Remembering Craig Barnes

Posted on November 4, 2015


Craig Barnes, Common Cause National Governing Board member and lifelong activist for democracy and social justice, has passed away. Our hearts are heavy, but Craig's eloquence, insight, and passion for a better world serve as an example to us all.

Craig Barnes (center) with Robert Reich (left) and Martha Tierney (right)

Tributes to Craig Barnes

I'm sure I speak for the entire National Governing Board when I say Craig Barnes stood for everything Common Cause has ever stood for, and stood proudly and loudly and eloquently. His voice never wavered in support of our democracy and the values on which it's based, and again and again he put into words and deeds the aspirations all of us share. To everyone who had the privilege of working with him and knowing him, he was a bright and shining light of optimism and intelligence. His service and dedication to Common Cause was boundless. 


Our hearts go to Mikaela and all his loved ones. We shall miss him beyond words.
--Robert Reich, Common Cause National Governing Board Chair


Craig Barnes, Common Cause National Governing Board member and Common Cause New Mexico board member passed away today. Craig was a true inspiration to me -- he was my cheerleader like no other and never missed an opportunity to say a kind word! His kindness, brilliance and passion for democracy will be missed but long remembered.
--Viki Harrison, Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director


Craig was a rare and beautiful human being in every way. He was not only dedicated to Common Cause and all the principles of democracy, but an intelligent, compassionate, honest, charming, poetic and humble man who inspired us all to be better people. How fortunate we all were to have known and worked with him.
--Susan Rubinstein, Common Cause National Governing Board Member


I very much admire Craig for his lifetime dedication to democracy and justice. This took him even to Soviet Union working with dissidents to plant a seed of hope in dark days of that country. Craig Barnes also graced our meetings with such an eloquence. As we were saying good-bye to each other at the end of June Board meeting, he came over with his cane and I told him that we will keep the flame going. He was quite pleased with it. It was our farewell. The torch will pass on. It was a great blessing to have him with us and we will miss him very much.
--Chang Park, Common Cause National Governing Board Member


My friendship with Craig is one of the greatest and most rewarding benefits from serving on the Common Cause board. Craig and I are kindred spirits and I am one of Craig’s greatest admirers. Craig has had an extraordinary career of public service by any standard that is a great role model for lawyers of any age. We missed his warm presence at the last board meeting. My thoughts and those of my wife Jane, and my assistant Pam are with you and Craig.
--Emmet J. Bondurant, Common Cause National Governing Board Member


Common Cause has lost a true leader.  Craig Barnes was a fighter inside and outside Common Cause.  Craig pushed Common Cause founder John Gardner to allow states to work on a broad democracy agenda, and he paved the way for chapters in all 50 states. Craig’s work in Colorado literally pried open the doors of the Colorado legislature so that the people could understand and know how its leaders govern.  He helped passed open meeting laws, required committee votes to be made public, pushed for state legislative information like bill texts, votes and other information to be available to citizens. Craig was a great inspiration to many of us in Common Cause.  What was remarkable about him was the clarity in which he saw the world, as well as the moral compass he set when he advocated for what needs to change.  He demonstrated his passion for justice and democracy by how he committed his time and his mind to impactful work throughout his entire life. Craig was a citizen who truly made a difference.   I will miss his leadership, his eloquence, and his friendship. 
--Karen Hobert Flynn
, Common Cause Senior Vice President for Program and Strategy


Working with Craig on Media and Democracy issues over the years was true joy for me.  He had such passionate and abiding commitment  to media of, by, and for the people, and such an eloquent way of giving voice to his convictions. His work with Common Cause was informed by uncommon depth and breadth of knowledge, so that whenever he spoke at our board meetings, we all sat up straight and paid special attention. His contributions to the organization and to the public interest have been enormous.  As a person, well--you just don't meet many folks so genuine, wise, unassuming, and just downright pleasant.  He was great fun to be with, too, and how I loved doing those radio shows with him. I miss him as both colleague and friend.  God rest his soul.
--Michael Copps, Common Cause National Governing Board Member and Special Advisor for the Media and Democracy Inititative


Lovingly and respectfully, I share the sadness and regret at the loss of Craig.   I join in support  and sympathy.   I knew Craig only through our respective roles in Common Cause.   He was an exceptional man who exuded care, wisdom, and thoughtfulness.   He was articulately focused on the greater common good and inspired us all in that direction.   Among others, I have a warm memory from the March board meeting.    Due to airplane schedule problems, we both missed the group dinner planned for the board.    By chance, we ended up sharing a table at the hotel café for supper.   What a delightful and inspirational time that was for me.   Craig’s charming warmth and openness were contagious, and we had a wonderful time together.   What a blessing he was and his memory is to all of us.
--Dick Stanley, Common Cause National Governing Board Member

