Abstract

The central dilemma of American democracy is the tension between “voice” and “equality”: between the Constitution's unconditional guarantees of citizens' expressive, associational, and property rights and the legal and political equality that is the foundation of majoritarian decision-making. Philanthropy and nonprofit organizations – which enable citizens to give money and time to support causes in which they believe – have posed this dilemma with unusual force, allowing moneyed minorities to oppose and sometimes overwhelm the popular will. In the past, these assertions of private power have inevitably aroused popular opposition producing legislative and regulatory outcomes that have maintained a balance between voice and equality. Today, with unprecedented accumulations of wealth and legal changes permitting the unrestricted use of wealth in politics, the unchallenged exercise of private power through philanthropy and the nonprofit sector poses grave threats to the democratic process.

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