Balancing the Scales: The Fight for Our Democracy – Collaboration is Essential

December 20, 2017

Voqal recently embarked on a follow-on research effort to understand more deeply the shifting dynamics of the money-in-politics (MiP) field and identify the best role for Voqal going forward. This week, our ongoing series about Voqal’s strategic philanthropic investments to get money out of politics focuses on the final theme from this research — the central role collaboration plays in advancing this policy.

Theme 4: Collaboration is essential to advance reforms for campaign finance reform and a functioning democracy.

Voqal is viewed as a key ally with a rare and treasured direct advocacy resource. Voqal’s partnerships with the Democracy Initiative, Dēmos, Every Voice, Piper Fund and New Mexico’s Thornburg Foundation are commonly recognized as trail-blazing, particularly because of Voqal’s deployment of (c)(4) funds. The right-time, “right-lever” intervention is viewed as crucial to fighting bad bills and ballot initiatives and advancing good ones. One key informant noted that (c)(3) and (c)(4) strategies are increasingly connected: “The actual work is connected and organizations are really skilled at mixing the two.” In her mind thinking about where (c)(4) dollars and tools can add the most value as opposed to thinking about them as separate efforts is critical.

Notably, the relatively young Democracy Initiative (DI) is now at scale, under new leadership and effectively marshaling and mobilizing constituents of 58 civil rights, labor, environmental and civic organizations “to restore the core principles of democracy and political equity.” Launched in 2013, the DI’s partner organizations pursue many progressive goals, including civil, workers’ and women’s rights, and climate justice. Collectively 30 million members strong, these groups share in the belief that success in any of these areas depends on a healthy, representative democracy. They hold a vision for a political process that counts every voice and every vote equally. “Amidst our tapestry of just causes, democracy is our north star, the bedrock of our shared beliefs and the strategic center of gravity around which we agitate,” says the DI website.

Since its inception in 1997, Piper Fund has invested over $31 million to promote a healthy democracy that works for all. Fueled by the belief that its work is now more important than ever, it has just launched a State Democracy Rapid Response Fund to “protect democratic institutions” and counter attempts to criminalize and discourage peaceful protest. Piper is only as strong as its partners’ contributions. Its impact lies in the transformation created by its grantees and the learning, exchange and adoption of best practices among its funder partners.

The field remains very fluid and dynamic. The absence of one central place or clearinghouse of information on the status of various initiatives won or lost over time is symptomatic of this constant state of flux and resource limitations. Victories may be won in state capitols or at the ballot box and, just as swiftly, they can be overruled or repealed by the power of the courts and state lawmakers, preemption or a veto pen (e.g., in New Mexico this past spring). Piper Fund probably comes closest of any organization to filling that gap as it tracks, manages and shares shifting data inputs and intelligence regarding the impact and outcomes of strategic investments.

As the field evolves, there is growing awareness and intention around becoming less siloed and more intentional about addressing structural inequality, racism and misogyny. On these issues, the Piper Fund is a leader and benefits from the support of Voqal and its other progressive funder partners that are willing to take risks and choose values over expediency in developing investment strategies and tactics.

All informants stressed the continued need for movement building, the benefits of collaboration over uncoordinated efforts, and a gaping opportunity for a clear and sustained strategy for advancing both democracy and economic reforms rather than one-off campaign efforts that are not intentionally connected.

Want to learn more about Voqal’s money in politics grant-making? Download the Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift and Balancing the Scales: The Fight for Our Democracy reports.