The Foundation is exploring the question of how to strengthen democracy in the U.S., given our perception that the political system has failed to adequately address major issues confronting the nation – from climate change to health care, from our fiscal future to the criminal justice system, from immigration to education.
We believe Washington has not responded effectively to the long-term, serious problems affecting the country. Public confidence in Congress, the presidency, government in general, and even the Supreme Court is at record lows. The rising frustration of citizens, documented in poll after poll, is influenced by an economy that is improving too slowly, a sense that the social and cultural ground is shifting in unpredictable ways, and a perception on the part of many that the political system is distorted by the large amounts of money being spent on campaigns. Acceptance of compromise as fundamental to governance is becoming ever more elusive. This is all taking place during a pivotal presidential campaign, the first since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision effectively removed spending limits on corporate campaign contributions. Spending on presidential and Congressional elections is predicted to exceed $6 billion this year (up from $5.3 billion in 2008), with no effective mechanism for disclosing who is funding what.
At the same time, a clear and troubling effort is underway to make voting more difficult; the voices of popular dissatisfaction are growing as evidenced by both the Occupy and Tea Party movements; and the concentration of wealth and income continues to grow and may be contributing to both electoral system distortions and to policies that perpetuate that inequality.
The Foundation already supports work designed to strengthen democratic institutions and a vibrant democracy in the fields of education, juvenile justice, and federal and state fiscal policy. MacArthur’s support for non-profit media contributes to news options that are designed to educate the public about important issues over an array of platforms and outlets. In addition, the Foundation has supported the Aspen Congressional Seminar, one of the most effective programs to enable members of Congress to talk about serious issues across party lines, as well as a bipartisan program for newly elected members of the House of Representatives offered by the Library of Congress.
We think that there is much more to be done.
Our early investigations pointed to the need for immediate investments in two elections-related issues, campaign finance reform and elections administration, including the protection of voting rights. We also seek to ensure that the education and learning systems prepare young people to understand and participate in the democratic system and provide them with the critical skills and capacities to engage in debates of complex public policy issues.
In the future, we will seek to stimulate discussion about the future of the Republic and invest in promising ideas to help strengthen democratic ideals, institutions, and practices.