September 17, 2016
In a commentary for PND written shortly after the 2014 midterm elections, Ruth Holton-Hodson, a former director of public policy at the California Wellness Foundation, suggested that the one area that has an impact "on every one of the issues progressives hold dear... [is] the public's understanding of and participation in our democracy." Holton-Hodson further noted that while "Citizens United and other recent court cases...have given corporations and billionaires a huge advantage in terms of buying a government that is responsive to their needs...money isn't the most powerful tool in our democratic toolkit. Voting is. Corporations can't vote (yet), and billionaires only have one vote, just like you and me."
Although Holton-Hodson's message continues to be ignored by too many Americans — in recent years, only 40 percent of the voting eligible population has bothered to vote in midterm elections, a number that jumps to 60 percent in presidential election years — it is not, as this week's infographic suggests, because U.S. foundations have ignored the issue. Indeed, since 2011, foundations have made grants totaling more than $3 billion in support of U.S. democracy.
Now, anyone who has been discouraged, if not troubled, by the bluster and sound-bite superficiality of this election season could be forgiven for thinking that that may not have been money well spent. But as Holton-Hodson notes, fixing our democratic infrastructure and, by extension, our democracy is a long-term project. And foundations interested in the success of that project need "to take a page from the conservative playbook and fund the work so desperately needed to strengthen that infrastructure so that everyone who can vote and wants to vote is able to vote." It is, she adds, "the only way to ensure that we have a government willing to support and implement policies that meet the education, health, and welfare needs of all Americans."