Idea to Reality: NED at 30

By David Lowe1

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was launched in the early 1980s, premised on the idea that American assistance on behalf of democracy efforts abroad would be good both for the U.S. and for those struggling around the world for freedom and self-government. This paper offers a brief history of the Endowment, including the events and circumstances that led to its creation, its early legislative battles, more recent legislative success, institutional growth and innovation, and its efforts to help bring democracy foundations into existence in other countries. Although the U.S. experience is undoubtedly unique, the model of a non-governmental organization that receives public funding to carry out democracy initiatives should be considered by other countries that appreciate the benefits of participating in this significant worldwide movement.

The desire of Americans to share with other countries the ideas that helped bring about their own successful democratic transition dates almost as far back as the country’s founding over two centuries ago. As Seymour Martin Lipset has pointed out, throughout American history democratic activists abroad as diverse as Lafayette, Kossuth, Garibaldi and Sun Yat Sen have looked to the U.S. as a source of both ideological and material assistance.2 Much of the pioneering work in the area of political assistance has been carried out by the American labor movement, which was active in international affairs before the turn of the 20th century.


In the aftermath of World War II, faced with threats to our democratic allies and without any mechanism to channel political assistance, U.S. policy makers resorted to covert means, secretly sending advisers, equipment, and funds to support newspapers and parties under siege in Europe. When it was revealed in the late 1960’s that some American PVO’s were receiving covert funding from the CIA to wage the battle of ideas at international forums, the Johnson Administration concluded that such funding should cease, recommending establishment of “a public-private mechanism” to fund overseas activities openly.

On Capitol Hill, Congressman Dante Fascell (D, FL) introduced a bill in April, 1967 to create an Institute of International Affairs, an initiative that would authorize overt funding for programs to promote democratic values. Although the bill did not succeed, it helped lead to discussions within the Administration and on Capitol Hill concerning how to develop new approaches to the ideological competition then taking place between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Interest in American involvement in the promotion of human rights was intensified during the Administration of President Jimmy Carter, who made it a central component of American foreign policy. In the late 1970’s America became committed to the process of monitoring the Helsinki accords, especially that “basket” dealing with human rights. In 1978 Congressmen Fascell and Donald Fraser (D,MN) proposed a “QUANGO” (i.e, quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization) whose mission would be the advancement of human rights. The bill they introduced would have created an Institute for Human Rights and Freedom to furnish technical and financial assistance to nongovernmental organizations that promote human rights abroad.

By the late 70’s, there was an important model for democracy assistance: the German Federal Republic’s party foundations, created after World War II to help rebuild Germany’s democratic institutions destroyed a generation earlier by the Nazis. These foundations (known as “Stiftungen”), each aligned with one of the four German political parties, received funding from the West German treasury. In the 1960’s they began assisting their ideological counterparts abroad, and by the mid-70’s were playing an important role in both of the democratic transitions taking place on the Iberian Peninsula.

Late in 1977, Washington political consultant George Agree, citing the important work being carried out by the Stiftungen, proposed creation of a foundation to promote communication and understanding between the two major U.S. political parties and other parties around the world. Headed by U.S. Trade Representative William Brock, a former Republican National Committee Chairman, and Charles Manatt, then serving as Democratic National Committee Chairman, by 1980 the American Political Foundation had established an office in Washington, D.C. from which it provided briefings, appointments, and other assistance to foreign party, parliamentary, and academic visitors to the U.S.

Two years later, in a major foreign policy address delivered at Westminster Palace before the British Parliament, President Reagan proposed an initiative “to foster the infrastructure of democracy–the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities–which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.” He noted that the American Political Foundation would soon begin a study “to determine how the U.S. can best contribute–as a nation–to the global campaign for democracy now gathering force.” Delivered to a packed Parliamentary chamber in Britain’s Westminster Palace, the Reagan speech would prove to be one of the central contributions to the establishment of a U.S. democracy foundation.

The American Political Foundation’s study was funded by a $300,000 grant from the Agency for International Development (AID) and it became known as “The Democracy Program.” Its executive board consisted of a broad cross-section of participants in American politics and foreign policy making. The Democracy Program recommended establishment of a bipartisan, private, non-profit corporation to be known as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Endowment, though non-governmental, would be funded primarily through annual appropriations and subject to congressional oversight. NED, in turn, would act as a grant-making foundation, distributing funds to private organizations for the purpose of promoting democracy abroad. These private organizations would include those created by the two political parties and the business community, which would join the regional international institutes of the labor movement already in existence.

