Karen’s View: August-September 2018

Welcome to Karen's View, an occasional look at the nationwide work of Common Cause from the desk of President Karen Hobert Flynn. What you will read below are highlights representing the work accomplished in August and the first week of September 2018.

September 11, 2018

Dear Friends,

Something significant shifted in August. The Mueller investigation landed convictions of Paul Manafort for tax and bank fraud in his first of two trials, this one in Virginia; and Trump fixer Michael Cohen turned himself into the FBI. Cohen also implicated the president directly by admitting that he acted, “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office (Trump),” to make illegal payments and keep information from the public just weeks before the 2016 election.

We learned that news while our nationwide staff was together in retreat making for a rare moment of celebration together rather than over email. It was the complaint by Common Cause that first asserted the questionable payments may have violated federal election law.

Another major victory came in Common Cause v. Rucho as the district court affirmed its earlier ruling and our standing. We anticipate the case will be heard by the Supreme Court in the 2018-19 term.

Those victories, and several others you will read about below, happened against the backdrop of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation process on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Even as our worst fears continue to be confirmed by each step forward of the Mueller investigation, President Trump continues to leave a legacy for a presidency that, at this moment, has a shadow hanging over it.

Yet, even as that shadow darkens, our wins are lighting the way for people to be heard in our democracy. The good news all across the country is people are standing strong and we are continuing to win.

Yours in common cause,

Karen Hobert Flynn, President

In the News

Note: We’ll add highlights from op-eds and major interviews in this section, not articles that quote us.

According to Jonathan Capehart’s tweets, “Karen Hobert Flynn will scare the hell out of you” about the possibility for a Constitutional Convention. Capehart interviewed her for the Sept. 4 edition of  CapeUP, the Washington Post podcast and his PostPartisan column; he’s also an editorial board member, frequent MSNBC analyst, and host of WNYC’s America On the Line.

Karen calls out the Anonymous op-ed author in this USA Today op-ed, calling a shadow presidency “unsustainable.”

The president’s tweets were another topic Karen tackled in this op-ed for Inside Sources that was reprinted in the Las Vegas Sun and The Orlando Sentinel.

Paul S. Ryan & Tierra Bradford (legal fellow) in USA Today 9/6/18: Manafort and Cohen get off easy for financial crimes. People of color get prison for voting.

Paul was also published at Slate & Just Security 8/23/18: The Campaign Finance Case Against Donald Trump Is Strong.

Yosef Getachew wrote about Sinclair Broadcasting in the Monterey County Weekly.

Paul was also featured on NPR, MSNBC, and Stephen Spaulding was on CNN Headline News and in a Newsy package on the Rucho decision that was widely picked up by affiliates around the country.

National Program Updates

Trump Troubles: Common Cause filed complaints earlier this year with the Department of Justice against President Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, alleging campaign finance violations for the hush money payments to several women that Cohen facilitated. In August, he pleaded guilty to eight felony violations, including two campaign finance violations.

Kavanaugh Compromised? Common Cause urged the United States Senate to exercise its constitutional power to withhold its consent on any presidential nominee for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court until a complete picture of what’s at stake is laid bare. Common Cause wrote that “a cloud hangs over the very constitutional officer who is vested with the power to choose a person for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in our judicial system and who may later sit in judgment of them. If a nominee confirmed under the current circumstances participates in future decisions arising out of the DOJ probes and does not recuse themselves, the Supreme Court’s independence—and appearance of independence—will be compromised.” Our letter also highlighted concerns that Senate leadership hid much of Kavanaugh’s record. Compounding the problems. These concerns were raised by many senators during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings.

Historic Court Victory in North Carolina: Common Cause again prevailed in Common Cause v. Rucho, our constitutional challenge of North Carolina’s congressional map. The North Carolina General Assembly will almost certainly appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which presents the Justices with a historic opportunity to prohibit or limit partisan gerrymandering nationwide.c

Michigan Redistricting Reform Gets on the Ballot: The Michigan Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge that would have prevented Michiganders from voting on a ballot initiative to create an independent citizens redistricting commission this November. Common Cause organized and joined an amicus brief supporting Voters Not Politicians that former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) also signed.

