The Facts About Common Cause

Since you’ve landed on this page, there’s a good chance you’re interested in learning more about an Article V constitutional convention. Perhaps you’ve seen Cenk Uygur’s videos attempting to discredit Common Cause and our opposition to calling an Article V convention.

An Article V convention is one of two ways the Constitution can be amended. It has never been used; all existing amendments since the Bill of Rights were passed first by Congress and then ratified by at least three-fourths of the states. Under Article V, a convention must be convened if two-thirds of the states (34 or more) petition Congress to demand it.

We believe a constitutional convention is dangerous because it easily could become a free-for-all for extremist efforts to upend rights Americans have enjoyed since the revolution. There are no rules or language in the Constitution to limit the scope of a convention. There’s also no guidance as to how convention delegates would be selected or apportioned among the states. Against that backdrop, any constitutional right or protection would be up for grabs. You can find further information about the threat of an Article V convention at www.dangerouspath.org.

Common Cause opposes all calls for an Article V convention but we’re most concerned about the pro-convention efforts coming from conservative groups that support a federal balanced budget amendment; those forces now are just six states away from reaching their goal of securing calls from 34 states. Common Cause has focused on stopping those measures and persuaded some states to rescind earlier calls.

Common Cause supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, but we believe any amendment should go through the process that has always been used: first being passed by Congress and then ratified by the states. Any effort to amend the Constitution takes time, and there is no easy way out of the mess Citizens United, among other Supreme Court decisions, has created.

Common Cause believes in and encourages strong and robust public debate on issues affecting our country. We also believe those debates must be based on facts and reality. We hope the information below clears up misleading statements Uygur and his Wolf PAC organization have been spreading about Common Cause, our work, our staff, and our position on the Article V convention issue.

 

What is Common Cause?

Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. Founded in 1970, Common Cause has offices in Washington, DC and more than two-dozen states. Our work focuses on creating an open, honest, and accountable government by pushing for legislation and reforms that reduce the influence of big money in politics, protect and expand voting rights, modernize and secure our election systems, ensure a fair and impartial redistricting process, and safeguard an independent and accessible media that informs voters.

 

How does Common Cause accomplish its work?

Common Cause was created to be a “citizens lobby,” meaning a group of people that lobby government on behalf of the public interest. A few members of our staff are registered as lobbyists in Washington or their state capitals, but most of our lobbying is done by our 800,000 members and supporters – all volunteers – across the country. We use a mix of lobbying, grassroots organizing, strategic communications, litigation, and online engagement to reach our goal of passing democracy reform and holding power accountable. Staff in our state offices work in their states full time, primarily focused on state legislative and local government issues. They are active in their communities and most have ties to democracy reform and citizen action organizing in their state going back decades.

 

Who funds Common Cause?

Common Cause and the Common Cause Education Fund are funded by our 800,000 members and supporters and by foundations. The vast majority of our funding comes from individual, small-dollar donors, giving $250 or less.

 

What has Common Cause accomplished in its 47-year history?

Since being founded in 1970, Common Cause has been a strong leader for democracy reform at the federal, state, and local levels. Some our most notable and successful campaigns include:

  • Driving the movement that won voting rights for 18-year-olds with the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Passing federal campaign finance legislation in the wake of the Watergate scandal and helping lead the campaign that produced the 2002 landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold).
  • Passing and defending groundbreaking ethics, transparency, and lobbying reform in Congress and in the states, including recent statewide ballot measure victories in Rhode Island and California, and an upcoming ballot campaign in New Mexico.
  • Passing and implementing the most successful citizen-funded election program in the country in Connecticut. We’ve also helped pass and defend similar programs in states and localities including in Arizona, Maine, Minnesota, Hawaii, New York City, Los Angeles, Portland OR, Albuquerque NM, Montgomery County MD, and Howard County MD.
  • Writing and passing California’s landmark law that puts citizens in charge of drawing congressional and state legislative districts, and leading similar campaigns in challenging gerrymandering in North Carolina, Maryland, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
  •  Modernizing and streamlining our election systems in dozens of states by allowing voters to register to vote online and on Election Day, and creating automatic voter registration systems in Oregon, California, and Connecticut.
  • Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, passing state disclosure laws and resolutions in over two dozen states calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting money in politics.
  • Leading the successful campaign that persuaded the FCC to pass strong Net Neutrality rules.