Legislative Action

The House Foreign Affairs Committee included a two-year authorization for the proposed National Endowment for Democracy at an annual level of $31.3 million as part of the FY84/85 State Department Authorization Act (H.R. 2915). The Reagan Administration had originally proposed a larger ($65 million) democracy promotion initiative to be known as “Project Democracy” and coordinated directly by the United States Information Agency (USIA). When the Foreign Affairs Committee reported out H.R. 2915, it did not include funding for ” Project Democracy,” making clear its preference for the non-governmental Endowment concept. The Administration then voiced support for the creation of NED.

The legislation, which was included in the authorization bill for the State Department and USIA, spelled out the following six purposes of the proposed Endowment: encouraging democratic institutions through private sector initiatives; facilitating exchanges between private sector groups (particularly the four proposed Institutes) and democratic groups abroad; promoting nongovernmental participation in democratic training programs; strengthening democratic electoral processes abroad in cooperation with indigenous democratic forces; fostering cooperation between American private sector groups and those abroad “dedicated to the cultural values, institutions, and organizations of democratic pluralism;” and encouraging democratic development consistent with the interests of both the U.S. and the groups receiving assistance. The bill spelled out the procedures by which the funding would flow from USIA to NED and the mechanisms for insuring financial accountability.3

Included in the legislation were earmarks of $13.8 million for the Free Trade Union Institute, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO incorporated in 1978 that would serve as an umbrella for labor’s regional bodies operating in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe; $2.5 million for the proposed affiliate of the National U.S. Chamber Foundation; and $5 million for each of the two proposed party institutes.

When the authorizing legislation for the Endowment reached the floor of the House, an effort to eliminate all of its funding-as proposed by the Foreign Affairs Committee-failed by a small margin. Nonetheless, the idea of providing funding for party entities remained a concern for many members. Congressman Hank Brown (R,Co), who had sponsored the earlier amendment, was able to exploit those concerns by proposing that the section of Title VI providing earmarked funding for these party institutes be eliminated. This amendment was passed by a vote of 267-136.

Describing the proposed Endowment as “an idea whose time has come,” the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Charles Percy (R,IL), introduced NED’s authorization on the floor of the Senate three months after the House vote. Percy, who had participated in some of the discussions of the “Democracy Program,” expressed his conviction that the legislation was “arguably the most important single U.S. foreign policy initiative of this generation.” On September 22, 1983, the Senate rejected by a vote of 42-49 an amendment by Senators Zorinsky (D,NE) and Helms (R,NC) to strike the authorization for the Endowment.4

The conference report on H.R. 2915 was adopted by the House on November 17, 1983 and the Senate the following day. On the one major substantive issue on which the two Houses differed, the conferees agreed to maintain the House’s deletion of the earmarks for the party institutes, but pointed out that this was “without prejudice to their receipt of funds from the Endowment.”

Getting Organized

On the day the Senate approved the conference report, articles of incorporation were filed in the District of Columbia on behalf of the National Endowment for Democracy. The Endowment was established as a nonprofit organization under section 501c (3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code.

NED’s original Board of Directors, limited to three three-year terms of service, included party activists, representatives of the U.S. labor, business and education communities, foreign policy specialists, and two members of Congress. Following a brief stint by Congressman Fascell as acting chairman, the Endowment appointed as its first permanent Chairman John Richardson, a former Assistant Secretary of State with many years of involvement in private organizations involved in international affairs. For President, the Board chose Carl Gershman, previously the Senior Counselor to the U.S. Representative to the United Nations.

NED’s creation was soon followed by establishment of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), and the National Republican Institute for International Affairs (later renamed the International Republican Institute or “IRI”), which joined the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) as the four affiliated institutions of the Endowment. (FTUI was later reorganized as the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, also known as the “Solidarity Center.”) This structure had been recommended by the Democracy Program for three basic reasons: first, because of the wide recognition of the parent bodies of these new entities as national institutions with a public character, an important asset for this non-governmental foundation; second, because they represent sectors of political life fundamental to any strong democracy; and third, to insure political balance. The Endowment would serve as the umbrella organization through which these four groups and an expanding number of other private sector groups would receive funding to carry out programs abroad.

Although the original authorized level for NED was $31.3 million, its appropriation was later set well below this level at $18 million, reflecting in part the fact that the new institution would not be fully organized until well into the year. As NED President, Carl Gershman, would later point out in congressional testimony, the Endowment devoted considerable attention in its early months to the task of putting into place “sound administrative, financial, and reporting procedures.” A procedures manual that included grant guidelines and selection criteria for grants was approved, and a Statement of Principles and Objectives adopted. Because the Endowment had been funded at less than 60 percent of the authorized level, the Board decided to allocate less than the full earmarked amounts to the labor and business Institutes. This would enable it to fulfill that part of the NED Act mandating that grants be made to other private sector groups as well.5

During the consideration of the appropriation for NED’s second year held in May, 1984, the Endowment’s opponents went on the offensive and persuaded the House to eliminate all funding for it.6 A similar effort failed in the Senate, which then voted to reduce the proposed $31.3 million level by $10 million and to explicitly prohibit the party Institutes from receiving any of this amount. The conference committee agreed to a funding level of $18.5 million and maintained the ban on funding the party Institutes. NED’s appropriation was not to reach the original authorized level for another 10 years.


The second NED authorization for FY86 and 87 set a ceiling of $18.4 million and the final version contained neither earmarks nor prohibition on funding the party Institutes. Additional language was added to the NED Act that: 1) codified the Board’s prohibition on the use of funds for partisan political purposes, including funding for national party operations; 2) mandated that NED consult with the State Department on any overseas programs it funds prior to the commencement of their activities; 3) moved the required date of reporting to the Congress on all grants from December 31 to February 1; 4) required that the Endowment, despite its nongovernmental status, comply fully with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act; and 5) made all financial transactions of the Endowment for each fiscal year subject to a possible USIA audit. (This section was amended in a subsequent authorization to require such audits.)

Since the issuing of the conference report for the second reauthorization covering FY86 and 87, Congress has not included earmarks in any NED-related legislation. A provision in the Foreign Relations Act of 1995 recommended equal funding of the four institutes and a capping of the total amount reserved for them at 55% of the appropriated amount.7

At several points in NED’s budget process, legislative report language has recognized the importance of the Endowment’s discretionary program of grants to indigenous groups working in such areas as human rights, independent media, civic education, and strengthening democratic culture and values. For example, the FY87 conference report on NED’s appropriation directed that not less than 25% of the program dollars (i.e., the total appropriation less the amount spent on administration) be used for discretionary grants. And when Congress appropriated a $5 million increase in FY94, conference report language instructed the Board to use the increment to enhance the discretionary program.8

From time to time Congress has provided special appropriations to the Endowment to carry out specific democratic initiatives in countries of special interest, including Poland (through the trade union Solidarity), Chile, Nicaragua, Eastern Europe (to aid in the democratic transition following the demise of the Soviet bloc), South Africa, Burma, China, Tibet, North Korea and the Balkans. With the latter, NED supported a number of civic groups, including those that played a key role in Serbia’s electoral breakthrough in the fall of 2000. More recently, following 9/11 and the NED Board’s adoption of its third strategic document, special funding has been provided for countries with substantial Muslim populations in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Although the Foreign Relations Act of 1992 declared it to be the sense of the Congress that the Endowment supplement its congressional appropriation with funding from the private sector, Congress has rejected any requirement that NED’s grantees raise matching funds. It did, in the FY93/4 authorization, ask the Administration to study the desirability of such a requirement, a notion that was strongly rejected. The argument made by Hank Brown (who had moved from the House to the Senate) that NED’s founders intended for its original funding to serve as “seed money” that would enable it to become fully privatized was researched by the Congressional Research Service and found to be without any foundation.9 In FY93, the Endowment began compiling an annual report of cash and in-kind contributions raised by all of its grantees to supplement their NED funding. The report for FY99 indicated that for every program dollar spent from NED’s congressional appropriation, its grantees raised over $.65 in “counterpart resources.”

Congressional Support

NED’s congressional support has grown steadily during its first twenty-five years. From the early days of close and frequent votes on its authorizing and appropriating legislation, it has moved beyond survival to widespread bipartisan endorsement on the Hill. In fact, identical Senate and House resolutions (S. Con Res 66; H. Con Res 274) commending the National Endowment for Democracy “for its major contributions to the strengthening of democracy around the world on the occasion of the 20th anniversary” of its establishment, and endeavoring “to continue to support [its] vital work” were passed in October, 2003. The Senate resolution was passed by unanimous voice vote; the House resolution sailed through on a roll call vote of 391-1. Both resolutions had strong, bipartisan co-sponsorship.10 These votes were a reflection of how far the Endowment had come over the years in establishing not only its legitimacy but also the widespread bipartisan approval of its work. But the road had not always been a smooth one.

Apart from the tenuous situation the Endowment faced following the successful floor amendment by its House opponents in 1984, its closest call came in the summer of 1993. Responding to a recommendation of the new (Clinton) Administration, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved an increase in NED’s authorized level from $30 to $48 million. But the relatively large percentage increase, combined with the infusion of large numbers of freshmen in both parties committed to deficit reduction, put the Endowment’s supporters on the defensive.

