Madison Initiative

Overview

The Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative focuses on strengthening U.S. democracy and its institutions—especially Congress—in a time of political polarization.

Launched in 2014, the initiative is nonpartisan and supports nonprofit organizations across the ideological spectrum—academic researchers, advocacy groups, think tanks, and civic leadership organizations—who seek to understand and improve the political system so that elected representatives are better equipped to solve society’s greatest problems and in turn, earn public trust and support. The Hewlett Foundation’s board has authorized the initiative to make approximately $20 million in grants per year until 2021, for a total commitment of $150 million.

Goals

  • Uphold key values of U.S. democracy including pluralism, political tolerance, negotiation and compromise, and the central role of Congress in our democracy.
  • Strengthen Congress as an institution so that it has the capacity to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities as the first branch of government. These include passing laws and budgets, conducting effective bipartisan oversight, and operating with a culture of deliberation, leadership, and civility.
  • Improve campaign finance and election processes to reduce polarization, give voters more choices, and better represent the diversity of opinions among constituents.
  • Combat digital disinformation’s negative impact on democracy and elections, including how it spreads inflammatory and inaccurate information and contributes to polarization.
  • Support research, data, media, and collaboration to inform and improve the work of democracy philanthropists, scholars, advocates, journalists, political reformers, and policymakers.

Our Grantmaking

Pew Charitable Trusts
for support of Pew Research Center's work on American politics
Social Science Research Council
for support of the Social Media and Democracy Research Initiative
Brennan Center for Justice
for general operating support
Bipartisan Policy Center
for support of the Democracy Project and for the Healthy Congress Index

Our Team

Kelly Born
Kelly Born 
Program Officer
 @kellykborn
Vidya Krishnamurthy
Vidya Krishnamurthy 
Director of Communications
 @kvidyak
Kristy Bernard Tsadick 
Deputy General Counsel
Evan Underwood 
Grants Officer

Learn More

It is hard to look at events in recent years without concluding that democracy in America is in trouble. Surveys routinely find that most Americans think poorly of the federal government and, in particular, of Congress, which is meant to be “the people’s branch.” Such frustration and mistrust threaten to undermine our representative democracy.

Against this backdrop, the Hewlett Foundation considered how to help alleviate problems associated with partisan political polarization, with a special focus on Congress. Our initiative is named for James Madison, who warned against “the mischiefs of faction.” He and his peers among the founders understood that governing a nation as diverse as the United States would require leaders and a national legislative body capable of reaching agreement among representatives of people with very different, and often conflicting, interests, beliefs and agendas.

We are explicitly agnostic on particular policy outcomes, and work with organizations from across the political spectrum with whom we share the goal of improving our system of government. Ultimately, the health of a representative democracy depends on whether its legislative institutions are working in ways that its citizens support. Moreover, as a private charitable foundation, we are strictly prohibited from attempting to influence election outcomes, including participating in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective office.

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