This discussion will examine why the courts matter to all the substantive issues we care about, and offers new thinking about how to engage the public as third branch defenders. Speakers will discuss how foundations can support work that affirms the courts as an independent check on power, and as an important bulwark against anti-democratic forces.
In 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision ushered in an era of campaign finance deregulation and served as a wake up call to the philanthropic community. As the Court dismantled longstanding protections against undue influence in politics through this decision and other rulings, it also became clearer that the increasing impact of big, secret money in politics would mean an uphill battle for significant policy victories on behalf of ordinary Americans. In fact, it will be difficult to move the needle on the environment, health care, voting rights —really, any issue—if the landscape remains the same.
In the Demos report Stacked Deck: How the Racial Bias in our Big Money Political System Undermines our Democracy and Our Economy, the evidence is clear: the dominance of the wealthy and special business interests undermines our democracy and gives Americans little actual influence over policy decisions.
Despite the enormity of the problem, with each successive election, there has been growing bipartisan public understanding of the corrosive role that big, secret money plays in our political process and increasing engagement in the issue among traditional and new—or new to money in politics issues—organizations. Similarly, since its founding in 2011, the MIP Working Group has grown dramatically as an increasing number of philanthropic leaders understand that we must fight to reform our democracy if we want to win meaningful public policy on the issues we care about. At the local, state and national levels, grantmakers and grantees are rising to this challenge, channeling the growing public awareness of the problem into positive change. Within the MIP Working Group funders are connecting across a range of solutions, from state ballot work and jurisprudence strategies to engaging conservatives and the New American Majority.
Clearly, the 2016 presidential election has ushered us into a new political reality. Much of what the movement has been fighting for now must also be coupled with more government accountability, transparency and robust plan to ensure that everyone has a voice in our democracy. It has never been more pressing than it is now to reduce barriers to participation and ensure fair opportunities and political power for everyone.
Today, democracy reform groups better understand the need to stand with issue organizers working for the public good. Funders have an opportunity to bridge these two worlds. By working together and being smart and strategic with field resources and philanthropic dollars, we can move both of these efforts forward: a win for the those advancing their issue and a win for democracy.