In his own words

2012: Democracy On Trial

Written by Craig Barnes- December 22, 2011

When I was growing up in the wheat fields of eastern Colorado in the late 1940s, the Second War had ended, my father had come home in one piece; we planted alfalfa, began building a log barn, and dug a 30-foot long asparagus patch.  In my mind, age ten, that was more asparagus than any person would need for the rest of history, but my mother said that weeding asparagus was good to keep small boys away from lives of crime. Whenever she came upon my brother Erik and I wrestling on the living room floor, she would say: “Well.  Time to weed the asparagus!” and out we went, exiled to hard labor among the useless green stalks of the biggest patch of that vegetable that was ever to be found in Western Christendom. 

In spite of my mother’s heartless oppression, those were optimistic days.  In the larger picture democracy had won a war against Hitler’s tyranny; the US had come through the conflict with new industrial might; we were self confident in our moral authority. Harry Truman stood up to the Russians in Berlin, Europe began to clear out the rubble of a thousand ruined cities; Ted Williams and Bob Feller returned to hit home runs and pitch no-hitters, and I had a grand champion rooster at the Arapahoe County Fair. My family and friends were building lives with foundation values of hard work and charity and gratitude for freedom.

In evenings when we gathered around the dinner table discussing the world, my father was apt to speak of his faith in the common man, a country that had produced Jefferson and Lincoln, Emerson and Edgar Allen Poe, and labor unions and the New Deal and that was richer because of free public education. His faith was that working people would gradually rise to new levels of education and sophistication and this was not irrational, not even sentimental, but grounded in a confidence that if common people were given the tools they would do the right thing, most of the time.

I grew up with that faith and I have harbored it over the years, reinforced by the fact that in my life time the Supreme Court has ordered the integration of public schools and blacks have emerged from the sidelines of American culture; women have pioneered a degree of liberation from patriarchy not seen in 3,500 years of western history, and an aroused public stopped the Vietnam War in spite of the military industrial complex.  At one point in the 1960s and 70s the nation rose in defense of our common inheritance to protect clean waters, air, rivers and streams.   All these gains were products of democracy and one could call them steps forward in the progress of civilization. Many of these advances happened after my father had retired, and were, in my mind, vindications of his conviction that if the common people could just be empowered, they would do the right thing.

Now we come to the end of 2011, an extraordinary year.  All across the globe the scab of autocracy has been torn from the flesh of one government after the next to reveal bleeding and pain, oppression and suffering.  From Tahrir Square in Cairo, to Benghazi, Libya, to Wall Street, to Damascus, to Moscow, the stabilities of oligarchy and tyranny have been upset by unstable masses of people in the streets.  The last time something like this happened, a viral upsurge of popular unrest across the western world, was in 1848 in Europe, when king after king was dethroned, and for a brief moment in the middle of that century the world came alive with possibility. 

But today, as in the 1850s, there has been a dark and formidable resistance to these revolutions. Today, as then, in Cairo and on Wall Street, in Moscow and in Syria, we see a resurgence of oligarchic power, of the privileged wealthy rejecting liberal values, coopting the military and striking back at the common people, a massive effort by the high and the mighty provoking the worst in human nature rather than the best. 

My father’s faith—and perhaps that of post-war America in general—was that inherent within the common man and common woman was the gene of decency and dignity and that this genetic coding was the reason for hope in democracy as a form of government.  But today we see the common man in military clothing in Syria and Egypt acting as if dignity and decency were the last things in their genetic make up.  On TV we see Egyptian soldiers beating women who lie inert and defenseless on the street, hammering their heads with batons or leaping up to crush down upon their soft bodies with black boots.  When we see that we see a streak of human nature we did not ever want to see and that we did not want democracy to unleash. 

When we see police in Davis, California, holding cans of pepper spray inches from the faces of nonviolent protesters, we see a side of human nature we did not ever want to see.  When we hear Newt Gingrich condemn Palestinians as “not really a people,” and Ron Paul decry the Civil Rights Act as an invasion of his right to enjoy white privilege, or Paul Ryan attempt to destroy medical care for the poor and the aged, we see—over and over—an appeal to a mean side of human nature, a meanness we did not think that democracy would produce.

And when we see democracy working in the US Congress to foster increased taxes on working people who can least afford them while at the same time resisting a 3% tax increase on the millionaires and billionaires who can best afford it, we see a Congress that has been bought and sold by billions of dollars of lobbying and campaign contributions, and see that democracy may produce a craven side of politics that we did not want to see.

