At Year’s End, Progress To Celebrate and Challenges Ahead

At Year's End, Progress To Celebrate and Challenges Ahead

In a very challenging environment for democracy reform, we see proof every day that people power can still make a positive difference in our communities, states and the nation.

Happy New Year! As the clock winds down on 2017, I want to take a moment to thank Common Cause’s 1 million-plus members and supporters for your help in our work this year.

In a very challenging environment, we have made important progress in advancing democracy reforms and spotlighting threats to voting rights, fair and equitable representation, and the free flow of information. We see proof every day that people power can still make a positive difference in our communities, states and the nation.

There is much more important work to be done in 2018, but this week I hope you’ll join me in celebrating some of our 2017 successes:

Battling Gerrymandering

  • In North Carolina, we went to trial in a potentially landmark challenge to partisan redistricting; we expect the three-judge court in Common Cause v. Rucho to deliver a decision early in 2018, with an appeal to the Supreme Court likely to follow.
  • We organized a package of nine amicus briefs in Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to partisan redistricting argued in the Supreme Court this fall. Our brief targeted Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing vote, who has been openly searching for a workable standard to measure the impact of partisan redistricting.
  • After the case was argued, we received a strong indication that the Gill brief hit its mark. The court announced it also will hear Benisek v. Lamone, a partisan redistricting challenge in Maryland that originated with longtime Common Cause activist Steve Shapiro. Our amicus brief when Shapiro’s original complaint made it to the Supreme Court in 2016 set the stage for the Benisek case.

Voting and Elections

  • Our advocacy in Colorado and Rhode Island helped make those states the first to adopt statewide risk-limiting audits to verify the accuracy of their election returns. Rhode Island and Illinois also joined the growing list of states adopting automatic voter registration, adding qualified citizens to the voter rolls when they do business with the DMV or other state agencies. In Oregon, the first state with automatic registration, we won passage of legislation allowing people as young as 16 to preregister to vote.

Article V

  • In Maryland, New Mexico, and Nevada, we persuaded legislators to rescind earlier calls for a constitutional convention under Article V. In other states across the country, we worked with Democrats and Republicans to stop Article V convention resolutions. Our research has demonstrated that a convention could quickly become a constitutional nightmare, endangering fundamental protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

The Trump Presidency

  • We published major reports on President Trump’s first 100 days in office (“State of the Swamp”), the “election integrity” commission he created to search for nonexistent evidence of widespread voter fraud (“Flawed from the Start”) and the evidence gathered so far of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election (“Putin, Trump, and Democracy’s Slippery Slope Toward Oligarchy”).
  • Reaffirming our role as a government watchdog, we undertook a series of legal initiatives aimed at the Trump administration. Among them are Common Cause v. Kellyanne Conway, a complaint to the Office of Government Ethics against presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway; Common Cause v. Donald J. Trump for President, a complaint to the Federal Election Commission against President Trump’s campaign committee; Common Cause v. U.S. Department of State, a complaint to the Office of Government Ethics alleging violation of federal ethics regulations prohibiting government employees from using their public office to endorse products and businesses; and Common Cause v. Donald Trump Jr. et al., a  complaint to the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department alleging that Trump Jr. violated federal law by soliciting a political contribution from a foreign national.

In the States

  • California Common Cause led a successful drive to pass default campaign contribution limits for cities and won passage of the California DISCLOSE Act, which requires the top three donors to be listed on the face of every independent expenditure advertisement.
  • Common Cause Hawaii helped lead the successful campaign for HB165, the first major update to Hawaii’s Sunshine Law in 20 years.
  • Common Cause Indiana won our fight for a merit selection system to choose judges for Marion County, the state’s largest locality.
  • Common Cause New Mexico won passage of a bill to amend the New Mexico Constitution to create an independent ethics commission – the amendment will go to New Mexico voters for ratification in 2018.
  • As part of the Integrity Texas coalition, Common Cause Texas helped win passage of important ethics reforms, including legislation requiring the resignation and termination of pension benefits for public officials convicted of felonies, preventing former elected officials from using unspent campaign funds for lobbying expenses, and strengthening financial disclosure requirements for elected officials. We also led a successful effort to create a statewide redistricting reform coalition, Fair Maps Texas.
  • In Washington State, we filed an amicus brief in Elster v. City of Seattle, a suit challenging the city’s campaign finance voucher program.
  • In addition to leading a successful drive for rescission of the state’s call for an Article V. Constitutional convention, Common Cause Maryland secured a significant update of Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA), won passage of a ban on coordination between independent expenditure committees and political candidates, and issued a detailed and well-received report on how political spending by the bail bond industry has given it influence in the legislature.
  • Common Cause Florida is a plaintiff in a suit challenging Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to fill three State Supreme Court vacancies that will open as his term ends in January 2019.
  • Common Cause New York helped secure the passage in December of a public financing system for elections in Suffolk County, the state’s 4th most populous locality. Similar legislation was also scheduled for a vote in Washington, DC City Council at the urging of a coalition of local leaders who worked in coalition advance the bill. In addition to activating our DC-area supporters, Karen Hobert Flynn testified about the Citizens Election Program in Connecticut, helping the legislators to see how the laws works in practice.

Our Activism

  • As the Senate considered Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general, Common Cause activists delivered petitions signed by 600,000 people opposed to his confirmation. After we called on Sessions to recuse himself in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the attorney general agreed.
  • Common Cause activists joined other reform groups in delivering petitions with more than 300,000 signatures to the Justice Department to demand an investigation into Donald Trump Jr.’s contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 election.
  • Common Cause activists filed more than 30,000 public comments on the work of the Pence-Kobach Commission, expressing concerns over its initial data request, supporting the states that protected voter privacy, and declaring that we will not let it intimidate us out of our right to vote.