Democratic Practice–United States

Goal: Advance a Vital and Inclusive Democracy in the United States

In the United States, the Fund supports innovative strategies to strengthen and broaden participation in the practices and institutions of democratic governance, foster greater transparency, accountability, and responsiveness of government institutions, and promote social, economic, and racial justice in our democratic systems.

Strategies

  • Combating the corrupting influence of money in politics by supporting the adoption of public financing of electoral campaigns, including judicial elections, and selected other reforms to enhance the integrity of representative democracy.
  • Increasing opportunities for meaningful citizen participation in democratic systems through election and voting reforms, including improvements in voting rights, election laws, redistricting processes, and election administration.
  • Supporting movement-building strategies for systemic reform of democratic institutions to advance economic and racial justice.
Read the Full Guidelines

Democracy in the United States is facing myriad challenges as persistent and deep divisions continue to undermine the nation’s social, economic, and political vitality. The current U.S. political system suffers from outsized influence of money in politics, extreme partisanship, retrenchment of voting rights, issues with outdated and inefficient election administration, and concentrations of power in narrow segments of society not reflective of the larger population. Alternatively, new opportunities for systemic reform are developing and gaining traction. The nation is seeing a resurgence of grassroots political activism, protest, and a democratization of both traditional and social media. Digital resources are fueling different kinds of engagement and activism that are reaching people in entirely new ways. Further, the ability to leverage creative investigative and solution-based journalism and broadly available government and election data to improve both democratic systems and grassroots civic engagement provides exciting opportunities to build a vital and inclusive 21st-century democracy.

The Fund recognizes that the gaps between rich and poor, and white and non-white, are widening, while the diversity of elected officials remains misaligned with the electorate, fundamentally undermining the quality of representative democracy. Exorbitant amounts of private money spent on political campaigns and lobbying by a very small percentage of the electorate profoundly distort the political system. Others without the financial resources to influence public policy are further marginalized, undermining the ability of voters and constituents to hold elected officials accountable and fostering public cynicism and distrust of elected officials and public institutions.

The quality of our political culture continues to deteriorate. Consequently, there are fewer and fewer examples of true bipartisanship and constructive compromise in state and federal legislatures. Additionally, partisan actors, with a goal of achieving partisan supremacy rather than ensuring democratic fairness, exert disproportionate control over voting rights, poll access, and redistricting. Participation in national elections remains below that of most advanced democracies, and turnout for local elections is persistently low. Moreover, fair, efficient, and effective election administration is undermined by inaccurate voter rolls and outdated processes and technology. In addition, eligible voters have been kept from the polls by restrictive voting laws, or worse, by overt voter-suppression efforts.

Meaningful and informed public participation in all phases of democracy in the United States provides the foundation for a truly vibrant democracy. The Fund believes that innovation in traditional grassroots organizing strategies, development of opportunities for underrepresented populations in civic leadership, and effective integration of digital media and communications into civic life are promising ways to improve public participation in governance. Authentic public participation in democracy lays the groundwork for substantive policy reforms that are a true reflection of our representative democracy.

The RJI will make $10 million in short-term catalytic grants to respond to public momentum and support structural change to further racial equity.

Program Team

Program Director

What We Fund

The Democratic Practice–U.S. program funds organizations and initiatives that work to transform systems and institutions with a keen understanding of and attention to shifting power dynamics. The program does not generally fund deliberative democracy projects or localized voter registration and Get Out the Vote efforts, nor provide general support for journalism and documentary film production. The RBF does not provide funding to 501(c)(4) lobbying organizations but can make grants to affiliated 501(c)(3) organizations for charitable activities. By law, the RBF cannot provide funds earmarked for lobbying. Read more about What We Fund.