Protecting Democracy In 2012

Written by Stephen Spaulding

2012 was quite a year at Common Cause. These are but a few of my highlights.

After two years of deep historic and legal research around the Senate’s archaic rules, with the incredible contributions of National Governing Board Member Emmet Bondurant, Common Cause filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Senate filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to even start a debate on the floor of the United States Senate. [Read more about the theory of the case, in the Harvard Journal on Legislation]. Joining Common Cause are four members of Congress (Reps. John Lewis, Michael Michaud, Hank Johnson, and Keith Ellison) and three young people (Erika Andiola, Cesar Vargas and Celso Mireles) who would have benefitted from the DREAM Act. We filed in May and had oral argument in early December. Although the lower court did not reach the merits of our initial claims, we are now preparing an appeal. The historic significance of the case is palpable – with a packed courtroom hearing the initial round of argument and constitutional scholars of all stripes weighing in on its merits. It has sparked a roiling national conversation over the Senate’s rules and the extent of the problem. The Senate is likely to spend the first few days of its new session debating changes to the filibuster rules, and Common Cause will continue to play a leading role in the effort to fix the Senate. In all of my meetings with staff and members of the Senate of the course of the year, it’s clear that the dysfunction is incredibly frustrating to Senators who just want to get back to doing the people’s business. The policy of obstruction for obstruction’s sake is harming our democracy, and Common Cause will continue to work toward reform.

Election Day was another high point of my year. In the wake of an unprecedented and concerted effort among some states to make it harder to vote, we geared up the largest Election Protection yet. Working closely throughout the year with colleagues at organizations like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Demos, the Fair Elections Legal Network and others, I spent an exhilarating day staffing the national command center for the Election Protection coalition. Read more here about my time manning the phones and dispatching legal assistance in under-resourced places across the country coping with 7-hour lines, broken machines, and reports of voter intimidation. The thousands of Common Cause volunteers that fanned out across the country to help voters with nonpartisan, basic election information were our eyes and ears in red states, blue states and purple states. Even more importantly, they helped collect the stories that we can communicate to policymakers as we reform our elections to make sure that they are free, fair and accessible.

One of the best parts of 2012 was the opportunity to discuss the role of money in politics in forums across the country. It’s clear that it is a matter Americans care about deeply. Some of these panels took place in Los Angeles, and others in West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. Just two weeks ago, I joined FEC Commissioner Bauerly and Campaign Legal Center senior counsel Paul Ryan at a forum in the Indiana House of Representatives. We discussed how voters just waded through $6 billion in election spending over the past cycle, with over $1 billion dollars in outside spending from Super PACs and nonprofits – $300 million of which was completely secret.

What I heard was an electorate eager for solutions.

It’s time to restore the voices of average, ordinary Americans in our democracy. States like Connecticut – with robust public financing programs – now have legislatures with over 75% of their members elected on small-dollar contributions, without taking a dime of special interest money. We will continue to push for campaign finance reform legislation, so that voters will know who is funding the mysterious advertisements flooding the airwaves. And just as we did this year with our four-thousand page whistleblower complaint to the IRS about ALEC splashed across the front page of the New York Times, groups with a central mission of secretly influencing legislation in circumvention of disclosure laws will continue to face public scrutiny so long as they try wheel & deal behind closed doors.

I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store for Common Cause.


We can’t wait to see either! Your generous support will help Common Cause work for democracy next year, and every year. Make a tax-deductible year-end gift to Common Cause today, and we’ll send you a free DVD of Bill Moyers’ newest documentary, “THE UNITED STATES OF ALEC” as our thanks to you.

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About Stephen Spaulding

Find Stephen Spaulding on Twitter at @SpauldingCC.

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