Common Cause is a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. with chapters in 35 states. It was founded in 1970 by John W. Gardner, a Republican, who was the former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson as well as chair of the National Urban Coalition, an advocacy group for minorities and the working poor in urban areas. As initially founded, Common Cause was prominently known for its efforts to bring about an end to the Vietnam War and lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
|Founder||John W. Gardner|
|Karen Hobert Flynn|
Sometimes identified as liberal-leaning, Common Cause has also been identified as nonpartisan and advocates government reform. It is identified with the reformist "good government" movement and is often described as a watchdog group. The organization's tagline is "holding power accountable" and its stated mission is to "work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process."
The organization’s stated issue areas are "money in politics," "voting and elections," "ethics," "a fair economy," and "media and democracy."
Money in politicsEdit
In 1972, Common Cause sued President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, under the Federal Corrupt Practices Act in an attempt to force Nixon's campaign to report early campaign contributions. The lawsuit forced the disclosure of the names of several Nixon donors. In 1974, Common Cause supported passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), encompassing public financing of presidential campaigns and oversight of campaign ethics through the Federal Election Commission.
Ironically, Common Cause itself is a dark money group, organized as a 501(c)4 and has not released the names of any of its donors since 2012. Their most recent annual report, from 2012-2013 which lists their 2012 donors, includes Tom Golisano who took partial credit for the 2009 New York State Senate leadership crisis.
Common Cause has advocated for public financing of elections in order to decrease the influence of special-interest contributions. The group's most successful campaign finance reform efforts have been in New York City in 1999; Connecticut in 2005; Montgomery County, Maryland in 2014; and California.
Voting and electionsEdit
The organization has sought to end the practice of gerrymandering in several states. In 2016 they filed a lawsuit in North Carolina challenging the constitutionality of district maps. The organization's North Carolina chapter has led a campaign to create a nonpartisan redistricting process which has bipartisan support in the state. Common Cause is also challenging redistricting in Democratic controlled states, such as Maryland.
National popular voteEdit
Common Cause is in favor of establishing a national popular vote for presidential elections to replace the current electoral college system. Following the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, Common Cause called for the National Popular Vote Compact to counteract what it called the "anti-democratic" outcome in that election.
Common Cause lobbied Congress to pass the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, requiring government officials to disclose their finances and restricting the "revolving door" between government and business. In 1989, they lobbied for passage of a new Ethics in Government Act, which ended special-interest honoraria for members of Congress and closed a loophole that allowed members to convert campaign funds to personal use.
During the 2016 presidential elections, Common Cause suggested that the Clinton Foundation would create ethics and conflict of interest challenges for Hillary Clinton should she become president. They criticized Hillary Clinton's plan to give Chelsea Clinton control of the Foundation and called for an independent audit and full disclosure of the Foundation's donors. The public interest group also criticized Donald Trump on his refusal to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential elections. The organization has been outspoken about the potential conflicts of interest from Mr. Trump's businesses and called for Mr. Trump to put his assets into a blind trust instead of handing over control of his businesses to his children.
Common Cause opposes modern-day efforts to call an Article V convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution, as proposed by the Citizens for Self-Governance, a conservative advocacy group through that organization's "Convention of the States" initiative, which is backed by some Republican politicians. In a May 2016 report entitled The Dangerous Path: Big Money's Plan to Shred the Constitution, Common Cause wrote that "There is nothing to prevent the convention, once convened, from proposing additional changes that could limit or eliminate fundamental rights or upend our entire system of government." While a constitutional convention could conceivably overturn the controversial Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC and limit the role of money in politics (as advocated by groups such as Wolf PAC), Common Cause suggests that the risk of a runaway convention is too great because "state legislatures, the majority of which are controlled by Republicans, would likely control the agenda at a constitutional convention" and as a result it is extremely unlikely "that a convention controlled by those legislatures would really do anything productive on money in politics, on voting rights, on democracy in general."
Karen Hobert Flynn became the organization's president in June 2016.
The following individuals have served as president of Common Cause:
- John W. Gardner (1971-1975)—founder of the organization
- David Cohen (1975-1981)
- Fred Wertheimer (1981-1995)
- Ann McBride (1995-1999)—longtime Common Cause employee who served as vice president and lobbyist for the group before serving as president
- Scott Harshbarger (1999-2002)—served as Massachusetts Attorney General before becoming Common Cause president
- Chellie Pingree (2003-2007)—after stepping down as president of Common Cause, was elected as U.S. Representative from Maine
- Robert W. (Bob) Edgar (2007-2013)—served as Democratic U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania before becoming president of Common Cause; died in office in April 2013
- Miles Rapoport (2014-2016)—was president of Demos before becoming president of Common Cause
- Karen Hobert Flynn (2016–present)
The following are three of the most prominent individuals who have served as chairs of Common Cause's board:
- John W. Gardner (1970-1978)—founder and chairman of the group; served two three-year terms as chairman before stepping down.
- Archibald Cox (1980-1992)—former Watergate special prosecutor.
- Robert Reich (2013–present*)—former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration (due to Common Cause's policy of nonpartisanship, Reich took a leave of absence from the group from February 2016 until after the November 2016 election in order to become involved in Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign).
Common Cause has an annual combined budget of around $10 million. This includes its sister educational foundation.
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- Dan Eggen, Common Cause suddenly uncommonly forceful in fighting Koch Industries, Washington Post (February 10, 2011): "Common cause has long been something of a nerd among the jocks. ... the 40-year-old good-government group."
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- Richie, Rob (August 5, 2010). "National Popular Vote: A Win for Our Democracy in Massachusetts". Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
- "Fix the broken Electoral College - It's time for National Popular Vote". Common Cause. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
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- Cassidy, John. "Trump's Businesses Represent an Impossible Conflict of Interest". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
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- Davies, David Martin. "Texas Matters: Gov. Abbott Backs Convention Of States To Rewrite U.S. Constitution". Retrieved 2017-02-16.
- "On the Brink of a Constitutional Crisis" (Press release). Common Cause. December 2, 2015.
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