The right to compromise

September 23, 2009

Though smaller than it should be, there is an ongoing debate in the non-profit community about whether or not non-elected advocates have the right to make compromises during the legislative or regulatory process.

Whether its land conservationists compromising on CAFE standards at the national level or wildlife enthusiasts at the state level promising not to object to the next site chosen as long as the military moves away from this migratory bird nesting site, advocates cut deals on our behalf all the time.

The only thing is, unlike elected officials, we didn’t elect them.  And worse, they aren’t really accountable to us in any way.

It’s a problem for a supposedly democratic society that currently houses much of its policy expertise in the non-profit sector.




  1. And yet, far better (I’d say) for someone/a group negotiating in good faith for the common good (while definitions will inevitably vary) to be at the table to compromise than the alternative: industry lobbyists who are also unelected but paid to fight for private interests…often at the expense of the public good. I understand the squeamishness that comes from people who feel their interests have not been adequately represented by policy experts in the 11th hour, but having policy expertise from the nonprofit sector at the negotiating table at all is such a favorable alternative to the default political reality in this country (those interests with money get a seat at the legislative table) that I don’t see how it would be better for those experts to be shut out by those they are trying to help because we don’t know if we trust them. This is the collision of the ideal (a representative democracy that’s, you know, representative of the will of the people) with the practical: industry is going to send in the lobbyists; if we have individuals with expertise who are willing to devote their careers to a think tank or an academic center or what have you–hoping to improve lives through advocacy–we’re probably better off if they make compromises than if we all protest loudly outside while lobbyists and policymakers strike a deal.

  2. On a completely unrelated (though nonprofit-y) note: someone interviewed on NPR this morning wondered if there was “really a there there.”

    I choked a little on my coffee.

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