IN 1970, JOHN W. GARDNER, a Republican whose sense of duty to country over party led him to serve in the cabinet in the administration of a Democratic president, had a simple but powerful idea: citizens engaged in the democratic process can make a difference. “We want public officials to have literally millions of American citizens looking over their shoulders at every move they make,” Gardner wrote. “We want phones to ring in Washington and state capitols and town halls. We want people watching and influencing every move that government makes.”
Gardner’s letter launched Common Cause; his idea continues to animate our work, including this 2018 Democracy Scorecard. This Scorecard is geared to help amplify the voices of everyday Americans who have been silenced by big money in politics, voter suppression tactics, and other schemes to block people from participating in our democracy. Common Cause’s 2018 Democracy Scorecard reflects a commitment to ensuring that all Americans’ voices can be heard in our government and that everyone plays by the same set of common sense rules. The Scorecard provides data on every current member of Congress based on their sponsorship or cosponsorship of key democracy reform bills that Common Cause and our 1.2 million members support.
Bills in this Scorecard would strengthen our money-in-politics, voting, ethics, and media and democracy laws, as well as ensure that all residents are counted in the census. Bills in the Scorecard would enhance transparency requirements for political contributions and spending, break the power of big money in our elections by incentivizing small-dollar contributions, and crack down on foreign influence in our election. Other money-in-politics bills in the package would overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision and tighten the prohibition on political spending by foreign entities.
The Scorecard also includes bills to strengthen our voting laws by updating and strengthening provisions of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court ruling, securing and enhancing voting systems, providing automatic registration so that voters are added to voter rolls when they do business with state agencies, and creating independent citizens’ commissions to draw new districts after each census so that politicians cannot cherry-pick their voters. And one of the ethics bill would mandate the disclosure of tax returns by the incumbent President and presidential nominees of a major political party for the three most recent taxable years.
Cosponsorships are just one metric to gauge support for democracy reform, and there are democracy reform champions in Congress who this Scorecard might not fully recognize. Republican leadership and committee chairs in this Congress have blocked debate and mark-ups on dozens of key bills that are desperately needed to give all Americans a greater voice in our democracy, so there are not votes to consider for this Scorecard. Despite its limitations, we believe the Scorecard provides a useful tool for voters to see that there are solutions for strengthening our democracy. In recent months, we’ve sent multiple staff in each congressional office four letters listing the bills included in this year’s Scorecard; we wanted to make sure every member of Congress knew which bills he or she was being evaluated on. Since these letters were sent, a combined total of more than 250 cosponsors have been added to these bills.
Common Cause never endorses or opposes candidates for elected office. We publish this Scorecard as a guide so concerned citizens can evaluate the records of their members of Congress on key democracy reform issues and build support for these solutions. We urge all readers to check the performance of their senators and representatives on issues covered in the Scorecard. In Gardner’s spirit, all citizens should work to hold power accountable by making the phones ring in Washington, their state capitols, and local government offices to ensure that government will always be of, by, and for the people.
Karen Hobert Flynn
President, Common Cause