On June 20, 1993, an amendment to kill the authorization sponsored by Congressman Paul Kanjorski (D,PA) succeeded by a vote of 243-181. However, the following month the Senate voted by a solid 74-23 margin for a somewhat scaled down increase (to $35 million), a vote that was later affirmed by the House (259-172), thereby reversing its earlier position.

The most recent vote on the Endowment’s appropriation in the House came in June, 1994 after the Appropriations Committee had recommended–for budgetary reasons–a slight decrease in NED’s budget to $33 million. An amendment by Congressman Joel Hefly (R,CO) to eliminate all funding was defeated by a vote of 89-317.11

In July, 1997, the Senate overwhelmingly repudiated the recommendation of its Appropriations Committee that NED not be funded in FY98. The Appropriations Committee was following the lead of Senator Judd Gregg (R,NH), one of the early critics of NED when he was in the House, who had ascended to the chairmanship of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Endowment at the end of 1995. On a vote of 72-27, NED supporters overcame a number of procedural obstacles that face any effort by supporters on the Senate floor to restore a funding cut in committee.

Two years later, when the subcommittee tried again to eliminate NED’s funding, the action was reversed on a voice vote on the Senate floor. This followed a spirited defense of the Endowment’s work by Senator Richard Lugar (R,IN) who appealed to his colleagues “to stand up and be counted on whether they feel passionately, as I do, and I think many of us do, about democracy and human rights and what can be done about it effectively.” Prior to the vote, a “Dear Colleague” letter calling for a restoration of funding had been signed by nearly half the Senate.

The vote in 1999 marked the last time the Endowment’s appropriation was debated on the Senate floor. Since 9/11, previous critics, including Senator Gregg, have come to understand the Endowment’s work in the context of critical national security issues, a topic that forms the basis of the Board’s third strategic plan adopted at the end of 2001. In 2003, the core appropriation exceeded $40 million for the first time. In addition, special funding for congressionally mandated countries and regions (see above) totaled over $10 million.

In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush proposed a doubling of NED’s budget, with the increased amount to be applied to programs in the Greater Middle East. In FY 2005, NED’s core appropriation went from just under $40 million to just under $60 million. In FY2006, it climbed to nearly $75 million and reached the $100 million level in FY 2008. Much of the increase came at the initiative of the Congress, and while a significant portion of it has been used to fund programs in the Middle East, NED has been responsive to congressional interest in seeing its programming enhanced in every region.

NED’s annual appropriation grew steadily over the next four years. After reaching a high point of $117.7 million in FY12, the core appropriation decreased to $112 million after being reduced by the across-the-board budget cuts resulting from sequestration.

Congressional support for the Endowment remains strong, however, as evidenced by the bills reported out of the Appropriations Committees in FY13. The House Appropriations Committee provided $122 million for the core appropriation, and the Senate Appropriations Committee provided $236 million. Given the deadlock over the budget, neither bill reached the floor of House or Senate, but the Senate Appropriations Committee report language recognized “the comparative advantages of the NED in the promotion of democracy and human rights abroad, particularly given its status as an NGO, unparalleled experience in promoting freedom during the cold war, and continued ability to conduct programs in the most hostile political environments.” (Report No. 112-172, S 3241)

The early opposition to the Endowment on the Hill tended to focus on four basic factors: 1) its structure; 2) its independence; 3) its purported redundancy, and 4) its mission.12


From the original congressional consideration of NED, the Endowment’s relationship with the four core groups that played a role in its founding became a central focus of the funding debate. Even some who favored the Endowment’s program questioned why–contrary to American political tradition–organizations affiliated with America’s two political parties should receive federal funding. And ideological opponents of labor and business also weighed in against the funding arrangement.13

Some of the debate over NED’s structure in the beginning related to the composition of the Endowment’s Board of Directors, which originally included representatives of the four Institutes. But this argument became moot by the beginning of 1993, at which time an entirely new set of directors had replaced the original Board as the result of the term limits provision written into the Endowment’s by-laws. (Because the turnover was staggered, new Board members began taking their seats in FY1990.) The new group of Board members was carefully balanced in terms of party and ideology, but they were not representing the Institutes and, except in a few cases, were not closely linked to any of them. Indeed, by the time Congress amended the NED Act in 1992 to preclude anyone from serving on the NED Board who was in the leadership of any organization receiving more than five percent of the Endowment’s program funds, the provision no longer had any particular relevance.

Two other arguments related to the Institutes have been advanced: first, that these are “special interests” that can and should be funded privately, and second, that they receive Endowment funding on a “non-competitive” basis. The first argument tends to ignore the independence of these groups from their better known parent organizations and the fact that, like the Endowment itself, their work serves America’s national interest.

