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October 29, 2014

Opinion: Is 'Big Philanthropy' Incompatible with Democracy?

A longtime foundation leader offers a lengthy critique of the burgeoning role of "big philanthropy" in driving public policy in an essay for the journal Democracy.

Gara LaMarche, formerly of George Soros' Open Society Institute and the Atlantic Philanthropies, writes that he long urged foundations to eschew "simple charity" and rather to tackle the root causes of hunger, poverty, and other ills. He says he now has growing doubts "about the legitimacy of philanthropy in its engagement with the democratic process."

Mr. LaMarche, now president of the Democracy Alliance, an advisory group of progressive donors, cites the outsize influence of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in shaping education and health policy, the relative lack of foundations' engagement on issues such as social justice and climate change, and the nearly uniform "self-interest" in the nonprofit sector in fighting any changes in the charitable deduction.

Read a Chronicle of Philanthropy article about the growing political influence of billionaire donors.