Common Cause - Organization Investigation

Table of Contents

common cause

Common Cause: Public Watchdog Profile

Mission“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.”
Members and supporters (2019)1.2 million 
Financial data (2020)Revenue: $23,854,392 ($23.9 million) Expenses: $20,665,859 ($20.7 million) Net assets: $12,818,063 ($12.8 million)
LocationsWashington, D.C.
Current presidentKaren Hobert Flynn

Common Cause refers to a 501(c)(4) nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy group dedicated to promoting the interests of the general public. The group has been called the “people’s lobby,” as well as the “citizen’s lobby.”

From its inception in 1970, Common Cause has led the charge to reform campaign finance laws

Its lobbying efforts played a major part in the successful enactment of the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). The legislation established regulations on political campaign spending and fundraising.

 Common Cause’s other major success came in 2002, when they advocated for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold Act). The act banned ‘soft money,’ or ‘dark money,’ (political contributions made outside of Federal laws). But the Supreme Court ruled this prohibition a violation of free speech during the Citizens United v FEC Case. This has led to advocacy groups—such as Move to Amend, Public Citizen, and RepresentUs—joining the fight to reform campaign finance laws.

Common Cause has also established an affiliated 501(c)(3) nonprofit named the Common Cause Education Fund. Through public education, engagement, and research, the Common Cause Education Fund complements and bolsters the work of its parent organization. 

History of Common Cause

“Everybody’s organized but the people. Now it’s the citizens’ turn.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services John W. Gardner, 1972 speech

In 1970, John W. Gardner took the “biggest gamble of [his] career.” He founded Common Cause, an advocacy group dedicated to promoting the cause of average Americans.

In some ways, the lack of organized support for average citizens makes sense. They likely don’t need as much assistance or representation as disenfranchised or disadvantaged groups. But the health and welfare of the vast majority of a nation can sometimes get lost when no one advocates for their cause publicly. Gardner recognized this lack of support while working with President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as the Urban Coalition, and sought to rectify it by creating Common Cause.

Urged by his Common Cause constituents, Gardner introduced Common Cause to the world by opposing the Vietnam War.

Billions of government revenue are being held in tax havens. 

Don’t believe us? See what your fellow citizens are saying on the Zero Theft Movement platform… 

Common Cause’s Lobbying and Donors


data and charts

Data and chart from Open Secrets


Open Secrets, a research group dedicated to “tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy,” has monitored Common Cause’s lobbying efforts over the years.

As you can see from the chart above, the organization went from spending $1.38 million in 2003 to $100 thousand in 2004. Frankly, we could not find the reason(s) for the sudden drop in its lobbying spend. Its financial reports suggest that the organization has ample funds to pay lobbyists. But by the numbers, Common Cause clearly has taken a different tact since 2004, reducing their spend and number of lobbyists (just two in 2020).

As an important note, one of the two lobbyists, per Open Secrets, has come through the revolving door.


Activist Facts, a site founded by the Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE), reports that Common Cause has received $385,000 from billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, $250,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, $250,000 from the Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund, and more.

Activist Facts has questioned whether Common Cause is truly committed to ridding big money from politics, stating: “While the organization outwardly claims it wants to reduce big money’s influence in politics, Common Cause continues to accept large contributions from partisan groups and uses that money to promote its partisan agenda.” 

It should be noted that, according to Activist Fact’s own numbers, Common Cause has not received a notable donation since 2002. Although they cited an American Spectator article, which claims the organization had received $1.2 million from the Open Society Foundation throughout the 2000s. 

The Zero Theft Movement is a crowdfunded effort to fight against the rigged economy and crony capitalism with hard proof gathered through citizen-led investigation. As a distributed organization, we firmly adhere to our policy of one-citizen-one vote. Regardless of who you are, how much you donate, or what company your work for or represent, you get one vote per investigation. 

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Common Cause’s Current Work

While Common Cause fights battles on many different fronts (from judicial ethics to media control), we will just focus on its work related to money in politics. That’s where our two organizations intersect and, perhaps, share a common goal. 

