler were long-time funders of liberal causes when John Podesta snagged them in 2003 as initial donors to his Center for American Progress (CAP).

The couple created the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation in 1991, supporting Human Rights Watch, gay and lesbian rights, abortion rights, and, as well as art museums, universities and the local Bay Area Jewish Community Fund.

Marion Sandler is a board member of CAP, while Herb founded ProPublica, a non-profit investigative reporting group spewing out blatantly left-wing anti-development, anti-gun, anti-fossil fuel stories.

Smartest Political Operative

John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress

It's tough to find a better political strategist and tactician than former Clinton White House chief of staff and Obama transition team co-leader John Podesta. His Center for American Progress was conceived in the Democratic National Committee by a seven-person "brain trust" convened by Chairman Terry MacAuliffe, incorporated in 2002 as the American Majority Institute and re-launched a year later as CAP, with the aim of defeating President Bush in 2004.

Podesta is closely linked to power players who can be rapidly mobilized for manufactured constituency actions, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Education Fund, Women's Voices -- Women Vote, the League of Conservation Voters and the Apollo Alliance.

Persistence Personified

Ellen Malcolm, Founder, EMILY's List

The heiress of an IBM founder, Malcolm took a staff job with Common Cause in the 1970s, then served as press secretary for the National Women's Political Caucus, and later took a consumer affairs job in the Carter administration.

In 1985, she founded EMILY's List and built it into the richest political advocacy organization in America, supporting pro-abortion female Democrat candidates for office. EMILY stands for "Early Money Is Like Yeast." That is, it helps raise the dough: It scares off challengers and draws more donors.

Malcolm is legendary for her fundraising skill, relentless at "the ask," being one of the wealthy herself, at ease prying money from her peers. Her skill at political campaigning is also remarkable -- as its president, she made America Coming Together (ACT) the biggest 527 group in the 2004 Bush-Kerry election. EMILY's List helped elect 16 Democratic women in the 2008 cycle.

Everywhere at Once

Arianna Huffington, Founder, Huffington Post

Greek-born American media maven and political celebrity, Huffington is best known for her left-wing news website, Huffington Post, covering everything from politics to media, style and comedy, with news, blogs and other original material. HuffPost gets a million comments a month, and now has local versions in New York, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.

25 Major Players

1. Frances Beinecke (30 years with Natural Resources Defense Council, president since 2006; Obama-appointed member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling)

2. Simon Rosenberg (founded the centrist New Democrat Network, 1996; NDN's Phoenix Group prompted creation of the Democracy Alliance, 2005)

3. Teresa Heinz (Founder, Heinz Endowments, substantial funder of left-leaning groups; founder, Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, giving annual $250,000 awards; married to Sen. John Kerry)

4. John Doerr (venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers with Al Gore; appointed to President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board; pushes clean energy government subsidies hard, funds candidates and activists; net worth $1.7 billion)

5. David Fenton (Founder and CEO of Fenton Communications, top left-wing PR firm using professional ad and PR tools for leftist non-profits)

6. Susan Packard Orr (Chairman, Packard Foundation; founder Telosa Software, fundraising tools for non-profits; highly demanding of grant recipients; arranged media training for scientists to popularize global warming)

7. Paul Helmke (President, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; former president, United States Conference of Mayors; vociferous activist against gun rights)

8. Terry O'Neill (President, National Organization for Women, chair, NOW Political Action Committee; feminist attorney, professor of law, Tulane and University of California at Davis; activist for "social justice" issues)

9. Carl Ferenbach (chairman, Environmental Defense Fund; managing director, Berkshire Partners, private equity firm not related to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway)

10. William H. Meadows III (President and key lobbyist, The Wilderness Society; chairman, Pew Campaign for America's Wilderness; director, League of Conservation Voters)

11. Joshua Mailman (heir of a large transportation conglomerate fortune; co-founder, Threshold Foundation and Social Venture Network; created or funded many other social investment entities)

12. Nancy R. Bagley, (President, Arca Foundation; editor-in-chief, Washington Life magazine;, Clinton White House health care initiative consultant; Clinton-Gore 1992 campaign advance staff; funds far-left groups and programs)

13. David Brock (Founder and president, Media Matters for America, Tides Foundation incubated, recently Soros-funded, anti-conservative attack group, mostly against Fox News; formerly conservative writer)

14. Hal Harvey (Founder and CEO, Climate Works; founder and president, the Energy Foundation; funds groups opposing fossil fuels, pushes for clean energy subsidies)

15. Robert Borosage (Co-director, Campaign for America's Future, author Taking Back America; associate editor, The Nation; columnist, Huffington Post)

16. Brent Blackwelder (President, Friends of the Earth 1994-2010, now emeritus; most radical of the larger green group leaders)

17. Wayne Pacelle (President and CEO, Humane Society of the United States since 2004, chief lobbyist 1994-2004; executive director Fund for Animals 1989-1994. Absorbed Doris Day Animal League in 2006)

18. Margery Tabankin (executive director of Steven Spielberg's Righteous Persons Foundation and the Barbra Streisand Foundation; directs grants to numerous left-leaning groups; early member, 1967, radical Students for a Democratic Society; director 1977-81, VISTA, a federal agency; executive director 1981-1984, Arca Foundation)

19. Michael Shellenberger (Co-author, The Death of Environmentalism; co-founder, Breakthrough Institute; worked at Fenton Communications; contracted to do public relations in the U.S. for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez)

20. Lawrence Mishel (President, Economic Policy Institute, premier left-wing labor think tank; frequently testifies before and briefs congressional committees on economics)

21. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (Founder and publisher, Daily Kos, a popular blog on left-wing issues and Democratic Party politics; fellow at NDN's New Politics Institute; founded the YearlyKos Convention, rebranded in 2007 as Netroots Nation)

22. Norman Lear (Founder and board member, People for the American Way; television producer)

23. Andrew Kimbrell (Executive director, Center for Food Safety in 1997; executive director of International Center for Technology Assessment in 1994; environmental attorney strongly opposed to industrial agriculture and mass market food supply)

24. Phil Angelides (Chair, Apollo Alliance, and appointed chairman of Obama's Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission)

25. Tim Gill (Founder,, a Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender advocacy group: America's top gay funder)

Compiled by Examiner Contributor Ron Arnold, author of "Undue Influence" and "Freezing in the Dark," books that detail how special interests operate within and without the Democratic Party to advance their agendas.