Philanthropic Leaders Call to Uphold American Democracy During Tense Election

Democracy Letter
5 min readOct 19, 2020

America’s system of constitutional democracy has long been the envy of the world. Yet, this is an incredibly fragile time; each day seems to bring news that further divides and angers the American public. This election year has already been rocked by a global pandemic, continued instances of racial injustice, a Supreme Court nomination battle, and increasing threats of political violence.

An insidious form of hyper-partisanship — negative polarization — leads Americans to hate our political opponents even more than we like our own allies. The public’s attachment to democracy and faith in government are near their all-time lows, and a small but increasing number partisans across the spectrum are willing to accept the use of violence for political gain. These are giant warning signs for American democracy, for civil society, and for most of the issues about which philanthropy is concerned.

Despite these challenges, American citizens have already begun to exercise their most sacred democratic obligation — voting — in numbers we have not seen in decades. Experts believe turnout for this election could top 150 million people, up from 139 million in 2016. Motivated by an intense interest in the presidential race, this wave of civic participation provides our best opportunity to begin the long journey of democratic renewal.

Repairing the fabric of our democracy will require extraordinary stewardship by leaders across society. This is especially true of elected officials at all levels of government, as their vigilance is key to ensuring the sacred right to vote is upheld, and the norms of representative democracy transcend partisanship. There are also important roles for media, businesses, civil society groups, citizens themselves, and our peers in philanthropy. To achieve this objective, we call upon leaders at all levels of government and sectors of society to uphold their obligations to democracy during this intensely partisan time. Specifically, we ask that they:

  • Ensure that all eligible voters are able to vote and to have their votes counted. Any efforts to suppress votes — including along racial lines — or to thwart or overturn the will of the people are anti-democratic and unacceptable.
  • Support efforts and advance messages that uphold the safety and integrity of the electoral process. Unfounded claims about voter fraud or the illegitimacy of the election do irreparable harm to the centerpiece of our democracy.
  • Forcefully and consistently condemn all forms of political violence. Our leaders should be doing everything in their power to de-escalate rather than encourage violence.
  • Commit to respect the peaceful transfer of power or the continuation of power, pending the final results of the election, which will take time to tabulate. This norm is a hallmark of American democracy, and the American people should not be left to wonder whether a candidate for public office will refuse to accept the results of a free and fair election.

We sign this letter as philanthropic leaders and representatives of nonpartisan institutions whose interest in the presidential election is not a particular outcome for any candidate, but for these core values that should transcend politics and be upheld in any election. Our goal is the strengthening of American democracy and careful and thoughtful leadership through this tense moment to achieve that objective.

Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation

Edie Allen, Colombe Peace Foundation

Paul Beaudet, Wilburforce Foundation

Judy Belk, The California Wellness Foundation

Mike Berkowitz, Democracy Funders Network

Angelica Berrie, The Russell Berrie Foundation

Benjamin Binswanger, Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation

Larry Birenbaum

Fred Blackwell, San Francisco Foundation

Robert Boisture, Fetzer Institute

Lisa Braun Glazer, Ph. D.

Eric Braverman, Schmidt Futures

Jack Byrd, Jr., Interactivity Foundation

Kristen Cambell, PACE (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement)

Katie Campbell Simons, Drawing Democracy Fund

Kara Inae Carlisle, McKnight Foundation

Cathy Cha, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

Julie Chaiken

Susan R. Clark, Gaia Fund

Steve Cohen, Cow Hollow Fund

Laurie Cohen

Stuart Comstock-Gay, Delaware Community Foundation

Rick Cummings

Alan Davis, The WhyNot Initiative

Kevin Dean, Momentum Nonprofit Partners/Mid-South Philanthropy Network

Natasha Dolby, The Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund

Aaron Dorfman, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah

Aaron Dorfman, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Ellen Dorsey, Wallace Global Fund

Everett Dowling

Doug Edwards

John Esler, Esler Family Foundation

John Esterle, The Whitman Institute

Katie Everett

Sophie Fanelli, Stuart Foundation

Nancy Farese

R. Alden Fedon, Jonathan Logan Family Foundation

Sara Fertman, The Jeffrey H. and Shari L. Aronson Family Foundation

Julie Flynn

Jason Franklin, Ktisis Capital

Ellen Friedman, Compton Foundation

David Friedman, Faultline Foundation

Patricia Gibbs, Hellman Foundation

Donald Gips, Skoll Foundation

Bruce Goldberg

Douglas Goldman, Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund

Joe Goldman, Democracy Fund Voice

Sally Gottesman

Angela Graham, Fetzer Institute

Geoffrey Gund

Phil Harvey

Crystal Hayling, The Libra Foundation

Lukas Haynes, David Rockefeller Fund

Stephen Heintz, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Susan Hirsch, Hirsch Philanthropy Partners

Rachel Hoff, The Ronald Reagan Institute

Jascha Hoffman

Reid Hoffman

Brian Hooks, Stand Together

Don Jones, New Economy Initiative

Derek Kaufman

Sara Kay, Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust

Julie Kidd, Silver Giving Foundation

Larry Kramer, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Ruth LaToison Ifill, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Hanh Le, Weissberg Foundation

David Lee

Jonathan Lever, Fetzer Institute

Ralph Lewin, Peter E. Haas Jr., Family Fund

Pamela Lewis, New Economy Initiative

Bob Litterman

Jonathan Logan, Logan Family Foundation

Patrick Madden, National Archives Foundation

Sarah Malachowsky, Penney Family Fund

Timothy Maloney, Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr. Foundation

Dwayne S. Marsh, Northern California Grantmakers

Suzette Masters, Flower Hill Fund

Kim McCabe, The Klarman Family Foundation

Rodney McKenzie, Fetzer Institute

Dmitri Mehlhorn, Investing in US

Wilhelm Merck

Jamie Merisotis, Lumina Foundation

Paulette Meyer, Faultline Foundation

Myron Miller, Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation

Kathryn Murdoch, Quadrivium

Rachel Pritzker, Pritzker Innovation Fund

Roland Pritzker, Pritzker Innovation Fund

Regan Pritzker, The Libra Foundation and the Kataly Foundation

Kristin Purdy, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation

Amy Rabbino, John Pritzker Family Fund

Susan Roll

Jennifer Roller, The Raymond John Wean Foundation

Robert Romero, Civic Health Project

Christine Russell, Gaia Fund

Jenny Russell, Merck Family Fund

Roger Sant, Summit Foundation

Susie Sarlo, Susie Sarlo Family Fund

Joan Sarnat, Sarnat-Hoffman Philanthropic Fund

Mark Schlesinger, Gaia Fund

Tzivia Schwartz Getzug

Sudnya Shroff

Tim Silard, Rosenberg Foundation

Adam Simon, Aviv Foundation

Patricia Smith, The Funders Network

William Soskin

Trent Stamp, The Eisner Foundation

Paul Stebbins

Ann Stern, Houston Endowment

Christine Switzer

Nicole Taylor, Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Peter Teague, PT Philanthropic

Jeffrey Tiell

Carol Traeger

Janet Tran, The Ronald Reagan Institute

Shayna Rose Triebwasser, Righteous Persons Foundation

Nick Troiano, Unite America

Barrett Walker, Alex C. Walker Foundation

David Weil, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation

Jenna Weinberg

Sarah Williams, Propel

Dwight Wilson

Roger Zakheim, The Ronald Reagan Institute



Democracy Letter

A letter from philanthropists affirming the principles of a free, fair, and safe election season and asking fellow leaders to do the same.