19 posts categorized "U.S. Democracy"

Building a Strong Money-in-Politics Reform Movement

October 20, 2015

Democracy requires constant vigilance. Too often, however, our liberty is taken for granted. Unless we vehemently protect it, democracy will perish.

Teddy Roosevelt recognized this better than most. He was, of course, a complicated leader with a mixed legacy, but in his time he saw clearly what you and I see clearly today: that the ability of our elected officials to govern effectively is compromised by a rigged system, and that it is our responsibility to fix it when necessary.

Although the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United has further compromised the system, it is inaccurate to blame the status quo exclusively on the court's ruling. The massive, sprawling system of political money and influence-peddling that increasingly paralyzes Washington and state capitals has been mushrooming out of control for forty years.

The result is quietly but profoundly devastating. On the spectrum that exists between democracy and oligarchy, where would you place America? My friend Mark McKinnon, who many know as George W. Bush's former communications director, recently commented: "Our system is an oligarchy." And poll after poll show that Americans agree.

Continue reading »

Funding the Voter Participation Spectrum

October 13, 2015

The fiercely contested American presidential election of 2000 laid bare the different ways in which voters can be disenfranchised: faulty voting machines, poor ballot design, uncounted ballots, and needless barriers to voter registration, to name a few. And, of course, the winner of the election wasn't determined by ballot but by the U.S. Supreme Court a month after the election itself.

In the decade and a half since, voting rights advocates, funders, and various elected officials have promoted reforms that make it easier to register and cast a ballot. These well-intentioned actors are operating under a classic economic theory: if we lower the costs associated with a transaction (i.e., voting), more people will avail themselves of it. But is it that simple? My research supports the theory — new, more accessible ways to register and vote do indeed have a positive impact on voter participation, but only to a point. And election reform is only one step in a continuum of activities that must take place if voter participation is to increase, especially among current non-voters.

Putting this into action requires a new way of thinking about funding. More than ever, it means we need to think about increasing voter turnout as a coordinated process — with the passage of inclusive, pro-voter reform as just one step in that process, not the ending point. The crucial steps that funders and the organizations they fund must be aware of and integrate into a holistic strategy if they hope to really boost turnout include:

  • Researching the most effective reforms and activities for increasing participation;
  • Educating voters and organizations about why voting is important and how it relates to issues that affect them, the voting process, and the availability of new methods of participation (i.e., early voting) and how to make use of them;
  • Organizing and mobilizing people at the state and local level to actively take advantage of new, more accessible voting options;
  • Pursuing legal strategies to ensure that the right to vote is upheld in every jurisdiction; and
  • Sustaining voter engagement into the future as younger generations reach voting age.

What's more, these steps cannot be treated as discrete activities by those interested in promoting and advancing voting rights, including funders.

Continue reading »

To Strengthen Democracy in America, Think Tech

October 06, 2015

A decade-and-a-half into the digital century, the vast majority of large foundations concerned with strengthening American democracy don't seem to get tech. According to the new Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool recently launched by Foundation Center, out of a total of 18,446 grants awarded since 2011 by more than 1,300 funders focused on the broad range of issues and efforts related to democracy, just 962 have been focused on technology.

What's more, that represents only $215 million out of a total of $2.435 billion awarded to study and/or reform campaigns, elections, and voting systems; expand civic participation; research or upgrade government performance; and/or study the workings of the media and improve public access to media. The Foundation Center tool also reveals that the universe of foundations making technology-related grants is much smaller, at 186, than the overall funder pool, as is the recipient base.

Tech_constellations_image

Continue reading »

Money, Data, and Democracy

September 29, 2015

The U.S. presidential election is thirteen months away. At this point, more than fifty candidates are vying for nomination by the two major parties. The field includes the lone member of the United States Senate to stand as a Socialist and a New York City businessman who has four corporate bankruptcy filings to his name. Members of the voting public may be said to fall into two camps at this point — political junkies who simply cannot ever get enough of campaign politics and the majority of Americans who plan to tune in about a year from now. The former group is hell-bent on getting enough attention from the latter to raise the country's dismal voting percentage to its presidential-election average, which hovers around 60 percent (ten points lower than the average for OECD countries).

Democracy_data_600

Voter turnout is a big deal. Not just to political junkies and clipboard-wielding party volunteers but also to American foundations. According to Foundation Center's newest mapping tool, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, 180 foundations have spent more than $150 million on voter education, registration, and turnout since 2011, a period that includes one presidential and one midterm election.

Seems like a lot of money to get Americans to do what people in many other countries die for. But we're good at spending a lot of money on our democracy. Even this early in the campaign, big donors are talking big numbers, promising (threatening?) to spend $100 million or more each on their favorite candidates or issues. And political junkies are predicting that more than $4.4 billion will be spent on TV ads alone — while election spending in total could run as high as $10 billion. Suddenly, nearly $150 million of foundation funding over four years doesn't look so big in comparison to $10 billion for a single election cycle.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement ...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Archives

Other Blogs

Tags