Our Democracy 2018: The Our Democracy 2018 campaign is already showing impressive results. The microsite encourages activists to search their address to see if their federal and state candidates have responded to our questionnaire and urge them to go on the record if they have not. We’ve already had more than 200 responses to the federal questionnaire — including 185 Democrats, 20 Republicans, and 45 incumbents (all Democrats so far). We’ve launched state-wide candidate questionnaires in Oregon and Colorado, and will soon launch in other states including Minnesota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nebraska, Indiana, and New Mexico – among others. Activists can search their address to see their federal and state candidates, see if they’ve responded, and urge them to go on the record.

Election Protection: Common Cause Education Fund is a lead partner of the nationwide Election Protection coalition, with a focus on recruiting the nonpartisan grassroots poll monitors that volunteer at polling places across the country. We’ve launched our volunteer recruitment website where anyone can sign up to volunteer to be a poll monitor, and we’ll connect them with the proper local coordinator (which is often Common Cause) to get training and sign-up for a specific shift at the polls. Last year our recruitment efforts were highlighted by David Leonhardt in the New York Times and resulted in 5,000 volunteers signing-up – we’re hoping for similar numbers this year.

2020 Census: Common Cause joined more than 250,000 individuals and organizations to urge the Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census, citing the threat to census accuracy in all communities that will undermine the fair allocation of political representation, public resources, and private investment for the next decade. Common Cause and its network of 30 state offices organized nearly 17,000 individual comments to the Commerce Department in opposition to the citizenship question being added to the 2020 Census. Common Cause also submitted comments on behalf of the organization’s 1.2 million members and activists, which you can find here.

Mass Incarceration: There is a new mass incarceration page on the website. Paul S. Ryan and our new legal fellow Tierra Bradford co-authored an op-ed in USA Today comparing Paul Manafort’s treatment by the criminal justice system compared to how minorities are treated. There is a new post on Democracy Wire on the prison strike in Texas and the move to lower phone costs for inmates.

Common Cause State Updates

California Common Cause

In Long Beach, a city of almost 500,000 people, Common Cause’s legal and organizing teams led efforts to place a measure on the November ballot to create a Citizens Redistricting Commission.

We helped pass AB 216 into law, which will require all vote by mail ballots to be postage prepaid. More than 60% of Californians now vote by mail.

After a summer of lobby visits and pressure, Common Cause and coalition members pushed the legislature to restore the strongest-in-the-nation Net Neutrality language back into SB 822. The bill is making its way through the process but should have broad support.

We led the coalition fight to successfully kill AB 84, which would have allowed special interests to donate 8x times the current contribution limits to legislative leadership, undermining state campaign contribution limits.

Colorado Common Cause

We’re gearing up for our 2018 election protection program! Our Just Vote! Colorado website is up and running, and over the coming months we’ll train 100+ volunteers to answer calls made from Colorado voters to the 866-OUR-VOTE and 888-VE-Y-VOTA hotlines.

In partnership with several organizations in Colorado, we’re leading the work to ensure that every Coloradan is counted in the 2020 census. We mobilized 1,000+ Colorado Common Cause members to submit comments to the US Census Board, speaking out against the citizenship question.

The Colorado State Legislature unanimously passed two bills to put redistricting reform on the November ballot. If voters pass measures Y and Z, Colorado will create two independent citizen redistricting commissions to draw congressional and state legislative districts. Colorado Common Cause helped negotiate the content of the proposals.

Common Cause Delaware

Election systems work continues as the Delaware News Journal prints editorial supporting paper ballots.

Working in Coalition with the ACLU and Delaware Coalition for an Open Government to plan a strategy for a response when new voting system bid awarded.

Planning op-ed with Board members to be published before the primary (September 6th) on Delaware’s need to modernize voter registration in Delaware. Especially Same Day Voting and open primaries.

Common Cause Florida

Common Cause Florida attended the Florida Rights Restoration “Second Chances” Convening August 9th-11th in Orlando, FL. We heard uplifting stories from returning citizens, learned what partner organizations are doing to support the effort to pass Amendment 4 and engaged in breakout sessions to further our knowledge in messaging and outreach.

We worked with the Lawyers’ Committee to set up a limited Election Protection Coalition response for the primary with other partners. A few days in advance of the election, LatinoJustice asked for support in identifying counties and polling places not traditionally covered by our EP work where Puerto Rican and Latinx voters might need assistance. State Chair Liza McClenaghan trained six staff members and volunteers over our conference system to support the effort the day before the election. We fielded calls from the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline during election day.

State Director Anjenys Gonzalez Eilert, piloted a program to have friends or colleagues gather for lunch to discuss ballot races and issues before going together to vote at an early voting site or polling place on election day. This becomes important for the November election since the ballot will contain 13 Constitutional Amendments.

