Common Cause

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For other uses, see Common Cause (disambiguation).
Common Cause
Common Cause logo.png
Founded 1970
Area served
United States
Method Advocacy
Key people
Karen Hobert Flynn

Common Cause is a nonpartisan public interest group[1] 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.

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.”[2]

Common Cause bills itself as the “original citizens lobby”[3] and has also been described as a "nonpartisan political advocacy and watchdog group."[4] Their work includes grassroots organizing, coalition building, research, policy development, public education, lobbying and litigation.[5]

Issue Areas[edit]

The organization’s primary issues are campaign finance reform/money in politics, voting and elections, ethics, a fair economy, and media and democracy.[6]

Campaign Finance Reform/Money in Politics[edit]

Common Cause is in favor of reining in political spending, toughening exposure laws, exposing corporate power in government and giving shareholders control of corporate political spending.[7]

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.[8] The lawsuit forced the disclosure of the names of several Nixon donors.[9] 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.[10]

Publicly Financed Elections[edit]

Common Cause has advocated for public financing of elections in order to reject or lessen the impact of special interest contributions and to rely more on small gifts from individuals. Their most successful efforts have been in New York City in 1999,[11] Connecticut in 2005, Montgomery County, Maryland in 2014[12] and California.[13][14]

Voting and Elections[edit]


The organization has sought to end the practice of gerrymandering in several states.[15] In 2016 they filed a lawsuit in North Carolina challenging the constitutionality of district maps.[16] The organization's North Carolina chapter has led a campaign to create a nonpartisan redistricting process which has bipartisan support in the state.[17] Common Cause is also challenging redistricting in Democratic controlled states, such as Maryland.[18]

Voting Machines[edit]

Common Cause advocates for a voter-verified paper audit trail for election machines in all states. The organization has documented complaints about electronic voting machines.[19]

National Popular Vote[edit]

Common Cause is in favor of establishing a national popular vote for presidential elections to replace the current electoral college system.[20]


The organization seeks to hold elected officials as well as judges to high ethical standards and reduce conflicts of interest.[21]

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.[22]

The organization's efforts led to ethics probes and the resignations of House Speaker Jim Wright (D) in 1988[23] and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) in 1995.[24]

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.[25] Common Cause then investigated the financial filings of Thomas, saying that Thomas did not include the income of his wife, conservative activist Virginia Thomas, in his disclosure filings as required under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.[26] Thomas acknowledged error in the failure to disclose and filed amended disclosure forms that listed his wife's employment.[26]

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.[27][28] They criticized Hillary Clinton's plan to give Chelsea Clinton control of the Foundation[29] and called for an independent audit and full disclosure of the Foundation's donors.[30][31] The public interest group also criticized Donald Trump on his refusal to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential elections.[32][33] The organization has been outspoken about the potential conflicts of interest from Mr. Trump's businesses[9][10] and called for Mr. Trump to put his assets into a blind trust[34][35] instead of handing over control of his businesses to his children.[36][37]

A Fair Economy[edit]

Common Cause seeks to address the public policies, political spending, organizations, and political reforms that have contributed to a widening economic gap between the richest 1% of Americans and everyone else.[38]

Media and Democracy[edit]

Common Cause works on multiple fronts for media reforms that include a free, open and accessible Internet for all, slowing media consolidation and transparency.[39]

Constitutional Convention[edit]

Common Cause opposes modern day efforts to call a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution.[40][41][42]

Organizational Overview[edit]


Karen Hobert Flynn became the organization's president in June 2016.[43]

The following individuals have served as president of Common Cause:

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.[57]
  • Archibald Cox (1980-1992)—former Watergate special prosecutor.[58][59]
  • 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.[60] This includes its sister educational foundation.


