robertogreco + garalamarche   1

Democracy and the Donor Class : Democracy Journal
"Foundations and philanthropists do much good, but these unelected actors have acquired enormous power to shape policy. Should they be reined in?"



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And to the extent that in more recent years a few larger foundations have become stronger supporters of community organizing efforts, that’s also had its price, since it’s made those organizations increasingly as accountable to rich donors as to their own historically broad base. And while foundations talk about sustainability all the time—and the more liberal ones often treat their grantees like the right wing would treat single mothers on welfare, imposing strict time limits and cutoffs—the fact is that most sustainability strategies are aimed at helping grantees move from dependency on one foundation to another. Very few foundations use their funding to help grantees build a more democratic base of support of the kind that has helped the great organizations formed in the Progressive Era—the ACLU, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, Planned Parenthood—survive and thrive over many decades.

That observation, I suppose, is a good segue into a few final thoughts that might be put under the heading, “What is to be done?” I have no ten-point plan for foundation reform. I think criticism of foundations is rare enough, and raising questions about the role of foundations in a democracy rarer still, that the very fact of asking the questions, of stimulating more reflection, is enough for the moment. If others with my vantage point on philanthropy think we have some self-examination to do, and respond and pick up the thread, I’ll be quite happy.

A few thoughts. First, the tax incentives for philanthropy are not going away, in the near term or probably ever. As we have seen, even tinkering with the levels of the deduction is unlikely.

Some have argued there is too much clutter in the proliferation of small foundations, and wonder if there ought to be a minimum asset size. This suggestion is usually offered in the spirit of encouraging innovation and risk-taking with greater possible impact, but it seems misplaced to me. True, a lot of smaller foundations are not very bold, and often are somewhat self-serving and idiosyncratic. But they do promote a kind of pluralism. I’d be more interested in policy ideas aimed at the maximum size of foundations, which would boost pluralism while ensuring that no foundation has disproportionate power. Limiting the lifespan of foundations, or perhaps mandating governance measures such as community representation or even AB 624-style data reporting requirements, might also enhance public accountability and responsibility.

When foundation critics explore the ways philanthropy might be held accountable, they often forget to think about the press. It’s an easy oversight to make, since so little media scrutiny is applied to foundations. I wonder, for example, how many California newspapers have bothered to follow up on what happened to the pledges that the state’s big foundations made several years ago to settle the AB 624 controversy. But as it happens, the period of tremendous growth in the philanthropic sector—particularly the rise of a mega-foundation like Gates, which can by itself steer policy on education reform or global health—has coincided with a significant decline in the resources devoted to investigative journalism. When I started at Atlantic Philanthropies seven years ago, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times had journalists covering the beat of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. No more. As philanthropy’s power has grown, independent scrutiny of it has waned. Ford, Knight, and other foundations, alarmed at the decline in investigative reporting, have provided support for nonprofit news organizations like Pro Publica (full disclosure: I was on its board, too), or even for-profit ones like the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, but for obvious reasons, these foundation-supported initiatives are not likely to cast their gaze upon their own benefactors."
philanthropicindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  charitableindustrialcomplex  2014  garalamarche  democracy  policy  influence  gatesfoundation  journalism  media  capitalism  power  control 
june 2016 by robertogreco

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