The charge about the lack of competitiveness is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding about how the Endowment operates. It is true that the Institutes are given target allocations to help them plan a worldwide program on an annual basis. But the criticism often overlooks the fact that the Endowment’s independent Board has to review and vote on all Institute projects, which are subject to the same oversight procedures as those that affect all other grantees. In fact, the entire concept of “competitiveness,” as applied to NED’s relationship with the Institutes, is misguided. The Endowment does not operate by deciding what democracy projects should be funded and then sending out requests for proposals. Rather, it responds to the needs of democratic groups abroad and funds those requests that fit into its program priorities. Surely it is difficult to quarrel with the strong track record established by Institute programs in countries as diverse as Poland, Peru, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Chile, South Africa, Mexico, and the former Yugoslavia.


NED’s authorizing legislation spells out its non-governmental status, namely that “Nothing in this title shall be construed to make the Endowment an agency or establishment of the United States Government.”14 Board members are not selected by the President and those who are appointed to serve in the Executive Branch relinquish their Board membership.

It is sometimes contended that without this official status, the Endowment lacks accountability. This charge overlooks the fact that NED is answerable to a wide array of overseers in both the Executive and Legislative Branches. As Senator Percy remarked when introducing the original NED legislation in the Senate,

“The Endowment will come under continuous and extensive scrutiny in the appropriate committees of both Houses of Congress. The additional provisions for GAO oversight, as well as the terms of the USIA grant agreement under which it will function, assure a convergence of oversight procedures virtually unique among grantees of federal funds.”15

NED’s non-governmental status has a number of advantages (see below) that are recognized by those institutions that really do carry out American foreign policy. As pointed out in a letter signed by seven former Secretaries of State in 1995, “We consider the non-governmental character of the NED even more relevant than it was at NED’s founding twelve years ago.”16

NED frequently consults with relevant policy makers about its work, going well beyond the level of contact required by its authorizing legislation.


The contention that NED is no longer needed since the American government has its own democracy promoting capability through AID and other agencies ignores the reality that its work is of a vastly different character from these official institutions. Much of this difference stems from NED’s independence, which gives it an ability to work in situations that official bodies (justifiably) avoid, but also its non-bureaucratic character, which enables it to move quickly in rapidly changing situations.

A number of studies have shown the redundancy argument to be without merit. One was commissioned by Congress in the FY94/5 State/USIA authorization, which requested the Administration to conduct an inventory of democracy funded programs and to identify areas of duplication. The resulting report to the Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee submitted by the State Department highlighted the comparative advantages to the different approaches and orientations of those agencies and organizations receiving federal funding.17

A similar request to GAO by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April 1992 led to a long review process that ended in June, 1996, when the leadership of GAO concluded that it was not necessary to make any recommendations to the Hill vis-à-vis the current structure of democracy-funded programs. GAO’s conclusion was based in part on the results of a study by AID and NED staff of every democracy-related grant awarded by each institution in FY1994. The review indicated that the programs of NED and AID are not duplicative but complementary, and spelled out various procedures that have been implemented to insure that the two organizations continue to share information about their projects.18

Left/Right Opposition

In its early days, NED’s very mission was challenged on ideological grounds. Opponents on the far left believed that promoting democracy was tantamount to interfering in the internal affairs of other countries in the service of U.S. foreign policy interests. Although a few antagonists continue on occasion to voice opposition, their numbers have dwindled, particularly with changes after the Cold War in attitudes on the left toward U.S. internationalism.

More significant opposition to the Endowment was voiced early on by some elements of the human rights community, which occasionally mischaracterized NED’s natural interest in free and fair elections as its sole focus, while arguing that such elections do not necessarily guarantee the protection of basic rights. NED’s programmatic emphasis on long-term democratic development, the building of civil society, and funding indigenous human rights groups has not only won over most of these early critics, but has also led to a broad recognition of the substantial coalescence of interest between NED and the human rights community.

Within certain elements of the right, there have been allegations from time to time that the Endowment is promoting a “social democratic” agenda. These are based largely upon the prominent role played by the labor movement, as well as the social democratic background of NED’s President.19 Nonetheless, over the years mainstream conservative activists and thinkers have been among the most outspoken advocates on behalf of the Endowment. Endorsements of NED have been offered by the leadership of such stalwart conservative organizations as the Heritage Foundation and Empower America, and favorable editorials have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and National Review.

Strategic Planning

A 1991 GAO report recommended that the Endowment adopt a more systematic approach to planning program objectives and assessing program results by identifying more specific and measurable goals and priorities. In response, the Endowment’s Board adopted a number of new procedures, including the development of target funding goals for each country in its annual planning document; the hiring of an evaluation specialist to work with grantees in drawing up evaluation plans for each project and to commission independent evaluations by outside experts; and the drafting of strategic plans to focus on long range goals and objectives.

