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July 24, 2014

Opinion: Beware of Philanthropists Out to 'Save' Democracy

A chorus of calls by foundation leaders for philanthropy to engage in healing a supposed breakdown in American democracy masks a primarily liberal advocacy agenda, a nonprofit executive writes in a Wall Street Journal column.

James Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation, cites recent articles by foundation officials in The Chronicle of Philanthropy and other outlets with titles such as "How Philanthropy Can Help Fix Democracy" that attribute public distrust of politics to partisan divisions and the influence of money and interest groups.

He asserts, however, that the Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and other big foundations played a major role in fostering that distrust and "fracturing the national consensus" by pursuing confrontational, litigious strategies in support of particular policy positions and demographic groups.

Philanthropic leaders believe they "have no ideological or financial agenda beyond advancing the public interest [and] stand above the political fray," Mr. Piereson writes. "This assumption is manifestly untrue. Major foundations since at least the early 1960s have been deeply involved in the country's most contentious political debates—and they have pursued an obvious, politically liberal, ideological agenda."