 As we close 2011, we are about to be flooded again with corporate election money and this time in amounts unlike anything we have ever seen. The Koch Brothers have indicated that they intend to spend $88 million in the 2012 elections.  Karl Rove intends as much. The Chamber of Commerce will raise and anonymously spend far more than the two of them combined.  All this advertising will not be likely to draw out the best in the American people. It will not be likely to encourage the common sense and generosity of spirit that my father thought was the justification of democracy.  It will be as likely to encourage misrepresentation and greed, and to discourage community and attention to the common good. 

As we approach the New Year, we are therefore on the cusp of another test of human nature and of democracy.  On the one hand, the voting public will be flooded with advertisements that take them away from the values that many of us have hoped lie underneath the surface, values that can be counted upon in a crisis.  And if decency and integrity are truly there, democracy will survive.   We will, on the other hand, also experience the disguised but increasingly blatant effort by the 1% to take final control of the Congress and the presidency which, when combined with their existing control of the Supreme Court, will usher in a new form of government that is more of plutocracy than democracy.

A great deal hangs in the balance.  As we begin again our progress toward the season of the sun, this will be a good time as the poet Archibald MacLeish might say, to “blow on the coals of the heart” and to envision the best in democracy, and in us as a people, coming alive again.

 

Is Chief Justice Roberts a Usurper?

Written by Craig Barnes - April 21, 2014

When the delegates to the American Constitutional convention met in 1787 to discuss a new order of the ages, they had a healthy concern for both human virtue and human flaws. They did not consider men to be entirely good or evil. They thus developed a scheme that would separate the powers of government in the hope that if the unlettered masses became too strong through the popularly elected Congress the Supreme Court might restrain them. If the president grew too strong, too much like King George III, both the Congress and the courts might restrain him. Thus it was that we got the balance of powers. Clear functions were delineated. The Congress would do legislation. The president would enforce the legislation. The Supreme Court would be neither the enactor nor the legislator but would provide legal oversight.  In this scheme it was very clear that the Supreme Court was not to become the legislative body. If some enactment were held unconstitutional it could send it back to the Congress but it would not be responsible for enacting legislation itself.

Over the course of the next 200+ years this restraint upon the Court has not worked well. The temptation for the Court to exercise power has been almost irresistible. The court has evidenced a consistent, almost dependable, bias on behalf of corporate enterprise as opposed to enterprises emanating from the people, putting itself over and over in opposition to the Congress, to the president and to the rights of people who are not in positions of economic advantage.  In the 19th century, for example, the Court declared Dred Scott, a slave, to be merely property and not a human with human rights.  In 1895 it went on to declare unconstitutional a measure providing for an income tax, and then it gutted the Sherman Antitrust act.  In 1905, it killed a New York state law limiting working hours. In 1917 it did the same to a prohibition against child labor. In 1923 it wiped out another law that set minimum wages for women; in 1935 and 1936 it struck down early New Deal recovery acts. Throughout this whole period the court evidenced a hostility to anything that interfered with corporate profits, including rights of labor to organize, equal rights of women, health protections for children, or provisions for the elderly.  That’s a very broad list, and the court opposed advances for any of those constituencies.

Then in the 1970s, Justice Lewis Powell literally took the United States Chamber of Commerce into the chambers of the United States Supreme Court and pioneered a complete, consistent corporate rights theory.  Thereafter, in 1976 the Court struck down portions of a congressionally approved campaign finance law.  In 1978 it struck down limits on corporate spending at the state level in citizens referendum campaigns.  Thereafter, and consistently, Justice Powell led a majority of the court to overturn the legislation by either Congress, states, or school districts, that regulated oil, coal, utility corporations, tobacco corporations, chemical and pharmaceutical corporations, alcohol corporations, banking corporations, all of which had claimed corporate rights to free speech. In every case, federal, state, or local laws, duly authorized by their legislatures, were invalidated.

Taken as a whole, these decisions indicate that over the 200 plus year history of the republic one of the institutions intended to balance the powers of the Congress and the presidency has become much more than a balancer. It has become the high citadel of corporate privilege.   Unfortunately, nowhere has this usurpation of power become more egregious than in the recent decisions of the John Roberts court. This court has not just acted like an extension of the Chamber of Commerce; and now it has done more than become a guardian of corporate privilege.   It has become an enactor of corporate privilege. 