The first strategic plan, drafted by the Board in 1992, was designed as a blueprint for program activity over the next five years. In it the Board sought to address two key issues: first, what role the Endowment should play in a post-Cold War world, and second, how to address the fact that the U.S. Government, primarily through AID, had entered the field of democracy promotion.

The Board recommended that the Endowment play to its strengths, i.e. take advantage of those institutional features that set it apart from others moving into the democracy field: its status as a non-governmental organization, its ” multi-sectoral” character; and its role as an organization whose sole mission is to promote democracy. As a non-governmental organization, it could provide political assistance to democratic forces in repressive or other sensitive political situations where U.S. Government support, even where channeled through intermediary institutions that were non-governmental, would be diplomatically or politically unfeasible. With its special relationship with the four Institutes and its discretionary grants, it could provide a “full package” response to the complex needs of emerging democracies. And as an institution whose sole mission is to promote democracy, the Endowment could serve as a center of democratic activity, bridging the gap between activists and students of democracy.20

The latter role had been served by a biennial global conference of democratic activists, many of them Endowment grantees, which was begun in 1987. It was also highlighted by publication of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, whose first issue appeared in January 1990. The Journal’s editorial Board consisted of the leading thinkers on democracy in the world, and it quickly established itself as the major publication for examining the central issues related to democratic ideas and institutions. From the outset, the Journal’s funding came primarily from private sources.

In implementing the third pillar of the strategy document, a subcommittee of the Board (which included both NED and Journal Board members) proposed establishment of a forum for bringing together scholars and practitioners on a regular basis and for developing a data base for democratic projects around the world. The plan received a strong endorsement from USIA as well as approval from GAO, which noted in a ruling that the forum idea was fully consistent with the Endowment’s authorizing legislation inasmuch as it would serve not as a “program” but rather an important function that would ultimately strengthen the grants program.21

Since its creation in 1994, the International Forum for Democratic Studies has become an important center for analysis of the theory and practice of democratic development worldwide. Although it is part of the Endowment structure and receives some funding from the NED appropriation, much of its budget has been provided by private foundations, which have helped fund the Democracy Resource Center and a variety of research conferences on democratic themes.. The Forum also produces the Journal of Democracy, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and has added a diverse and impressive array of democracy-related books based upon Journal articles and the papers presented at the Forum’s research conferences.

In 2001, the International Forum, with funds authorized by Congress and provided by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, established the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program, which provides support annually for a dozen or so democracy activists, practitioners, scholars and journalists from around the world to deepen their understanding of democracy and to enhance their ability to promote democratic change. And since 2004, the Forum, in partnership with the Munk Centre for International Relations at the University of Toronto, has sponsored an annual lecture on Democracy in the World, named for the late social scientist Seymour Martin Lipset, who had been an active member of the Forum’s Research Council.

The Endowment’s Board of Directors adopted a second strategic plan at the beginning of 1997. With its federally funded budget dropping in FY96 to $30 million and frozen for the foreseeable future, the Board chose to emphasize how the Endowment could maximize its impact during a time of fiscal austerity: first, by expanding programs that promote cross-border and intra-regional activity among grantees (such as the highly successful NED-funded “East to East” programs in the former Soviet Bloc); second, by integrating networks of grantees to maximize their impact within countries such as China and Burma, and third, by encouraging the growth of new counterpart organizations.22

Counterpart Institutions

In 1992, using NED as a model, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy was established in Great Britain. Although, like the Endowment, a portion of its grants are set aside for programs administered by party affiliated organizations,23 the Foundation does not fund programs that have a business orientation (such as those operated by the Center for International Enterprise). Furthermore, it has more of a quasi-governmental character through its close relationship with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foundation’s grants have been heavily concentrated in Eastern Europe and former Commonwealth countries.

In report language accompanying the Endowment’s FY93 appropriation, the Appropriations Committee recognized the existence of democracy promotion foundations in a number of countries and recommended that NED consider convening a “democracy summit” to review issues of mutual concern. The Endowment took up the suggestion, convening a group of foundation representatives in February, 1993 at Airlie House outside of Washington, D.C. Working with Taiwan’s Institute for National Policy Research, with whom the International Forum co-sponsored a research conference in 1995 on “Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies,” NED convened a meeting in Taipei in October, 1997 to promote the concept of establishing new democracy foundations. Some twenty countries were represented at the meeting.

The following year the Australian government established the Center for Democratic Institutions to support the efforts of new democracies in the Asia-Pacific region to strengthen their political systems. The Center’s focus is on parliamentary governance and political parties in the region.

