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Chuck Manatt, One of America's Great Democracy Activists, Both Here and Abroad

Posted: 08/04/11 03:54 PM ET

In the midst of this period of both national and international challenges, it is time to pay tribute to a leader who helped create many of the vital institutions that are currently responding to these challenges in a fair and democratic manner. Charles T. (Chuck) Manatt passed away late last month at the age of 75. Chuck was well known internationally and nationally in his various roles a lawyer, political leader, and statesman.

As Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 1981 to 1985, Chuck rebuilt that organization into a much more powerful force in the national political scene. While DNC chair, Chuck joined with a group including Frank Fahrenkopf, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ambassador Mike Samuels, the then Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Lane Kirkland, the President of AFL-CIO, to support a new initiative that would help answer the challenges the United States was facing during the first wave of democratic transitions. Chuck, Frank, Mike, and Lane worked closely together -- and with President Ronald Reagan and Congressman Dante Fascell (D-FL), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- to craft the proposal to create the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was signed into law by President Reagan in December 1983. Since that moment 28 years ago, Chuck's legacy continues to inspire change around the world.

Chuck was also the founding chairman of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), one of the four core institutes of the NED. Madeleine Albright, the founding Vice Chair, recently noted about Chuck, "He understood the positive role our country could play in advancing democracy and human rights worldwide." Chuck also understood well the need for business and labor to be part of that democracy movement. Not only did he work with Lane Kirkland and Mike Samuels to build the National Endowment for Democracy, Chuck was a huge champion of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the American Institute for Labor and the Solidarity Center, two of the four core institutes of the NED that represent the voices of the private sector and labor in democratic reform, respectively, alongside the NDI and the International Republican Institute. Chuck's leadership and guidance was invaluable as the NED and its affiliates made their way through struggles in the early years, developing programs overseas that had real impact and making the case to the American people and Congress about the value of this new initiative. Chuck was at the forefront of helping the NED -- and the core institutes -- establish credibility and garner real results.

Chuck was also an accomplished business leader, creating a law firm, Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips, and actively engaging in the banking community. While serving on CIPE's board of directors, Chuck played a key role in helping to develop new initiatives in the areas of corporate governance and economic reform. In the early days of the Hungarian transition to democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Chuck led CIPE's first major conference in Budapest on political and economic reform where his background as a banker, lawyer, and political leader enabled him to provide some very sage advice to the new Hungarian government.

Chuck will be missed by his friends and colleagues. He will be remembered by the people and organizations he supported and guided as a mentor and visionary for his legacy of leadership at the DNC, NED, NDI, CIPE, and so many other organizations. The compelling events of this year's "Arab Spring" show that Chuck's work in support of democracy and freedom is as relevant today as it was in 1983 at the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy.