Curing Philanthropy’s Blind Spot: One Percent for Democracy
Sixth: Champion good behavior. Politicians of both parties need to begin to run successfully as reformers—as next-generation Teddy Roosevelts—and receive financial support from donors inside and outside of their parties to do so. Foundations cannot and should not fund politicians’ campaigns. But they can commission innovative research that will help leaders more effectively make the case for reform. They can educate the public with that research. And they can, when appropriate, reward retired politicians who are dedicated to strengthening democracy with university fellowships and prestigious posts at think tanks to help inspire the next generation and educate the public about the challenges of governing. Individual philanthropists should directly support politicians and groups that organize for legislative reforms, and help develop the political power necessary to pass new money-in-politics laws.
Seventh: Advance provocative research. There should be a vibrant debate about the negative economic consequences of legalized corruption in the United States, broken down by sector—public health, education, the environment, the economy. We should develop a clearer sense of how reducing corruption will most likely benefit us and our families.
And finally: More thinking like this, about the role of philanthropy in tackling the problem of money in politics, needs to be done. This is an initial sketch, but much more work is required to develop a truly robust and detailed vision of an expanded fight for reform. The groups that work on reform every day hardly have the time or energy to step back and do such thinking. But it’s the kind of 30,000-foot analysis that needs to be done.
Taken together, these recommendations would help create a better immune system for democracy—one that would have the potential to allow reformers both to enact much tougher campaign-finance and lobbying laws and to defend and enforce those laws once they’re enacted. Doing so would, in the long run, make it harder for the banks and other well-financed special interests to, as Senator Durbin said, “own the place.”
Democracy At Stake
At the heart of such work are not just concrete public-policy outcomes like cleaner air and saner financial regulations. At the heart is a basic idea of freedom, perhaps best articulated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1910 in his famous “New Nationalism” speech:
At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will.
Free men and women. Free government. Popular will.
Just as it was 100 years ago, fighting tooth and nail for reform is, once again, the central condition of our progress. We need to make it crystal clear who owns the place.
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