Common Hypocrisy

Campaign finance reform group says it is centrist but takes money from the left to attack the right


Common Cause—a nonprofit campaign finance and government reform organization whose stated goal is to “curb the excessive influence” of money and lobbying on government—is one of several organizations participating in a Wednesday protest against the conservative super PAC American Crossroads.

Other groups participating include Campaign for America’s Future, Rebuild the Dream, People for the American Way, Public Campaign, The Other 98%, Health Care for America Now, Alliance for Justice, Public Citizen, and the SEIU. 

According to the event flyer, which includes a picture of Karl Rove in an orange prison jumpsuit, the groups will hold a “march to indict” American Crossroads “for the crimes of trying to buy our elections and keep people from exercising their right to vote.”

However, Common Cause has taken money from liberals willing to buy their way into elected office—and, despite claims of nonpartisanship, it also has a history of supporting progressive causes and affiliating with Democratic party organs.

Common Cause President and CEO Bob Edgar is a former Democratic congressman. Despite its stance on big money in politics, Common Cause’s 2011 donor list includes such figures as Jon Corzine, who is alleged to have misappropriated more than $1 billion as head of investment firm MF Global.

As previously reported by the Free Beacon, Corzine, a former Democratic Senator and Governor of New Jersey, donated $1,000 to Common Cause New York, earning him a “generous donor” status on Common Cause’s annual report.

Corzine spent more than $130 million personally financing his campaigns for office in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Common Cause complains, “big money has long dominated our elections.”

A 2005 Common Cause donor was Fred Baron, a John Edwards fundraiser who provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret payments to Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter and former campaign aide Andrew Young.

Common Cause applauded Edwards in 2007 “for the substance of his democracy reform proposals and for his candor in making those policy positions explicit and clear.”

In 2011, Common Cause supported Edwards’s indictment, writing that he “appears to have raised nearly $1 million from a pair of political supporters to finance an elaborate cover-up of his affair.” It did not note that Baron was one of those supporters.

Common Cause has also partnered in recent months with a host of progressive groups to attack the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market organization that works with private companies and state lawmakers to craft model legislation.

ALEC has been the target of an intense campaign by progressives for its ties to voter identification and self-defense laws. As previously reported by the Free Beacon, Common Cause was one of several organizations that met on May 10 at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., to coordinate their campaign against ALEC.

Common Cause has been leading the legal battle against ALEC. The group has filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS against ALEC, and it is asking attorneys general in all 50 states to investigate ALEC’s alleged lobbying activity.

The law firm working with Common Cause in its IRS complaint, Phillips & Cohen, has a long history of donating generously to Democrats. Firm partner John Phillips was a bundler for Obama.

At the May 10 summit, Common Cause Deputy Programs Director Doug Clopp called the war on ALEC “a very powerful organizing tool” for his group.

“Without question, Common Cause is a partisan front group masquerading as an ethics watchdog,” ALEC legal counsel Alan P. Dye said in an April statement.

Common Cause has been using ALEC to fundraise. “We’re working hard to shine a spotlight on [ALEC’s] nefarious tactics, and to put a stop to their end runs around federal tax and state ethics laws,” the group boasts on its website. “Can you help us by making a gift of $20, $50, $100 or more to support our work today?”

One staffer for Common Cause also appears to have engaged in casual racial stereotyping.

Common Cause deputy director Clopp said in a recent interview with Ad Age that ALEC’s ties to stand-your-ground, anti-immigrant, and voter identification bills caused concern among corporations that market their products to minorities.

“Kraft knows who buys lots of mac and cheese,” Clopp said, referring to Kraft’s recent decision to cancel its membership with ALEC. However, Clopp did not identify the mac and cheese buyer.

Common Cause did not respond to a request for comment.

CJ Ciaramella   Email CJ | Full Bio | RSS
CJ Ciaramella is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Beacon, he was a reporter for the Daily Caller. He was also a Collegiate Network year-long fellow at the San Diego Union-Tribune and has written articles for the Weekly Standard and Oregon Quarterly. Ciaramella attended the University of Oregon, where he edited the award-winning student magazine, the Oregon Commentator. He lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @cjciaramella. His email address is

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