  1. ^ Lightman, David. "Are Donald Trump and the GOP keeping too many secrets?". Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  2. ^ "About Us". Common Cause. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  3. ^ "FAQs". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  4. ^ Miller, Justin. "Checks: Political Money & Democracy". The American Prospect. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  5. ^ "About". Common Cause Website. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  6. ^ "Common Cause/Issues". Common Cause. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  7. ^ "Issues/Money in Politics". Common Cause. 
  8. ^ "Common Cause resumes Nixon finance lawsuit". Lodi News-Setinenl. United Press International. March 24, 1973. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  9. ^ Tuttle, Ian (May 7, 2015). "Common Cause's Georgia Purge". National Review. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  10. ^ "Common Cause's uncommon role". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  11. ^ Smothers, Ronald. "Taking on Campaign Finance Laws, Locally". New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  12. ^ "Montgomery County Passes Small Donor Campaign Finance Reform Bill Provides Model for Other Counties, State". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  13. ^ Baker, Gavin. "Ban on citizen-funded elections means more special-interest money in politics". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  14. ^ Walters, Dan. "Public campaign financing should require voter approval in California". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Savage, David. "Is it constitutional to draw a congressional district that only one party can win?". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  19. ^ Plumer, Brad (November 6, 2012). "A quarter of Americans will vote by electronic machine. Is that a problem?". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  20. ^ Richie, Rob (August 5, 2010). "National Popular Vote: A Win for Our Democracy in Massachusetts". Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  21. ^ "Common Cause". Issues/Ethics. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  22. ^ "Timeline". Common Cause. Retrieved 2017-02-03. 
  23. ^ Jackson, Robert. "The Resignation Of Jim Wright : Speaker's Downfall". LA Times. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  24. ^ Ross, Michael. "New Ethics Charge Added as Gingrich Probe Begins". LA Times. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  25. ^ Lichtblau, Eric (January 19, 2011). "Advocacy Group Says Justices May Have Conflict in Campaign Finance Cases". The New York Times. 
  26. ^ a b Lichtblau, Eric (January 24, 2011). "Thomas Cites Failure to Disclose Wife's Job". The New York Times. 
  27. ^ Douglas & Kumar. "Why the Clinton Foundation and foreign money are an issue". McClatchy News Service. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  28. ^ Nicholas & Nelson. "Criticism of Hillary Clinton Mounts Over Access for Foundation Donors". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  29. ^ O'Donnell, Katy. "Ethicists scoff at Clinton Foundation transition plan". Politico. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  30. ^ Swan, Jonathan. "Experts poke holes in Clinton Foundation's promised donor ban". The Hill. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  31. ^ "Press Releases". Common Cause. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  32. ^ Haberman & Rappeport. "Donald Trump on His Tax Rate: 'It's None of Your Business'". New York Times. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  33. ^ "Press Release". Common Cause. 
  34. ^ Masood, Farivar. "Trump's Global Business Ties Could Complicate Policy Stances". VOA News. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  35. ^ "Comments on President-Elect Donald Trump's Conflicts of Interest". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  36. ^ Blake, Aaron. "Donald Trump's questionable 'blind trust' setup just got more questionable". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  37. ^ Cassidy, John. "Trump's Businesses Represent an Impossible Conflict of Interest". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  38. ^ "Issues/A Fair Economy". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  39. ^ "Issues/Media and Democracy". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  40. ^ "The Dangerous Path". Common Cause. Retrieved 2017-02-16. 
  41. ^ "On the Brink of a Constitutional Crisis". Common Cause. Retrieved 2017-02-16. 
  42. ^ Davies, David Martin. "Texas Matters: Gov. Abbott Backs Convention Of States To Rewrite U.S. Constitution". Retrieved 2017-02-16. 
  43. ^ a b "Common Cause Taps Former Connecticut Director As National President". Hartford Courant. June 13, 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2016. 
  44. ^ Remembering David Cohen, Common Cause (November 30, 2015).
  45. ^ Albin Krebs & Robert McG. Thomas Jr., Looking for a Leader New York Times (February 26, 1981).
  46. ^ a b Common Cause Names Karen Hobert Flynn President, Common Cause (June 13, 2016).
  47. ^ Top Common Cause Officer Named Group's President, Associated Press (March 14, 1995).
  48. ^ a b Ex-Massachusetts Official New Common Cause Leader, Associated Press (July 31, 1999).
  49. ^ Jon Chesto, Former Mass. AG Scott Harshbarger moves to local law firm, Boston Globe (November 16, 2015).
  50. ^ About Chellie, Office of Chellie Pingree, U.S. Representative, First District of Maine.
  51. ^ Douglas Martin, Bob Edgar, Lawmaker and Liberal Leader, Dies at 69, New York Times (April 24, 2013).
  52. ^ Common Cause President Bob Edgar Dies at 69, Common Cause (April 23, 2013).
  53. ^ "NCC's Edgar to Head Secular Advocacy Group". Associated Press. 25 May 2007. 
  54. ^ Shawn Zeller (29 May 2007). "Five Questions for Bob Edgar". CQ Weekly on Yahoo! News. 
  55. ^ Mark Pazniokas, Miles Rapoport named national president of Common Cause, Connecticut Mirror (January 14, 2014).
  56. ^ President Miles Rapoport Leaving Demos To Lead Common Cause, Demos (January 14, 2014).
  57. ^ Gardner Resigning Post as Chairman of Common Cause, Associated Press (February 6, 1977).
  58. ^ "Archibald Cox's legacy must not vanish" (Press release). Common Cause. May 30, 2004. 
  59. ^ Archibald Cox, 92, Is Dead; Helped Prosecute Watergate, New York Times (May 30, 2004).
  60. ^ "Financial Statements and 990s". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 

External links[edit]