Common Cause

Common Cause
Founded 1970 (1970)
Founder John W. Gardner
Area served
United States
Method Advocacy
Key people
Karen Hobert Flynn

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.[1] 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.[2]

Sometimes identified as liberal-leaning,[3][4] Common Cause has also been identified as nonpartisan and advocates government reform.[5][6][7] It is identified with the reformist "good government" movement[8][9][10] and is often described as a watchdog group.[4][11] 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."[12]

The group is organized as a 501(c)4 organization, though its sister organization, the Common Cause Educational Fund, is a 501(c)(3) organization.[13]

Issue areas

The organization’s stated issue areas are "money in politics," "voting and elections," "ethics," "a fair economy," and "media and democracy."[14]

Money in politics

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.[15] The lawsuit forced the disclosure of the names of several Nixon donors.[16] 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.[17]

Publicly-financed elections

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;[18] Connecticut in 2005; Montgomery County, Maryland in 2014;[19] and California.[20][21]

Voting and elections


The organization has sought to end the practice of gerrymandering in several states.[22] In 2016 they filed a lawsuit in North Carolina challenging the constitutionality of district maps.[23] The organization's North Carolina chapter has led a campaign to create a nonpartisan redistricting process which has bipartisan support in the state.[24] Common Cause is also challenging redistricting in Democratic controlled states, such as Maryland.[25]

Voting machines

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.[26]

Common Cause is in favor of establishing a national popular vote for presidential elections to replace the current electoral college system.[27] 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.[28]


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.[29]

The organization's efforts led to ethics probes and the resignations of House Speakers Jim Wright in 1988[30] and Newt Gingrich in 1995.[31]

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.[32][33] They criticized Hillary Clinton's plan to give Chelsea Clinton control of the Foundation[34] and called for an independent audit and full disclosure of the Foundation's donors.[35][36] The public interest group also criticized Donald Trump on his refusal to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential election.[37][38] The organization has been outspoken about the potential conflicts of interest from Trump's businesses[9][10] and called for Trump to put his assets into a blind trust[39][40] instead of handing over control of his businesses to his children.[41][42]

Constitutional convention

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,[43] which is backed by some Republican politicians.[44][45] 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."[44][43][46] 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),[47] Common Cause suggests that the risk of a runaway convention is too great[48] 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."[49]

Organizational overview


Karen Hobert Flynn became the organization's president in June 2016.[50]

The following individuals have served as president of Common Cause:


  • Miles Rapoport (2014-2016)was president of Demos before becoming president of Common Cause[53][62][63]
  • Karen Hobert Flynn (2016–present)[50]

The following are three of the most prominent individuals who have served as chairs of Common Cause's board:


Common Cause has an annual combined budget of around $10 million. This includes its sister organization, the Common Cause Educational Fund.[13]