Holding American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Accountable

According to Common Cause, ALEC is a “corporate lobbying group that brings together corporate lobbyists and politicians to draft and vote — as equals and behind closed doors — on ‘model bills’ that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line. These model bills, drafted without public input, are then introduced in state legislatures across the country, usually with ALEC’s involvement concealed.”

In 2013, a notable example emerged. Not necessarily involving ALEC, but lobbyists writing legislation for government officials. Banking lobbyists allegedly drafted changes to the Dodd-Frank Act, a bill designed, in part, to prevent the high-risk securities trading that had contributed to the subprime mortgage crisis.The proposed changes would allow banks to trade many of those securities again. The New York Times reported that two whole paragraphs from the lobbyist draft appeared in the official legislation to loosen regulations on the Dodd-Frank Act. 

Common Cause, between 2012 and 2016, filed multiple complaints and supplemental submissions to ultimately argue that ALEC “misuses charity laws, massively underreports lobbying, and obtains improper tax breaks for corporate funders at the taxpayers’ expense.” You can view them in full by following the link at the top of this section.

Increasing Transparency and Regulation on Lobbying

Common Cause has worked to protect public interests rather than corporate and/or moneyed interests. Average citizens cannot afford to hire lobbyists, while corporations can assemble an all-star squad advocating for their interests. Common Cause seeks to rectify that by pushing for lobbying reforms in the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which increases transparency and regulations. 

The organization’s Honest Leadership and Open Government Act helps jam the revolving door, where legislators and lobbyists essentially switch roles. Common Cause claims, “That law provided increased transparency for the American public and extended the “cooling off” period for former public officials before they can lobby their former colleagues.”

Pushing for Corporate Accountability

To help keep corporations accountable for their political spending, Common Cause joined the Corporate Reform Coalition—an alliance of academics, advocacy groups, shareholder rights groups, and business investors. The Coalition came together in 2010, after the aforementioned Citizens United ruling, and pushed to increase transparency and accountability wherever the corporate and political worlds overlap.

The Corporate Reform Coalition has made the following efforts (per Common Cause):

  • Push for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to establish a rule mandating publicly-traded corporations to divulge all direct and indirect political spending
  • Back efforts by corporate shareholders and investors to pass resolutions requiring companies to publicly release their campaign and lobbying spending
  • Get disclosure and shareholder rights laws passed so all citizens know the sources of political funding

How the Zero Theft Movement Champions the Common Cause

So where does the Zero Theft Movement fit in with Common Cause and the wider effort to reduce the influence of corporate money on political decisions? 

Our community works collaboratively on a technologically advanced platform to securely identify, debate, and decide exactly where the economic foul play is occurring through investigations and voting.

Citizens author theft proposals, and the community decides whether that investigation has convincingly proven (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas are and start working on addressing them systematically. 

The ZTM community knows that many businesses, including some corporations, act ethically. We are trying to identify and expose the bad actors, the corrupt executives and government officials, and hold them accountable. That way, good people and businesses can properly thrive and enjoy the piece of the piece they’re all due. 

Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.  

The public has voted! See how much they think is being ripped off

Explore the Problem Hierarchy

We have primers on potential problem areas of the economy. Before you start voting, it’s important you get a basic understanding of the issues at hand, so you can be as helpful as possible to other community members. Take a few minutes and come prepared.

Serve your fellow citizens as a citizen investigator

The success of our movement rests in your hands, the leaders willing to dedicate time to conduct investigations into potentially rigged areas of the economy. Lead the movement and help create an ethical economy.

Commitment to nonpartisanship

The rigged layer causes all of us to suffer, regardless of our political allegiances. If we wish to eliminate rigged economy theft, we have to set aside our differences and band together against crony capitalists and corrupt officials. 


ZTM operates solely on donations. Sure, we might eventually have high-profile donors, but they do not get to control or decide what the community investigates and how they vote on reports. Everyone is welcome to participate as long as you act in good faith.

Beyond Public Citizen…

An educated public is an empowered public. 

We regularly publish educational articles on, just like this one on Public Citizen. They teach you all about the rigged layer of the economy in short, digestible pieces.