Sunday, June 13, 2010

Philanthropy and Public Policy

I usually write about public policy that shapes philanthropy. But this notice in Mike Allen's Playbook newsletter of June 7, 2010 caught my attention on the much broader issue of philanthropy's role regarding public policies writ large.

"TOM DASCHLE AND VICTORIA KENNEDY, the late senator's wife, are expected to be named co-chairs this week of a well-funded campaign White House allies are rolling out to defend health reform against critics and help states implement it. The Health Information Center is being started by Andrew Grossman, a veteran Democratic operative who founded Wal-Mart Watch, a labor-backed group to challenge the world's largest retailer. Grossman told us the lessons of Wal-Mart Watch will be helpful on health reform: 'When you treat people with respect and try to understand how they interact with businesses and politics, you can move them.'

Estimated budget: $25 million a year, for five years!

The group will eventually have a staff of 10 to 15 people and will be funded by unions, foundations and corporations. Anita Dunn, former White House communications director, is a consultant to the center, working daily with Grossman, who's president. The current board members are Grossman; Erik Smith, who heads Blue Engine Message and Media; and Sheila O'Connell, longtime political director for EMILY's List. It's a 501(c)(3), and later a 501(c)(4) will be added. The group plans to recruit other board members to represent a cross-section of American life -- including members of the corporate community -- in an effort to depoliticize the Affordable Care Act. 'The law is in effect, and the best thing we can do now is explain it,' Grossman said. "
Twenty-five million dollars to defend a law from its critics. That's a lot of money. And it touches on an issue that's been bubbling around my attention span for awhile - the interactions between foundations and government. Nothing new here, except some notable aspects of scale and visibility. Note the above story is about an independently funded (foundations, unions, and corporations) effort to build support for/defend enacted legislation.

I wanted to understand just how big the public commitment to working with philanthropy has become. We've all heard about the Social Innovation Fund ($50 million gov't funds; $50 million in foundation match); the I3 initiative of the Education Department (which led to the I3 repository and announcements of $506 million in foundation money to match $650 million from the government). But I was sure this was the tip of the iceberg.

I had two interns work on the attached scan of White House, the Cabinet departments and the 50 Governor's offices to find philanthropy-related initiatives, liaisons, offices, and programs. It's not easy to add up these numbers - and we're quite sure this list is incomplete - but it is a start.

Engaging the Social Sector - Fed Government FINAL

Check out both documents - Federal and State - and let me know what we got right, wrong, and missed. Big thanks to Coro Fellow David Koken and Stanford junior (And PACS Center intern) Rebekah Morreale.

At this point, I'm just gathering information on philanthropy's current roles vis-a-vis public policies and public programs. All I know for certain - there is a lot of money involved. It's not always direct funding - this article in the Columbia Journalism Review raises some important questions about foundation funding of journalism and what that might mean for public information and debate about public policies. This article from Mark Schmitt at The American Prospect looks at the influence of really large foundations in some public arenas.

In other words, this is classic "raw material, raw thought" blog post. Got ideas, leads, questions, suggestions? Please let me know.

1 comment:

Mazarine said...

Dear Lucy,

THanks for posting your raw thoughts:
What I would like to see is data on the US and data on Norway and Denmark and Sweden for how many services the government has been offering, and how many services nonprofits have been offering, from 1950 to today. And which nonprofits are offering services that government used to offer, and whether foundations are supporting them through government money.

I worked at the Urban League of Portland, and we had a government grant from Multnomah County to offer senior services, and a senior center.

I wonder how many other nonprofits have a similar situation, and what happens to a community when government funding is taken away, and services aren't continued.