Common Cause is a nonprofit grassroots political advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1970 by John W. Gardner, the former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. The group was created to serve as a citizens' lobby to establish greater transparency and accountability in U.S. political institutions.
Common Cause's most recent President and CEO was Robert W. Edgar, a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He served from 2007 until his death in April 2013. His successor, Miles Rapoport, former President of Demos, began work with the organization in March 2014.
In September 2010, Robert Reich the former Secretary of Labor in the administration of President Bill Clinton, became the Chairman of the National Governing Board. Archibald Cox, the former Watergate Special Prosecutor, was Chairman of Common Cause from 1980 to 1992.
The organization describes itself as a "nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process.”. It focuses on five broad issues: money in politics, elections and voting, ethics in government, government accountability, and media and democracy.
Some media outlets have described Common Cause as a liberal organization, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, TIME, and USA Today. Common Cause regularly participates in the National Conference for Media Reform
Campaign finance reform
Common Cause is most notable for its activism for campaign finance reform. In 1974 Common Cause led the effort to pass the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), creating the current system of public financing in presidential campaigns.
At the state level, Common Cause has led successful efforts to pass campaign finance reforms, including the first disclosure laws, contribution limits and public financing in states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Jersey, Michigan, Kentucky, Connecticut, and Florida.
Common Cause is currently working on legislation for voluntary public financing in Maryland, New Mexico, and other states.
Common Cause advocates a voter-verified paper audit trail for election machines in all states. In January 2008, Common Cause and the Verified Voting Foundation released a report entitled “Voting at Risk 2008” highlighting the problems with electronic voting machines. The report listed 17 states as “High-Risk”.
Common Cause is in favor of establishing a national popular vote for presidential elections to replace the current electoral college system. Since 2005 Common Cause has advocated giving the District of Columbia voting rights in Congress.
Common Cause was instrumental in passage of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which was enacted on September 14, 2007. The bill strengthens public disclosure requirements concerning lobbying activity and funding, places more restrictions on gifts for members of Congress and their staff, and provides for mandatory disclosure of earmarks in expenditure bills.
In 1972, Common Cause sued President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, under the Federal Corrupt Practices Act for failure to report campaign contributions. This high-profile case forced Nixon to expose his secret list of donors and aided in his ultimate downfall two years later.
In January 2011, Common Cause filed a petition with the Justice Department, seeking an investigation about whether United States Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. Common Cause then investigated the financial filings of Thomas, saying that Thomas did not include his wife's income in his filings. Bob Edgar, Common Cause president, called Thomas' explanation of his omissions "implausible."
In 2011, the group hosted a rally near the site of a meeting of wealthy conservative activists organized by the Koch family. Christian Hartsock, a videographer who contributes to Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com, interviewed several attendees who made racist remarks about Thomas, such as suggesting he should be lynched and that he should be put back in the fields. Another person suggested that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes should be killed. Common Cause quickly condemned such rhetoric.
The organization states that its annual combined budget is $12 million. This includes its sister educational foundation. Common Cause receives funding from, among other groups, liberal George Soros' Open Society Institute.
Common Cause is funded by foundation grants, as well as contributions and membership fees from its nearly 80,000 paying members and donors. The organization claims 400,000 "members", but these are primarily advocates and email subscribers.
Common Cause Magazine
From 1980 through 1996, Common Cause published Common Cause Magazine. The magazine, once termed "the little magazine that could," and described by the Washington Post as "a deeply researched, finger-in-your-eye sort of periodical", paralleled the work of Common Cause and focused on issues such as campaign finance and government accountability.
The magazine won more than two dozen journalism awards, including five from Investigative Reporters and Editors, as well as a National Magazine Award for General Excellence.
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- "Common Cause's uncommon role". Christian Science Monitor. 5 September 1980.
The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), encompassing public financing of presidential campaigns and oversight of campaign ethics through the Federal Election Commission clearly is the citizen lobby's major accomplishment.
- "Voting at Risk 2008 Report". Common Cause. 30 January 2008.
- "Six States at 'High' Risk for Voting Machine Mishaps on Super Tuesday". 31 January 2008.
- Common Cause Website: DC Voting Rights Accessed February 29, 2008
- "MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA TODAY: A REFORM PLAN FOR A NEW ADMINISTRATION" (PDF). Common Cause. 2008. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
- Common Cause website: Congressional Ethics Accessed 2015-06-05
- Common Cause website: Ethics in Government Accessed February 29, 2008
- Salinger, Lawrence M. (2005). Encyclopedia of White-Collar & Corporate Crime. Sage Publications. p. 123. ISBN 0-7619-3004-3.
- Lichtblau, Eric (January 19, 2011). "Advocacy Group Says Justices May Have Conflict in Campaign Finance Cases". The New York Times.
- Lichtblau, Eric (January 24, 2011). "Thomas Cites Failure to Disclose Wife’s Job". The New York Times.
- "Business, Financial & Economic News, Stock Quotes". Bloomberg.
- Taranto, James (3 February 2011). "String Him Up". The Wall Street Journal.
- Eggen, Dan (2011-02-10). "Uncommon forcefulness from Common Cause". The Washington Post.
- Robert Trautman. "Common Cause Magazine.". commoncause.org.
- Debra Puchalla (March 1997). "The Little Magazine That Could". American Journalism Review.
- Birnbaum, Jeffrey H. (19 February 2008). "Common Cause, Washington Monthly Explore a Common Future". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
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