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Common Cause is a U.S. nonpartisan citizens' lobbying group (both professionally on Capitol Hill and grassroots advocacy in the states). According to their website, "Common Cause works for open, accountable government and the right of all citizens to be involved in shaping our nation's public policies". Their priorities include legislation to reform election campaigns, improving ethics and accountability in government, and equal rights for all citizens.

Common Cause was founded in 1970 by John William Gardner, who was the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Common Cause is a nationwide membership organization with members in all 50 states. It has 50 state chapters which lobby their legislatures as well as an active Washington, D.C. lobbying team. See Susan Tannenbaum

Chellie Pingree, a former state senator from North Haven, Maine, who ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Susan Collins in 2002 is the President and CEO of the organization.


John Gardner, a Republican, came to Washington, DC to serve as the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. Gardner later became chair of the National Urban Coalition, a group advocating for poor, minority, and working-class residents in urban areas.

During his time in the nation's capital, a city teeming with special interest groups, he observed "everybody's organized but the people." That thought formed the seed of Common Cause, which Gardner established in August 1970 to represent citizens' interests in Washington. Within six months, the organization had more than 100,000 members, many of them joining to oppose the Vietnam War.

Since that time, Common Cause has been involved in many of the most pressing issues facing contemporary American politics. The organization led fights for campaign finance reforms, ethics and accountability in government, and open government at the national, state and local levels.

Common Cause has joined with coalitions to fight for civil rights legislation, ending wasteful weapons programs and working for reforms to our nation's system of voting, the most recent of which is the campaign to promote Clean Elections, a voluntary system of publicly funded campaigns on the Federal level. Common Cause has had measured success implementing similar election practices in Maine, Connecticut, and Arizona.

The Issues

Common Cause works with its members and activists and in coalition with other advocacy organizations (Public Campaign, Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG) to make government more accountable to the people. They have been engaged in a wide range of issues for more than thirty years, succeeding in many reforms and today keeping up the fight to make government open and accountable. For an official complete list of these issues, click Here.

Common Cause has led successful efforts for campaign finance reforms, ethics and accountability in government, and open government at the national, state and local levels. They have partnered with coalitions fighting for civil rights legislation, ending wasteful weapons programs and working for reforms to our nation’s system of voting.

Media and Democracy Program

It can be argued that in recent years the media has increasingly failed to provide diverse viewpoints and unbiased information, and that this is undermining the strength of United States democracy. Dissatisfaction with news coverage of events ranging from the 2000 presidential election to the war in Iraq has given media issues a new sense of urgency. The more corporate conglomerates buy up independent news outlets, the fewer voices and perspectives the public hears, and the less accountable broadcasters are to the public.

Common Cause is working to ensure that the media meet their obligations to serve the public by promoting diversity, accessibility, and accountability among media corporations and the government agencies that regulate the media. Their Media and Democracy program has four goals:

Over the course of the past year, Common Cause has played an important role in fighting media consolidation and protecting the editorial integrity of public broadcasting. The organization's current campaign for more open and diverse media takes place in the context of three major legislative and regulatory proceedings:

  • The reopening of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, posing the promise of media reforms that guarantee the public interest will be served across media platforms.
  • FCC action on media ownership rules that will affect the degree of media consolidation and vertical integration that the government will permit.
  • Legislation furthering the transition from analog to digital spectrum, which offers opportunities for the reform community to secure more broadcaster accountability, as well as public funds (a percentage of proceeds from spectrum auctions) for public broadcasting and noncommercial media, and an allocation of unlicensed spectrum for public use.

Money in Politics

The dominating influence of wealthy special interests in the funding of campaigns has greatly eroded public trust in the United States political system and has discouraged political participation. In a system that gives undue access to lawmakers and influence on legislation to those who contribute large amounts to campaigns, most citizens believe their voice is not being heard. On a whole range of issues - environment, healthcare, taxes - Common Cause sees corporations and wealthy individuals benefiting at the expense of all Americans.

Common Cause is working for campaign finance reforms that will help bring government back to the people by reducing the influence of wealthy special interests, expanding public funding of campaigns and encouraging campaigns to seek funding from a broader base of small contributors.

Common Cause was a leading advocate in the successful fight for public financing of presidential campaigns and has worked for public financing of congressional campaigns for many years. At the state level, Common Cause is a strong supporter of clean elections systems in Maine and Arizona, worked to successfully pass clean elections in Connecticut and is working with other organizations to pass similar reforms in other states, including California, Maryland, and Rhode Island. Common Cause has been a leader in passing reforms at the municipal level, including New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities.

