It has been an exciting year for Common Cause, with a new president and a renewed sense of mission.
2014 has been a year of growth as well as a year of transition, and a revitalized Common Cause is poised to take an enhanced leadership role at both the national and state levels on our core issues of Money in Politics, Voting and Elections, Media & Democracy, and Ethics in Government.
At the same time we are broadening our vision, challenging ourselves to examine the link between economic and racial inequity and the dysfunction of our democracy.
Top 5 National Highlights
1. ALEC Exposed. On September 3rd, Common Cause sent a letter—co-signed by 55 organizations—asking Google to follow the lead of Microsoft and withdraw its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive lobbying group that pushes legislation on behalf of corporate interests while masquerading as a charity. The chairman of Google then announced in a public radio appearance that Google would not be renewing its membership in ALEC, citing the lobby group's denial of climate change. In the days that followed, Facebook, Yelp!, and Yahoo followed suit, announcing that they too would disassociate themselves from ALEC. Since then, many other high-profile companies have renounced their membership, due in no small part to pressure from Common Cause.
2. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has been MIA for the past few years due to the Senate’s inability (or refusal) to confirm new commissioners. Thanks to a relentless lobbying effort led by Common Cause, the Senate just confirmed nominees to fill three of its four seats, including Thomas Hicks, a former Common Cause staffer whose nomination had been pending since 2010. Common Cause conceived and oversaw a long-term coalition strategy that culminated in a recent flurry of activity including sending a letter signed by 35 advocacy groups to Senate leadership calling for up-or-down votes on the EAC nominees, meetings with Senate staff in leadership offices, and getting the message directly to the White House. This victory would never have happened without the November 2013 Senate rules change championed by Common Cause along with our work on filibuster reform, which allowed presidential nominees to be confirmed with only a simple majority. With the EAC back in business, voters can feel more confident that every vote will be counted.
3. Fix The Senate Coalition. For five years, Common Cause has been at the forefront of filibuster reform to rein in some of the gridlock and dysfunction that has paralyzed the chamber. Late in 2013, Common Cause and its allies in the Fix the Senate Now coalition scored a major win when the Senate voted to prohibit the 60-vote rule’s application to most nominees. The Hill called it one of the biggest lobbying victories of 2013. This year, as a result of the historic change in its filibuster rules, the Senate provided up-or-down votes to over 290 judicial and executive branch nominees. Many of our government’s important offices now have confirmed nominees in place to administer our laws, and our courts are more fully staffed to provide access to justice for thousands of Americans.
4. Election Protection. In partnership with organizations such as the Lawyers’ Committee’s Election Protection Coalition, Common Cause worked tirelessly to help voters get the accurate, nonpartisan information they needed to cast their votes in the midterm elections. Common Cause staff on the ground trained and recruited volunteers to serve as poll monitors in hundreds of precincts across the country and in 16 states (especially important in places like North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Ohio, all of which saw many last-minute changes to their electoral procedures). In the days leading up to the election, Common Cause released, “Did We Fix That?” a comprehensive report on how the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration were implemented in 10 swing states.
5. Democracy For All Constitutional Amendment. In partnership with a coalition of advocacy organizations, Common Cause led a national campaign this summer to rally support for the Democracy For All Constitutional Amendment. More than 3 million Americans signed petitions or contacted their representatives to back the amendment, which would reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and restore the ability of Congress and the states to put reasonable limits on political spending so that every citizen has a chance to be heard. After four days of Senate floor debate, during which Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) cited Common Cause research, 54 senators voted to move the amendment to final passage. While we’re disappointed that the amendment didn’t get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster, we’re pleased that a solid majority of senators is now on record rejecting the Supreme Court’s assertions that money is speech and that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.
Top 10 State Highlights of 2014
(plus one to grow on)
1. Small Donor Matching System. Thanks to Common Cause Maryland and its coalition partners, the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed legislation creating a small donor matching system for council and county executive elections. With this “Fair Elections” program, candidates can focus on raising money from everyday people and voters can be confident that their elected officials aren’t beholden to anyone but them. Montgomery County is the most populated jurisdiction in the state, home to 1 million people.
2. Redistricting. Common Cause Ohio worked closely with the legislature on the drafting and passage of a redistricting reform plan that, if approved by voters next November, will create a bipartisan redistricting commission for drawing legislative districts. The measure prohibits drawing lines that favor one party over another, requires two minority party votes for approval of a final map, directs mapmakers to avoid splitting cities and counties, requires districts to reflect the percentage of votes a political party receives statewide, and calls for greater transparency in the process.
3. Same Day Registration. In Hawaii, Common Cause successfully advocated for a bill establishing voter registration at absentee polling places beginning in 2016 and adding voter registration at precinct polling places on Election Day beginning in 2018. This measure will help increase Hawaii's voter turnout and streamline its voting systems and associated costs.
4. Massachusetts Disclosure Act. Common Cause Massachusetts won passage of the Massachusetts Disclosure Act, which Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law. Designed to shine a light on secret money in elections, the legislation requires disclosure of expenditures and donors to super PACs, 501(c) organizations, and others within seven days. It also requires that the top five donors be listed in political advertisements.
5. Ballot Initiative Reform. California Common Cause built a broad left/right coalition to pass ballot initiative reform. The measure, signed into law in October, gives voters more information about initiatives, enhances the Secretary of State’s website and use of online resources, and gives voters one-stop access to information about the individuals and groups behind each initiative and their source of funding. It also creates clear and voter-friendly explanations of each initiative, allows legal flaws to be corrected before they appear on the ballot, and allows more time for gathering signatures.
6. Election Modernization. Common Cause Massachusetts led the Election Modernization Coalition to secure passage of a comprehensive election modernization package including online voter registration, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, post-election audits, and early voting. The law will make Massachusetts a national leader in expanding opportunities to vote.
7. Election Modernization/Election Day Registration. Common Cause Illinois and other advocates saw two years of effort come to fruition with passage of a comprehensive election modernization package that included Election Day registration, expanded early voting, and improved online voter registration. The hard-won election reform also adds Illinois to the list of states using ERIC, a voter registration data-sharing cooperative that permits state agencies such as the DMV to convert their transactions into voter registration address updates.
8. Disclosure. As a result of Common Cause New York’s detailed data analysis, research, and advocacy, the New York City Council passed and the mayor signed a local law requiring disclosure of the top three donors to independent expenditure committees in political advertisements.
9. Election Modernization. Common Cause Nebraska was victorious in advancing election modernization. In March, the governor signed a law allowing Nebraskans to update their registrations and register to vote online.
10. Public Financing and Ethics Rules. Common Cause Florida partnered with Represent.Us, the Tea Party Network, and the League of Women Voters to put an initiative on the ballot in Tallahassee that was backed by 69% of the voters. The new rules will limit campaign contributions to $250 per donor, give each voter a tax rebate of up to $25 for campaign contributions, create an ethics board, and require adoption of an ethics code that includes strong conflict of interest prohibitions.
11. Whistleblower Laws. Common Cause Pennsylvania saw success on two important reforms—one expanding state whistleblower laws to cover employees of government contractors (the people with real knowledge of fraud, waste, abuse, and profiteering) and one providing whistleblower protection to employees of the General Assembly.
Office: Common Cause National