Common Cause is a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., with chapters in 35 states. It was founded in 1970 by John W. Gardner, a Republican, who was the former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson as well as chair of the National Urban Coalition, an advocacy group for minorities and the working poor in urban areas. As initially founded, Common Cause was prominently known for its efforts to bring about an end to the Vietnam War and lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
Sometimes identified as liberal-leaning, Common Cause has also been identified as nonpartisan and advocates government reform. It is identified with the reformist "good government" movement and is often described as a watchdog group. The organization's tagline is "holding power accountable" and its stated mission is "upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process."
The organization's stated issue areas are "money in politics," "voting and elections," "ethics," "a fair economy," and "media and democracy."
Common Cause opposes and actively lobbies against modern-day efforts to call an Article V convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution by both progressive and conservative groups, such as that by the progressive political action committeeWolf PAC to limit large monetary donations to political candidates parties and groups, and by the conservative advocacy group Citizens for Self-Governance's "Convention of the States" initiative, which is backed by some Republican politicians. In a May 2016 report entitled The Dangerous Path: Big Money's Plan to Shred the Constitution, Common Cause wrote that "There is nothing to prevent the convention, once convened, from proposing additional changes that could limit or eliminate fundamental rights or upend our entire system of government." While a constitutional convention could conceivably overturn the controversial Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC and limit the role of money in politics (as advocated by groups such as Wolf PAC), Common Cause suggests that the risk of a runaway convention is too great because "state legislatures, the majority of which are controlled by Republicans, would likely control the agenda at a constitutional convention" and as a result it is extremely unlikely "that a convention controlled by those legislatures would really do anything productive on money in politics, on voting rights, on democracy in general."
Common Cause lobbied Congress to pass the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, requiring government officials to disclose their finances and restricting the "revolving door" between government and business. In 1989, they lobbied for passage of a new Ethics in Government Act, which ended special-interest honoraria for members of Congress and closed a loophole that allowed members to convert campaign funds to personal use.
During the 2016 presidential elections, Common Cause suggested that the Clinton Foundation would create ethics and conflict of interest challenges for Hillary Clinton should she become president. They criticized Hillary Clinton's plan to give Chelsea Clinton control of the foundation and called for an independent audit and full disclosure of the foundation's donors. The public interest group also criticized Donald Trump on his refusal to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential election. The organization has been outspoken about the potential conflicts of interest from Trump's businesses and called for Trump to put his assets into a blind trust instead of handing over control of his businesses to his children.
The organization has sought to end the practice of gerrymandering in several states. In 2016, it filed a lawsuit in North Carolina challenging the constitutionality of district maps. The organization's North Carolina chapter has led a campaign to create a nonpartisan redistricting process, which has bipartisan support in the state. Common Cause is also challenging redistricting in Democratic-controlled states, such as Maryland.
Common Cause is in favor of establishing a national popular vote for presidential elections to replace the current electoral college system. Following the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, Common Cause called for the National Popular Vote Compact to counteract what it called the "anti-democratic" outcome in that election.
Karen Hobert Flynn became the organization's president in June 2016.
The following individuals have served as president of Common Cause:
^Jamie Pimlott, "Common Cause" in Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections (updated ed.: ed. Larry J. Sabato & Howard R. Ernst). Infobase Publishing, 2007, p. 75: "established as a nonpartisan citizens' lobby, the main goal of the organization is to make government more effective and representative of citizens' interests. .... because the organization is nonpartisan, it does not take a particular position on these issues and focuses instead on the process by which decisions are made or the structure of decision making, that is, the rules and procedures used by politicians and bureaucrats."
^Daniel L. Feldman & David R. Eichenthal, The Art of the Watchdog: Fighting Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Corruption in Government (SUNY Press, 2013): "Common Cause: One of the largest and most influential good government watchdog groups..."