Common Cause helped lead the fight to ban soft money: the huge, unlimited campaign contributions that were undermining the federal system of public financing and contribution limits. In 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was enacted and a year later a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision, McConnell v. FEC, upheld the law. Initial studies show that the law has effectively banned soft money and pushed political parties and candidates to seek small donations from a broad base of contributors, thus broadening the participation of average citizens in campaigns.

Government Accountability

A free society depends upon a high degree of mutual trust. The public will not give that trust to officials who are not seen to be impartially dedicated to the general public interest, nor will they give trust to those high in government who violate the rule of law they ask citizens to obey at the expense of self-interest, or to those who present government as the place where one feathers his own nest, [or] exchanges favors with friends and former associates. -Archibald Cox, Common Cause Chairman Emeritus

Common Cause is dedicated to making government open and accountable. Our founder, John Gardner, said "We want public officials to have literally millions of American citizens looking over their shoulders at every move they make." Since we first started "looking over shoulders" in 1970, Common Cause and our activists have been at the forefront of ensuring that government officials are acting in the public interest, not for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of powerful and influential special interest.

Common Cause has worked to shine a bright light on public officials and lobbyists who prefer to work behind closed doors and to insist that government officials are held to the highest standards of conduct.

  • Ethics Watchdog

Since it’s founding, Common Cause has been on the forefront of the fight for stronger ethics at all levels of government. We believe that the integrity of government is fundamental to our democracy. Common Cause will continue to monitor the activities of members of Congress and state and local lawmakers to assure that they uphold the highest standards in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.

In Congress, we are working to replace the current weak and discredited ethics process in the House of Representatives and the Senate with a meaningful process of policing ethics that makes members of Congress accountable to the public. We support establishing a panel of experts outside of Congress to strengthen the process.

  • Improving Disclosure Laws

Laws requiring public disclosure of lobbying activities, personal financial interests and campaign contributions are a critical element in ensuring government accountability. Common Cause will strengthen the hand of citizen advocates and watchdogs by working to beef up enforcement of financial and lobbying disclosure laws and require lobbyists and campaign donors to fully disclose their activities and donations instantly on the Internet.

  • Open Government

A core element of Common Cause’s agenda is making certain that government at all levels operates in the open, with full access for the public to meetings and public records throughout the legislative and regulatory policymaking process. We are working to make the best use of new technologies to provide access for the public, including webcasting of meetings, internet-based public participation and easily searchable databases of legislation, elected officials’ voting records and other important public information. Open The Governemt

  • Fighting Government Secrecy

The Bush Administration and many state governments have placed harsh restrictions on the information available to the press and public, rolling back important freedoms passed to prevent abuses of power under the shroud of secrecy. We are fighting to protect the Freedom of Information Act and reverse the trend toward secrecy under the pretext of national security.

  • Protecting Whistleblowers

Honest insiders who risk their careers to blow the whistle on wrongdoing are true heroes of democracy. We are working to strengthen protections for whistleblowers and help people feel safe coming forward with information that protects the public from waste, fraud, and abuse. link to CC Whistleblower protection page

Election Reform Agenda

Common Cause is working to reform the system of voting in the United States. We support easing barriers to voting, election administration designed for the voters, openness throughout the process, nonpartisan supervision of elections and making the way we vote a higher priority at all levels of government.

There are other critical goals for our democracy. Common Cause is working with civil rights and other organizations for passage of the extension of critical sections of the Voting Rights Act. We are working in several states to take the important task of redistricting out of the hands of partisan politicians.

Addressing the Problems Voters Face in Registration

Registration must no longer be a barrier to voting. In 2000, an MIT/CalTech study estimated that 3 million voters were disenfranchised because of registration problems. Registration problems appear to have been the most frequently encountered problem in 2004 – phone hotlines such as Common Cause’s registered thousands of calls about registration problems.

Recommended Reforms

  • Comply with HAVA-required statewide voter registration database
  • Implement Election Day Registration
  • Uniform and fair ID requirements

Expand Election Day

The high turnout in the 2004 presidential election was encouraging and exciting. But the U.S. still has one of the lowest voting participation rates in the world. We should continue to knock down another barrier to voting - a lack of time - by expanding the ways and the time when people can vote.

Recommended Reforms

  • No-fault absentee voting
  • Early voting
  • Mail-in voting
  • Time off for voting
  • Election Day as a holiday

External links

nl:Common Cause

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