Foundations Look to Heal Ailing Political Process

Driven by concerns about big money in politics, infringements of voting rights, and a shrill and divisive political climate, a growing number of foundations are exploring ways to improve the political process, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

Although philanthropies such as the Open Society Foundations in New York City and the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation have been working on such issues for years, a number of other high-profile philanthropies, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, have joined the fray. But the number of foundations working to strengthen democratic institutions and engage more Americans in the political process remains small, and grant awards continue to be modest.

The 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, a decision that overturned longstanding limits on political contributions by corporations and outside groups, has further complicated matters. Still, a number of foundations have stepped up in recent years to fund projects that aim, among other things, to reduce barriers to voting and increase voter turnout, boost the use of technology to provide greater transparency around spending by corporations and other special interest groups, and staunch the flow of money into political campaigns.

"Funders are beginning to recognize that you can't really advance a wide range of goals or get things done right now in Washington because of the system of money and politics," said John Kowal, vice president for programs at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York City. "I'm excited that funders are beginning to come back into this field."

Caroline Preston. "Foundations Are Searching for Ways to Fix an Ailing Political Process." Chronicle of Philanthropy 11/11/2012.