November 12, 2016
This week's infographic — the third in our series highlighting Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy — couldn't be more timely. Legislatures, at the federal, state and local levels, are where elected officials write the laws and pass the bills that establish the rules by which we live, work, and play. They are to democracy what the heart is to the human body, the beating, messy source of its vitality and dynamism.
At the same time, they are, as Tocqueville noted, the American political institution "most easily swayed by the will of the majority," subject, by design, "not only to the general convictions, but even to the daily passions, of their constituents....[N]othing prevents them from accomplishing their wishes with celerity and with irresistible power, and they are supplied with new representatives every year. That is to say, the circumstances which contribute most powerfully to democratic instability, and which admit of the free application of caprice to the most important objects, are here in full operation."
Without well-functioning legislatures, in other words, democracy ossifies and eventually becomes something else. Oligarchy. Monarchy. Autocracy.
In the five years, since Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, many have worried that certain critical democratic functions of legislatures are being undermined by an infusion of vast sums of money into federal, state, and local elections — money that often is used to create and distribute political advertising designed to appeal to and stoke voters' anger, fears, and suspicion. As the infographic below highlights, it's a concern many in philanthropy, on both sides of the political aisle, share. In response, philanthropy has dedicated considerable resources in recent years to educating policy makers on a range of issues, including economic and community development, health care, and the environment.
To learn more about philanthropy's engagement with legislatures, check out Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a data visualization platform created by Foundation Center for funders, nonprofits, journalists, and anyone interested in understanding philanthropy's role in U.S. democracy. You can use the tool to understand who is funding what, and where; analyze funder and nonprofit networks; compare foundation funding for the democracy-related issues you care about; identify potential new funding partners; and increase your knowledge about the field. And while you're at it, check out this stellar collection of posts by a dozen experts who have spent time with the tool.
What are your thoughts about philanthropy's engagement with legislatures? Is it doing enough? Too much? Have an example of a grant made in support of more effective policymaking that made a difference? Feel free to share in the comments section below....
— Mitch Nauffts