Common Cause Hawaii

Common Cause Hawaii was the lead advocate for Same Day Registration in Hawaii and we were able to pass enabling legislation in 2014. Hawaii’s 2018 Primary Election was the first time SDR was available at all polling sites across the state. While we are waiting for final numbers, hundreds of voters across Hawaii were able to cast their ballot and make their voices heard, thanks to SDR.

We were also able to recruit volunteers to serve as poll workers and Control Center Operators on Election Day. We will continue working with the Office of Elections to help ensure the General Election runs smoothly.

Vote by Mail continues to gain popularity. This bodes well for the Kauai Vote by Mail pilot program in 2020, which Common Cause Hawaii led the fight. We are optimistic the Kauai pilot program will be the first step to a statewide Vote by Mail program.

Common Cause Illinois

The Illinois Count Me In 2020 initiative hosted a series of events this summer with members of Congress, mayors, and other elected officials to chat with their communities about the upcoming census and what the census means the for federal, state and local funding and representation in Illinois. These events have included Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-8), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Dave Kaptain, Mayor of Elgin, State Representative Anna Moeller, 43rd District, Steve Monroy of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), John Young of Common Cause Illinois, Anita Banerji of Forefront, as well as other groups. You can view live streams of two the events here and here.

Common Cause Nebraska

We’re working with allies in the voting and disability rights communities to put together an Election Protection program for this fall. The program includes both poll watchers and a central hub of attorneys to address potential issues on election day. We’ll be both staffing poll watchers from Common Cause’s membership and taking an important role in the work on election day itself.

We released “Nebraskans Right to Know” giving the average person the tools they need to access public records and meetings with confidence.

Common Cause New Mexico

Every year, Common Cause New Mexico organizes and runs a successful volunteer-based Election Protection Program with poll-watchers in every corner of the state. Our Voting Rights Director has been meeting with county clerks and is recruiting poll watchers now to help ensure that all eligible New Mexicans are able to vote and have their ballot accurately counted this November.

In partnership with several local community organizations, we collected more than 28,000 signatures in Albuquerque to place a new program, “Democracy Dollars,” on the ballot. This is an addition to the city’s current city public financing program and will allow voters to distribute additional funds via “Democracy Dollars” to qualified publicly financed candidates of their choice. This program will be on a special election ballot in February.

CCNM is spearheading a campaign to implement a 2-1 matching fund provision to the City of Santa Fe’s current public financing program that will be going before the full city council for a vote in Oct. 2018.

Common Cause New York

Common Cause New York co-sponsored the final New York State Attorney General Democratic Candidate debate before the election. We are partnering with WNYC, The Cooper Union, The Century Foundation, Center for NYC Neighborhoods and Brooklyn Legal Services. Brian Lehrer and Preet Bharara are co-moderating, along with representatives of the other co-sponsoring non-profits, and we will be on stage to ask candidates our questions.

Common Cause New York launched a mini-campaign to bring Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to local and citywide elections through the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission. We conducted original research to clearly articulate the need for and potential impact of RCV. Our research found that, since 2009, more than 60% of multi-candidate primaries produce anti-democratic results, candidates who win elections with less than majority support. Unfortunately, RCV will not go to the ballot this November, but we’ve elevated the conversation and built a credible data-based argument that will bolster our advocacy efforts when the City Council’s Charter Revision Commission convenes this fall.

Our Generation Vote program registered more than 100 voters with the help of 70 trained volunteers over seven weeks this summer. We canvassed or tabled nine high traffic events in three boroughs. We are now gearing up to launch our GenVote text bank program to drive millennial turnout in competitive State Senate districts through the September primary. More than 175 volunteers from around the state and 70 in New York City have signed up to help us increase voter turnout in 15 target NY Senate districts with primary races.

Common Cause Ohio

In June the US Supreme Court unveiled a decision supporting the Ohio Secretary of State’s more aggressive purging of the voter rolls. In response, Common Cause Ohio has been urging voters to confirm their voter registration. Our Verify Your Vote project empowers voters to make sure their voter registration is up-to-date. Volunteers are at the heart of this program and talk with voters in high traffic areas like festivals, libraries, churches and food pantries.

The mobile app (commoncause.ohiovotes.us/) helps speed up the process so that Ohioans are able to quickly check their registration status. Common Cause Ohio is also preparing for November and organizing volunteers to monitor the polls on Election Day as part of the national Election Protection program.