Common cause: holding power accountable

JULY 1, 2011 

High Court Weighs in On Campaign Finance

As the Supreme Court ended its session this week, two new rulings put campaign finance issues in the spotlight.

The Court declined to review a complaint in Green Party v. Lenge, questioning the constitutionality of the Connecticut Citizens’ Election Program. The decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the qualifying criteria of the Connecticut state public financing program will stand. Read a blog post about this victory for clean elections» 

In the highly-anticipated ruling on Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett (also called McComish), the Court ruled unconstitutional one aspect of Arizona’s public financing system, but affirmed the constitutionality of public financing. The ruling was not a surprise, and its limited scope was a silver lining for reform advocates.

“The best thing that can be said about the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling on Monday is that it could have been worse.” (The Washington Post)

Read the rest of this story on our website, including Justice Kagan's powerful dissent and Common Cause's statement about the ruling»


UnVailing the Kochs

Just as Common Cause “Uncloaked the Kochs” in January at their secretive strategy meeting in Rancho Mirage, Calif., we joined other progressive groups to “UnVail the Kochs” and the ongoing attack on America’s middle class at a second secretive strategy meeting last weekend in Vail, Colo. Dozens of activists and reformers participated in a rally to ask the Kochs and their high-powered friends to keep their money out of our politics.

Read a blog post by Derek Cressman,
 who helped organize both Koch events, and see pictures from the Vail rally. Included is a list of private jets (and their corporate owners) that arrived in Vail around the time of the corporate caucus.

Colbert Joins Fundraising Machine

Yesterday, the Federal Election Commission approved comedian Stephen Colbert’s application to start a political organization that he plans to use to influence the 2012 election. In a 5-1 vote, the agency ruled that Colbert's staff at Comedy Central can help his political organization produce campaign ads without having their work considered a contribution to his PAC. The ads must appear only as part of his comedy program however. Following his victory, Colbert told fans outside the FEC office: "I don't accept the status quo. I do accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express.”

Common Cause weighed in on the result with our own satirical (or not) tribute to Colbert. President Bob Edgar’s opinion piece, posted on says:

"The Super PAC launched Thursday by the satirist Stephen Colbert and blessed by the Federal Election Commission is a terrible idea.

It makes a mockery of our campaign finance laws, inviting politicians of all stripes to launch their own Super PAC-linked TV “news” shows and then use those programs to raise buckets of money from corporations, labor unions and other special interests.

It’s the sort of thing Common Cause has always been against. We hate it.

And it’s positively brilliant!

Read the rest of Bob's take on the Colbert PAC »


Common Cause Goes to Illinois

In April, we called on Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to crack down on the city's ”pay-to-play” political culture by banning campaign contributions from businesses that receive city contracts. Emanuel's reform proposals, which include strengthening the city's Board of Ethics and the office of Inspector General, had not included a "pay-to-play" ban, but he signed one on his first day in office. Common Cause is working to strengthen our presence in Illinois and this new legislation gives us optimism that the state is ready to reform the role of money in politics.


Supreme Conflict Issue Reviews and Member Questions

In the last six months, Common Cause has investigated and revealed serious issues concerning ethics and accountability for justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. After The New York Times published a detailed story last month about Justice Clarence Thomas’ relationship with Texas real estate developer Harlan Crow, we convened a national webinar and conference call for Common Cause members who wanted to know more about the matter.

More than 700 people signed up to join the webinar, which featured Gary S. Stein, a former Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court; Rep. Chris Murphy (Ct.), who has introduced a bill to increase accountability for the Supreme Court; and Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner, an attorney and founder of the grassroots organization Committee for Judicial Independence.

Common Cause members have asked for more discussions and Q&A sessions like this, and we’re committed to continuing our outreach and education efforts. If you’re interested in our issue-based program work and want to receive action alerts and emails about future webinar calls, join our CauseNet mailing list. 

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Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process.