Uncommon donors

‘Citizens Lobbying Organization’ Common Cause draws funds from super rich

May 4, 2012

The self-described nonpartisan "citizens lobbying organization" Common Cause is a major opponent of the culture of corporate influence and lobbying in American politics, but some of its donors are culled from the very ranks of those it rails against.

One of Common Cause’s stated goals is to "curb the excessive influence" of money and lobbying on government. Yet its 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, and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Common Cause’s annual report lists Corzine, a former Democratic Senator and Governor of New Jersey, as a "generous" donor. Corzine gave $1,000 to Common Cause New York for its annual dinner in November 2011, according to the organization.

The Obama reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee returned more than $70,000 in contributions from Corzine following the collapse of MF Global.

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."

Common Cause did not return a request for comment.

Another sponsor of the 2011 Common Cause New York dinner was Daschle. After leaving the Senate, Daschle turned to a lucrative career as a "special policy adviser" to a prominent healthcare lobbying firm. His wife Linda is also a corporate lobbyist.

In 2009, Daschle withdrewhis nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services after it was disclosed that he failed to pay $128,000 in taxes for a private car and driver provided by a Democratic donor.

The donor, former cable television executive Leo Hindery, Jr., has been described in the New York Times as "a political groupie" who used powerful politicians as an "aphrodisiac."

Hindery was honored with the John Gardner Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 Common Cause dinner.

It is not the first time Common Cause’s donors have been at odds with the group’s stated mission. A 2005 Common Cause donor was Fred Baron, a John Edwards fundraiser who allegedly 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 Baron was one of those supporters.