Common Cause is a 501 (c)(4) lobbying organization designed to act as a "vehicle" for citizens to participate in the political process, and to hold government accountable to the public interest. It was founded by the late John W. Gardner; during his lifetime, Gardner was President of the Carnegie Corporation, and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. Gardner also founded the Independent Sector, a "leadership forum for charities, foundations, and corporate giving programs committed to advancing the common good in America and around the world."
Though initially founded as a Washington, D.C. group, it currently has offices in 35 states as well.
The Common Cause Education Fund is the organization's 501(c)(3) affiliate group, and as such, handles research, outreach programs and the general education of Common Cause interests.
"To strengthen public participation and faith in our institutions of self-government; to ensure that government and political processes serve the general interest, rather than special interests; to curb the excessive influence of money on government decisions and elections; to promote fair elections and high ethical standards for government officials; and to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans."
Common Cause is a 501 (c)(4) lobbying organization. Contributions to the organization are not tax deductible or subject to public disclosure. The affiliated Common Cause Education Fund, a 501 (c) (3) organization, is funded by foundation grants and tax-deductible contributions from individuals and institutions. The combined annual operating budget of Common Cause and the Common Cause Education Fund is approximately $10 million.
The organization worked to pass 2002's Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, more commonly referred to as "McCain-Feingold." During the 1970s, it worked to pass legislation allowing for the public financing of presidential campaigns as well as open-government, or "Sunshine" laws.
In the 1990s, it publicly requested an outside investigation of then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that resulted in Gingrich's resignation.
More recently, its efforts have been concentrated on government ethics issues, as well as underwriting a ballot proposal for California's 2008 general election. The proposal, known as Proposition 11, sought to restructure the way California's legislative district lines are decided, by means of constitutional amendment. It narrowly passed with 50.7 percent of the popular vote.