Democratic Practice Guidelines

Guidelines

For democracy to flourish and deliver on its promises-including political participation, human rights, access to justice, a good education, an improved quality of life, a healthy environment, and personal security—its citizens must be informed, engaged, empowered, and assertive. Similarly, institutions of governance must be inclusive, transparent, accountable, and responsive.

The frequent failure of both new and established democracies to deliver on their promises undermines the commitment to democratic practices. Wealthy and powerful actors exercise undue influence, and voices that historically have been excluded remain unheard in decision-making processes.

The United States continues to face a number of democratic deficits: a decline in many traditional forms of civic engagement; reduced participation in the formal institutions of democracy, including but not limited to voting; and declining trust in all institutions, especially institutions of government. These deficits are being exacerbated by deeply rooted economic challenges, and American society is becoming increasingly polarized, socially, economically, and politically.

At the same time, the process of globalization has similarly produced democratic deficits in global governance. Global power and wealth inequities have deepened, while the significance of decisions made by transnational institutions such as multilateral organizations, multinational corporations, and international financial institutions has increased. In this patchwork of institutions and practices, global governance decisions are made with inadequate inclusiveness, accountability, and transparency, often preempting or distorting legitimate national and local decision-making processes.

The Fund's Democratic Practice program has two parts: strengthening democracy in the United States and strengthening democratic practice in global governance. Based on a careful assessment of local needs and priorities, the Fund also pursues one or more of the democratic principles underlying the program in its "pivotal places." Recognizing that there is no single model of effective democratic practice, the Fund emphasizes flexibility and adaptability to different contexts in these pivotal places.

DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES

Persistent and deep divisions undermine the nation's, social, economic, and political vitality. The gap between rich and poor, both economic and social, continues to widen, with the top one percent of American wage earners receiving nearly a quarter of the nation's total income. Exorbitant amounts of private money spent on political campaigns and lobbying profoundly distort the political system. Those without the financial resources to influence public policy are further marginalized, and private interests are frequently prioritized over the public good, fostering public cynicism and a distrust of elected officials. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, an estimated $7 billion was spent on the 2012 federal elections. In 2012, successful candidates for the House of Representatives spent an average of $1.6 million on their campaigns; successful candidates for the Senate spent an average of $11.4 million, up from $1.4 million and $9.8 million, respectively, in the 2010 cycle. Moreover, in 2012, there were 12,374 registered lobbyists working to influence Congress and federal agencies—23 for every member of Congress—with a total of $3.27 billion spent on lobbying.

The quality of our political culture is deteriorating. There are few examples of bipartisanship and constructive compromise in political debate. While participation in national elections has increased, it remains below that of most advanced democracies and turnout for local elections is persistently low. Furthermore, millions of eligible voters have been kept from voting by registration or identification problems and many others have been discouraged by poor administration of polling places, or worse, by overt efforts at voter suppression. For years, government has been derided as a source of the nation's ills, rather than a positive force for national progress. The capacities of government institutions have been weakened, and confidence in them has declined.

In the media, confrontation often passes for dialogue, crowding out nuanced views and a middle ground. Traditional media organizations face financial challenges that are reducing the number of public voices and limiting journalism's ability to hold government and business accountable. Resources for investigative journalism are shrinking. New media offer opportunities to broaden and redefine journalism but may foster a cacophony of voices without editorial mediation, leaving the public with no way to judge the accuracy or reliability of the information.

Goal: Strengthening the Vitality of Democracy in the U.S.

In the United States, the Fund seeks to strengthen and to broaden participation in the practices and institutions of democratic governance through the following strategies.

Strategies:

  • Combating the corrupting influence of money in politics by supporting the adoption of public financing of electoral campaigns and selected other reforms that increase access to and participation in elections and enhance the integrity of representative democracy.
  • Fostering greater understanding of and appreciation for the role of the public sector in society. Support also will be provided on a limited basis to organizations that promote the improved performance of key public sector institutions.
  • Promoting the transparency, accountability, and responsiveness of government institutions and the transparency and accountability of corporate political spending, with special attention given to the importance of investigative journalism and to the potential of new technologies to enhance transparency and strengthen accountability.

GLOBAL GOVERNANCE

Globalization—the dramatic increase in cross-border flows of capital, goods, and people and their values and ideas—is producing deeper interdependencies and changes in power relations. It is a defining process of the 21st century, offering both challenges and opportunities.

Global governance is an incomplete patchwork of institutions, rules, and processes that transcends the authority of individual nations. The elements of global governance are many, including formal agreements among nations; the architecture and practices of international and intergovernmental institutions and international courts; the policies, behaviors, and actions of states and multinational corporations; and the work and influence of civil society organizations.

Economic interests have largely overshadowed democratic practices, social equity, and environmental concerns in the evolution of global governance institutions and processes. Powerful international trade and financial institutions remain opaque and exclusive, while the power and reach of multinational corporations often escape oversight or effective regulation. Thus, while the impact of global governance on peoples’ lives is growing, democracy in global governance faces acute deficits. Transparency and accountability in global decision making are often critically deficient. Representation in global governance processes remains limited; underrepresented populations and weaker states have restricted voice and standing, curtailing their access and participation. Injustices persist, as rights are unevenly recognized and ad hoc coordination often substitutes for meaningful democratic processes. Together, these deficits challenge the ability of nations and groups to protect their commonwealth, ensure necessary social and environmental protections, and promote ethical and effective stewardship of common resources.

At the same time, globalization has opened up new opportunities for building cross-border coalitions that are finding innovative ways to address and resolve global problems. Novel combinations of public, private, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental organizations are asserting their concerns, forging new democratic practices, and advancing systemic changes in global processes, rules, and institutions.

Goal: Strengthening the Vitality of Democracy in Global Governance

In its work to strengthen democracy in global governance, the Fund focuses on the areas of climate change, development finance, and trade. The Fund is particularly interested in civil society organizations that represent and advance developing country concerns as they seek to increase equity and foster sustainability.

Strategies:

  • Enhancing transparency and accountability of global governance institutions and decision-making processes.
  • Expanding access to and participation in global governance institutions and decision-making processes. Priority is given to initiatives led by or in support of constituencies underrepresented in global governance.
  • Advancing new ideas, advocacy approaches, and institutional arrangements aimed at more effective and democratic decision making in global governance and more just and sustainable outcomes.