Arizona Republic: Common Cause is Hardly Delusional About Election Reform

Common Cause is hardly delusional about election reform

By Doris Marie Provine, AZ I See It

My Turn: The only delusions lie in Doug MacEachern’s view of what Common Cause is.

Arizona Republic columnist Doug MacEachern’s attack on Common Cause (“Reformers enlist the IRS as their hit-men”) recalls former Alabama Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom’s famous shrugging off of attacks with a plea that reporters “just spell my name right.”

MacEachern spelled Common Cause correctly but he’s clearly ignorant of the organization and its work promoting government of, by and for the people. He seems to want government of only the big donors and partisan hacks of either party.

Arizonans are more in line with Common Cause than with MacEachern. As board president of Arizona Advocacy Network, which advocates on behalf of citizens to hold power accountable, I’m proud that we often partner with Common Cause on work here.

MacEachern argues that reformers live under two delusions: that we can deliver open and honest government just by containing money in politics and that we’re nonpartisan. Let’s take them in reverse order.

Nonpartisanship is in Common Cause’s DNA. The “citizen lobby” was founded by a Republican, John Gardner, who served in the cabinet of a Democratic president. It neither endorses nor contributes to candidates, has sued both parties and only accepts money from donors who support a nonpartisan reform agenda.

Common Cause helped Arizona Advocacy Network pass the Arizona small donor matching program, used by conservatives and liberals. It recently helped win a U.S. Supreme Court case allowing a citizens commission to draw Arizona’s political boundaries, rather than leaving the job to party hacks.

Common Cause doesn’t condone IRS abuses; it simply wants clear, common-sense rules that hold all tax violators accountable and let everyone know which organizations are political and which are charitable or “social welfare.”

MacEachern writes that in the 2014 election cycle, 100 percent of Common Cause’s individual donors were Democrats. But Open Secrets, the website he cites as a source, doesn’t claim to know the political affiliations of Common Cause’s donors. What MacEachern referenced — just $8,400 — was contributed by Common Cause employees, officers and board members to Democratic candidates and political parties.

Common Cause’s power isn’t financial; it rests in 35 state affiliates and partners like Arizona Advocacy Network, working across-the-aisle, plus 400,000 members nationwide — including Republicans like me who believe government works best when citizens are involved and know their voices, votes and donations, however small, matter.

As to MacEachern’s first “delusion,” Common Cause has never implied or argued that containing money is a political cure-all. Its agenda also includes strengthening voting rights, enforcing strong ethical standards for public officials, ensuring the free flow of information and understanding that a fair and functioning democracy is vital to an economy that works for everyone.
Doris Marie Provine

MacEachern suggests the increased flow of money in politics shows that reform has failed. Common Cause argues it’s a reason to work harder.

The real culprits in the explosion of political spending are partisan and legal operatives who skirt common-sense rules the voters support.

Like the oncologist who experiments with new cancer drugs, reformers seek new and varied treatments for what ails our democracy, including a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, stronger disclosure requirements and public financing systems that encourage candidates to rely on small-dollar donors rather millionaires and billionaires.

Doris Marie Provine is board president of the Arizona Advocacy Network and professor emerita at Arizona State University.