The Supreme Court of the United States has in the last five years taken unto itself the authority to become a legislative body. Keep in mind that it is the legislatures, or the Congress, that are intended in accordance with our constitutional structure, to be the researchers of facts, the molders of disparate opinion into a consensus as the basis for legislation, and therefore to be the masters of reconciliation and compromise. That is the job of the popularly elected Congress, representing the whole country, and was never intended to be the job of the Supreme Court of only nine persons representing no one. The Court may review a piece of legislation and decide that the factual basis is insufficient, it may send it back to the Congress for more work; it may declare that other portions of the Constitution require some factual consideration of the Congress to be overruled. But it may not simply make up the facts itself.

Unfortunately, and in spite of his disingenuous assertions of neutrality during his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts has undertaken a personal crusade to roll back the social legislation of the 20th century and to return the country to the unbridled, uncontained, and unregulated corporate amorality of the 19thcentury.   Thus in a few short years, John Roberts has become the most active legislator of conservative opinion in the history of the Republic.  As a consequence, this Court has made it more difficult to sue employers for workplace harassment, has barred remedies for pay discrimination, rejected a class-action suit of women who were denied raises and promotions by Walmart, and has declared unconstitutional a 1988 law that subjected corporate officers to fraud charges.  In case after case, the Roberts Court has reduced the rights of employees, or the right to class-action remedies, or has increased the restrictions on standing to the greater protection of corporations.  The effect has been to nullify, or limit substantially, the gains for women, minorities, and workers that were   celebrated as the hallmark of American progress during the course of the 20th century.

All of that is bad enough.  These are all matters of substantive retrogression. But the Roberts Court is not only deconstructing New Deal social legislation, or workers’ protections, or the rights of women. It is, even worse, deconstructing the Constitution. 

This last week the Roberts Court entered full-fledged into the business of the Congress and effectively preempted that legislative body.  The Congress had spent months on hearings and deliberations in order to establish certain limits on campaign finance contributions.   Under the constitutionally guaranteed separation of powers declared by the Founders to be bedrock of the new Republic, those deliberations and that fact-finding were to be the province, not of the courts, but of the legislative body.  The campaign-finance law that had established these campaign-finance limits was bipartisan, authored by Senators McCain and Feingold a Republican and a Democrat.  Those senators, and the Congress as a whole, had concluded that massive amounts of money poured by single individuals into multiple campaigns distorts and corrupts the election process. The senators and the Congress ought to know; they are the ones who run for election and have to raise the money.   They declared that massive amounts of money from any single individual was both corrupting and gave the appearance of corruption.

Last week, however, in McCutcheon vs. FEC, the Roberts court enacted its own standards for corruption, displacing the legislatively determined standards set in place by McCain-Feingold. It did so without finding new evidence that might have been different than or contradictions of the evidence gathered by Congress.  It did so without specifically referring to and rejecting the evidence that the Congress had determined to be controlling.  Justice Roberts simply substituted his own judgment, his own imagination, and his own personal opinion, about what is corruption for the considered judgment of the Congress. He said that the only thing that is corruption is a bribe.  If there is not a quid pro quo for the money it is not corrupt and it does not even have the appearance of corruption. In effect he said to the Congress go fly a kite if it does not look corruption to me it is not corruption.  If the contributor does not leave a bag of money on the Congressperson’s desk and get a vote in return, it is not corruption.  If millions are spent to elect a congressperson but there is no specific vote in return it is not corruption and it does not look, to John Roberts in his ivory tower as if it is corruption.  

Chief Justice Roberts did this without reciting a single fact that would rebut the Congressional record and did so without the slightest hesitation or self-doubt. Roberts acted as if the court had legislative powers, as if five members of that court could sweep aside months of findings and determinations by the Congress.  The first egregious case of this kind was in the 2010 Citizens United decision where the Court again simply discovered that no corruption existed, or would appear to exist, ifcorporations were donors to political campaigns.  The Court then, too, ignored one hundred years of legal history and the extensive findings of the Congress. In effect, this court at first in Citizens United and now in McCutcheon has engaged in a usurpation of powers and the leading usurper has been Chief Justice John Roberts.

The unpleasant reality is that the Supreme Court has almost absolute power and this is one of those cases where absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Roberts has almost absolute power because as a practical matter no one can hold him accountable. Ruling, therefore, as this Court has done that the legislative branch’s findings of fact are inaccurate, substituting instead the intuitive findings of five Justices for those of the 535 members of Congress, not once, not twice, but over and over, reflects an isolation, and an arrogance bred from that isolation, leading to a self-confidence more characteristic of tyrants than democrats.

That is why it is appropriate to say that Chief Justice John Roberts is not only attempting to deconstruct the New Deal, he is also deconstructing the Constitution. With this series of decisions, Justice John Roberts has, in effect, evaded and substantially destroyed the constitutional separation of powers.

Office: Common Cause National

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