  1. Chapman, Roger; Ciment, James (2015-03-17). Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints and Voices. Routledge. ISBN 9781317473510.
  2. "FAQ". Common Cause. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  3. Dan Eggen, Pompeo draws liberal groups' ire, Washington Post (March 21, 2011): "Common Cause, a liberal-leaning group"
  4. 1 2 Julie Bykowicz, Will Washington shout down the 'voice' of Trump voters?, Associated Press (November 28, 2016): "a liberal-leaning government watchdog."
  5. Stacy Stowe, Back-Burner Issues Too Hot to Handle, New York Times (June 19, 2005): "government-reform groups like Common Cause"
  6. Mark Berman, William Wan & Sari Horwitz, Voters encounter some malfunctioning machines, other headaches on Election Day: "Volunteers with Common Cause, a nonpartisan government reform group..."
  7. Jamie Pimlott, "Common Cause" in Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections (updated ed.: ed. Larry J. Sabato & Howard R. Ernst). Infobase Publishing, 2007, p. 75: "established as a nonpartisan citizens' lobby, the main goal of the organization is to make government more effective and representative of citizens' interests. .... because the organization is nonpartisan, it does not take a particular position on these issues and focuses instead on the process by which decisions are made or the structure of decision making, that is, the rules and procedures used by politicians and bureaucrats."
  8. 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."
  9. William Neuman, City Council Draws New Crop of Candidates: State Lawmakers. (Pay Doesn't Hurt.), New York Times (February 21, 2017): "Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group"
  10. Dean E. Murphy, Ohio Critics of G.O.P. Start Battle to Change Election Process, New York Times (August 10, 2005): "The Ohio group is backed by so-called good-government organizations like Common Cause."
  11. Daniel L. Feldman & David R. Eichenthal, The Art of the Watchdog: Fighting Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Corruption in Government (SUNY Press, 2013): "Common Cause: One of the largest and most influential good government watchdog groups..."
  12. "About Us". Common Cause. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  13. 1 2 "Financials - Common Cause Education Fund". Common Cause Education Fund. Retrieved 2018-05-06.
  14. "Common Cause/Issues". Common Cause. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  15. "Common Cause resumes Nixon finance lawsuit". Lodi News-Setinenl. United Press International. March 24, 1973. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  16. Tuttle, Ian (May 7, 2015). "Common Cause's Georgia Purge". National Review. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  17. "Common Cause's uncommon role". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  18. Smothers, Ronald. "Taking on Campaign Finance Laws, Locally". New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  19. "Montgomery County Passes Small Donor Campaign Finance Reform Bill Provides Model for Other Counties, State". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  20. Baker, Gavin. "Ban on citizen-funded elections means more special-interest money in politics". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  21. Walters, Dan. "Public campaign financing should require voter approval in California". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  22. "Redistricting". Common Cause. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  23. Press, GARY D. ROBERTSON Associated. "Lawsuit: Too much party bias in North Carolina Congress map". Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  24. "NC House members file redistricting bill to ban 'irregularly shaped' boundaries". Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  25. Savage, David. "Is it constitutional to draw a congressional district that only one party can win?". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  26. Plumer, Brad (November 6, 2012). "A quarter of Americans will vote by electronic machine. Is that a problem?". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  27. Richie, Rob (August 5, 2010). "National Popular Vote: A Win for Our Democracy in Massachusetts". Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  28. "Fix the broken Electoral College - It's time for National Popular Vote". Common Cause. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  29. "Timeline". Common Cause. Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  30. Jackson, Robert. "The Resignation Of Jim Wright : Speaker's Downfall". LA Times. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  31. Ross, Michael. "New Ethics Charge Added as Gingrich Probe Begins". LA Times. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  32. Douglas & Kumar. "Why the Clinton Foundation and foreign money are an issue". McClatchy News Service. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  33. Nicholas & Nelson. "Criticism of Hillary Clinton Mounts Over Access for Foundation Donors". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  34. O'Donnell, Katy. "Ethicists scoff at Clinton Foundation transition plan". Politico. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  35. Swan, Jonathan. "Experts poke holes in Clinton Foundation's promised donor ban". The Hill. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  36. "Press Releases". Common Cause. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  37. Haberman & Rappeport. "Donald Trump on His Tax Rate: 'It's None of Your Business'". New York Times. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  38. "Press Release". Common Cause.
  39. Masood, Farivar. "Trump's Global Business Ties Could Complicate Policy Stances". VOA News. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  40. "Comments on President-Elect Donald Trump's Conflicts of Interest". Common Cause. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  41. Blake, Aaron. "Donald Trump's questionable 'blind trust' setup just got more questionable". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  42. Cassidy, John. "Trump's Businesses Represent an Impossible Conflict of Interest". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  43. 1 2 The Dangerous Path: Big Money’s Plan to Shred the Constitution, Common Cause (May 2016).
  44. 1 2 John C. Moritz, Abbott renews his call for 'convention of the states', USA Today Network (December 6, 2016).
  45. Davies, David Martin. "Texas Matters: Gov. Abbott Backs Convention Of States To Rewrite U.S. Constitution". Retrieved 2017-02-16.
  46. "On the Brink of a Constitutional Crisis" (Press release). Common Cause. December 2, 2015.
  47. "How Common Cause Turned on Americans Fighting Against Corruption".
  48. "Young Turks Attack on Common Cause Ignores Danger of New Constitutional Convention: Statement by Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn" (Press release). Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  49. Peter Hirschfeld (April 4, 2017). "Vt. Senate Rescinds Effort To Repeal Citizens United Through A Constitutional Convention". Vermont Public Radio.
  50. 1 2 "Common Cause Taps Former Connecticut Director As National President". Hartford Courant. June 13, 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  51. Remembering David Cohen, Common Cause (November 30, 2015).
  52. Albin Krebs & Robert McG. Thomas Jr., Looking for a Leader New York Times (February 26, 1981).
  53. 1 2 Common Cause Names Karen Hobert Flynn President, Common Cause (June 13, 2016).
  54. Top Common Cause Officer Named Group's President, Associated Press (March 14, 1995).
  55. 1 2 Ex-Massachusetts Official New Common Cause Leader, Associated Press (July 31, 1999).
  56. Jon Chesto, Former Mass. AG Scott Harshbarger moves to local law firm, Boston Globe (November 16, 2015).
  57. About Chellie, Office of Chellie Pingree, U.S. Representative, First District of Maine.
  58. "Common Cause President Bob Edgar Dies at 69". Common Cause. April 23, 2013. Archived from the original on April 27, 2013. Retrieved August 10, 2018..
  59. Martin, Douglas (April 24, 2013). "Bob Edgar, Lawmaker and Liberal Leader, Dies at 69". New York Times. Archived from the original on April 25, 2013. Retrieved August 10, 2018..
  60. "NCC's Edgar to Head Secular Advocacy Group". Associated Press. 25 May 2007.
  61. Shawn Zeller (29 May 2007). "Five Questions for Bob Edgar". CQ Weekly on Yahoo! News.
  62. Mark Pazniokas, Miles Rapoport named national president of Common Cause, Connecticut Mirror (January 14, 2014).
  63. President Miles Rapoport Leaving Demos To Lead Common Cause, Demos (January 14, 2014).
  64. Gardner Resigning Post as Chairman of Common Cause, Associated Press (February 6, 1977).
  65. "Archibald Cox's legacy must not vanish" (Press release). Common Cause. May 30, 2004.
  66. Archibald Cox, 92, Is Dead; Helped Prosecute Watergate, New York Times (May 30, 2004).
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