In June, 2003, following a period of consultation with NED, Taiwan launched the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Although the foundation was an initiative of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), its Chairman, the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan, was a prominent member of the opposition KMT. In June 2009, there were press reports reflecting fears that the KMT government was planning to overhaul the foundation through making major personnel changes and reducing its commitment to the promotion of human rights. Thus far those fears have proven unfounded, although it appeared that some changes would be made later in the year.

Following establishment of the United Nations Democracy Fund in 2005 and the Arab Democracy Foundation in 2007, the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) was launched in April 2008 to serve as a platform for European organizations of the civil and political society working on democracy assistance. The EPD’s missions are to advocate for stronger presence of democracy support on the EU agenda, to share knowledge on democracy assistance among various stakeholders, and to provide small grants to partner organizations in the field.

In 2013, the European Endowment for Democracy, a flagship initiative of Poland during its 2011 Presidency of the European Union, was launched with financial support from a number of European countries. Although NED was explicitly mentioned as providing the model for the new foundation, there are a number of key differences, including its mandate to work primarily in the European neighborhood and the fact that the EU countries have been given official representation on its Board of Directors.

A related development that emerged from NED’s efforts to stimulate international cooperation in the promotion of democracy has been the creation of the World Movement for Democracy. The Movement is a “network of networks” that connects and unites people and organizations around the world who are working on a daily basis to promote democratic values and build and strengthen democratic institutions in their respective countries. The Movement, for which NED serves as the secretariat, is directed by an international Steering Committee of distinguished democratic activists and thinkers, chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell. It has held seven World Assemblies funded mostly with non-public funding: New Delhi, India in 1999; Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2000; Durban, South Africa in 2004; Istanbul, Turkey in 2006; Kyiv, Ukraine in 2008; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Lima, Peru in 2012.

In addition to facilitating regional and functional networking, the World Movement has undertaken two major projects. The first, entitled “Defending Civil Society,” has been designed to counteract the growing crackdown by semi-authoritarian regimes on non-governmental organizations that focus on democracy and human rights, including their ability to organize, conduct activities, and accept international funding. The second is a major worldwide assessment of democracy assistance, looking at best practices and lessons learned over the past two decades.

In response to congressional concerns about the future of media assistance programs, the Endowment established the Center for International Media Assitance (CIMA) toward the end of 2006 with a grant from the State Department. The Center’s mission is to strengthen the support, raise the visibility, and improve the effectiveness of media assistance programs throughout the world. The Center provides information, builds networks, conducts research, and highlights the indispensable role independent media play in the creation and development of sustainable democracies around the world. CIMA has undertaken several major projects, including publication of two large surveys of media assistance under the title “Empowering Independent Media” and convening a major donor’s conference held in 2012 at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pocantico Center. It also spearheaded the official commemoration of World Press Freedom Day in 2011.

The most recent strategic document, adopted by the NED Board in 2012, emphasizes the growing interrelationship between the grants program and the activities such as the World Movement, the International Forum, and the Center for International Media assistance. This interrelationship enables the Endowment to supplement its grants support for democrats in highly repressive societies, assistance to democratic transitions, aid for democrats in semiauthoritarian countries, and help for new democracies with a capability to mobilize political and moral support for democracy activists, to build cross-border networks, to strengthen cooperation within the democracy assistance community, and to make use of research to improve democratic practice.


To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of NED’s establishment, the Board of Directors issued an invitation to President George W. Bush to make a major statement about democracy. In his address, one of the most cited of his Presidency, he articulated a vision of a more democratic Middle East, the one region of the world where democracy has failed to take hold. Much of his speech echoed one of the major themes of the Endowment’s third strategy document, which calls for promoting democratic institutions and values in countries with significant Muslim populations, while maintaining NED’s global grants program.

In a ceremony at the Library of Congress on June 4, 2008, marking the 25th anniversary of President Reagan’s Westminster address, the Endowment signed an agreement with the Library’s Manuscript Division to donate its official papers and documents. On hand for the ceremony were Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and other members of Congress from both major parties who have been highly supportive of its program over the years.

The National Endowment for Democracy has grown from a simple but powerful idea into a multi-faceted institution with a wide-ranging program, solid bipartisan support, and an ambitious agenda. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, in an on-line interview with the Washington Post, candidate Barack Obama advocated for increasing NED’s budget, observing that “we benefit from the expansion of democracy: democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies, and the nations with which we share our deepest values.”

In January 2009, NED’s Board of Directors elected former congressional leader Richard Gephardt to serve as its Chairman,succeeding former congressman Vin Weber, who had held the position since 2001. Upon the expiration of his three terms of service to NED, he was succeeded in 2013 as Chariman by his former House colleague Martin Frost. As a member of Congress, Frost had spearheaded the House initiative to strengthen parliaments in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe following the fall of Communism.