Does Common Cause support a constitutional amendment on Citizens United and money in politics?

Absolutely. Since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Citizens United v. FEC decision, Common Cause has helped lead campaigns calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and permit sensible regulations on money in politics. Specifically, Common Cause staff has led successful campaigns in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Montana, New York, and numerous cities and localities to get state legislatures to call on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment on money in politics.

While we continue to advocate for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, we also are focused on passing citizen-funded election programs that empower small donors, bills that strengthen disclosure requirements, and laws limiting coordination between candidates and outside groups. We also understand that big money in politics is not the only threat to our democracy and solving it alone is just one piece of the puzzle. That is why we also focus on challenging and stopping gerrymandering, protecting voting rights, strengthening ethics and transparency in government, and increasing people’s everyday involvement in government.

 

Why does Common Cause oppose a constitutional convention to overturn Citizens United?

Common Cause is opposed to an Article V constitutional convention regardless of the issue behind it, whether that is money in politics or a balanced budget amendment. We, along with most legal scholars and our coalition allies, believe that the unknowns surrounding a constitutional convention make it a dangerous option for attempts to amend to the Constitution. Since the Constitution offers no rules or guidelines for a convention, there is nothing to stop multiple issues from being raised and multiple amendments from being passed. No one knows how delegates would be chosen, how the American people would be represented, and how much influence wealthy special interests would have over the convention agenda and processes. At a time of extreme gerrymandering and when one political party has complete control over 32 of 50 state legislatures (which would likely pick the delegates), a constitutional convention would further expose our nation’s political system to partisan chaos.

 

Is Common Cause the only group opposed to an Article V convention?

Not at all. Common Cause is one of many organizations on both the left and right that oppose calls for an Article V convention. In April 2017, 230 public interest, civil rights, government reform, labor, environmental, immigration, and constitutional rights organizations released a letter opposing calls for an Article V convention. Organizational signers of the letter include Common Cause, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Democracy 21, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Americans for Democratic Action, the League of Women Voters of the United States, Dream Defenders, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza Action Fund, the National Education Association (NEA), SIEU, the Campaign Legal Center, Greenpeace, People For the American Way, Daily Kos, the National Women's Law Center, and the Brennan Center for Justice.

 

Why does Common Cause oppose Wolf PAC’s efforts?

Due to our opposition to a constitutional convention, Common Cause has testified and spoken publicly against legislation Wolf PAC is pushing in support of an Article V convention on overturning Citizens United. Our main focus however, has been stopping a constitutional convention campaign led  by conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing corporate lobbying group, to enact a federal balanced budget amendment (click here to read why that’s a bad idea). In the last two years, Common Cause has successfully helped rescind ALEC-backed Article V convention calls in Delaware, New Mexico, and Maryland, and are supporting similar efforts in Nevada. We’ve also worked in several states to stop convention calls from other right-wing special interest groups.

Common Cause has done nothing to rescind Wolf PAC’s pro-convention resolutions in the five states where they’ve been adopted. Cenk Uygur has claimed – erroneously - that Common Cause worked in Vermont to urge the legislature to rescind its Article V convention application on money in politics. Common Cause has no staff, lobbyists, or board members in Vermont; none of our staff had contact with Vermont legislators on this issue before they voted for rescission. In fact, we learned about the Vermont rescission bill through a media interview request from Vermont Public Radio.

 

To read more about our opposition to an Article V convention, the wide coalition of groups that opposes calls for a convention, and what legal scholars say about Article V, visit www.dangerouspath.org  

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