On November 13, 2013, NED celebrated its 30th anniversary with an event at the National Archives chaired by Frost and Weber. In describing NED’s mandate on behalf of the American people, Speaker John Boehner observed, “Our work to help spread freedom and democracy around the world is at the core of who we are and what we believe in.” And in saluting NED’s thirtieth anniversary, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi concluded with the hope “that we will continue to honor our responsibility to support freedom around the world.”


  1. Vice President, Government Relations and Public Affairs, National Endowment for Democracy

  2. Seymour Martin Lipset, “Democratic Linkage and American Aid,” The Washington Times, June 11, 1995.

  3. The question of whether NED was financially accountable to USIA was not resolved until 1985, when the GAO ruled that the agency did have financial (but not programmatic) oversight over the Endowment.

  4. Congressional Record, September 22, 1983, pp. 12703-22. Interestingly, a number of those Senators voting for the amendment would eventually become strong supporters: Biden, Domenici, Kassebaum, Murkowski, Roth, Rudman, Simpson and Wallop.

  5. The General Accounting Office, while finding this action “understandable,” subsequently ruled that the earmarks should nonetheless have been followed. It recommended no retroactive corrective measures.

  6. The vote was influenced by a New York Times article published three days before the vote reporting that some funding from the labor institute had been used in the Presidential election in Panama. NED’s Statement of Principles and Objectives, adopted later that year, asserts that “No Endowment funds may be used to finance the campaigns of candidates for public office.”

  7. Although the bill was vetoed by President Clinton (for reasons unrelated to NED) and did not become law, the Board decided to follow its provision regarding equalization of the target figures for the four Institutes. This policy has been maintained since then.The proportion of funding reserved for Institute projects is currently at the 55% maximum contained in both the 1995 and 1997 State Department authorization bills.

  8. In doing so, the committee cited the fact that some of the Institutes had begun to receive substantial amounts of funding from AID. See Conference Report to accompany H.R. 2519, October 14, 1996, p. 105.

  9. “National Endowment for Democracy: Policy and Funding Issues,” Congressional Research Service, August 2, 1996, p. 5.

  10. In the Senate: Frist, Daschle, Lugar, Biden, Graham, Bayh, Kyl, Hatch, Leahy, Hagel, Levin, McCain, McConnell, and Sarbanes; In the House: Hyde, Lantos, Cox, Payne, Berman, Bereuter, Cardin, Chabot, Crowley, Diaz-Balart, Dreier, Engel, Gallegly, (Mark) Green, Houghton, (Patrick) Kennedy, Kingston, Kirk, Lowey, Meeks, Menendez, Napolitano, Pitts, Rohrabacher, Ros-Lehtinen, Royce, (Christopher) Smith, and Ackerman.

  11. A conference committee restored $1 million of the $2 million cut from the appropriation.

  12. A fifth issue that is often raised when the Endowment is debated is the cost to the U.S. treasury. Given the modest size of the NED budget, it is clear that this “issue” is used tactically by critics to increase support among so-called “deficit hawks” and is not what stimulates them to take up the cause.

  13. This has been mitigated somewhat on the right by the AFL-CIO’s strong anti-Communist orientation in its international work. The other aspect of the early criticism of the Endowment’s funding of the labor institute was its disproportionate allocation vis-a-vis the other core grantees prior to 1995. Many of those making this criticism were unaware of the fact that it was a congressional earmark that created the original imbalance.

  14. 22 USC 4412, Sec. 503 (c).

  15. Congressional Record, September 22, 1983. P. 12714.

  16. 16. The seven were James Baker, Laurence Eagleburger, George Shultz, Alexander Haig, Henry Kissenger, Edmund Muskie and Cyrus Vance.

  17. See “Democracy Promotion Programs Funded by the U.S. Government,” A Report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress, as requested in P.L. 103-236, Section 534.

  18. See “A Review of Democracy Programs Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy,” March 1, 1996.

  19. See “Paying Big Labor to Export its Agenda,” Insight, July 12, 1992.

  20. National Endowment for Democracy, “Strategy Document,” January 1992, pp.6-12.

  21. General Accounting Office, Decision B-248111, September 9, 1992.

  22. National Endowment for Democracy, “Promoting Democracy in a Time of Austerity: NED’s Strategy for 1997 and Beyond.”

  23. Before the Foundation became fully operational, NED hosted a series of meetings for its acting Executive Director and a founding Board member in Washington, where they were familiarized with the Endowment’s structure and procedures. The two organizations have maintained a close relationship since that time.

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