A watchdog loses its way

For years, Common Cause Georgia was the state’s most credible, most visible and most respected nonpartisan governmental watchdog organization. We advocated for ethics, accountability and transparency, and against pay-to-play, airport corruption, conflicts of interest, unlimited gifts by lobbyists to legislators, fraudulent expense accounts, partisan redistricting, secret taxpayer-funded stadium deals, misleading SPLOSTs and the neutering of the State Ethics Commission.

When those are your causes, you have to take the long view, with the aim of achieving a lot over time through relentless incrementalism. We were able to do this because, above all, we held doggedly to nonpartisanship. We had a balanced governing board of Democrats, Republicans and independents. We alternated Democratic and Republican chairmen. We thought and acted independently, representing the interests of average citizens, no matter who it led us up against.

The new president of national Common Cause in Washington, Miles Rapoport, with the support of the national board, has now thrown all that overboard. He has turned the national organization hard to the left.

Common Cause used to focus on campaign finance reform and honest elections. But according to the new Common Cause Mission and Vision Statement, the organization is now “committed to progress in the struggle for social, economic and environmental justice for all.” Today, for example, Common Cause regularly fires salvos on climate change, income “fairness,” gun control, student debt, policing and international trade treaties. Each position uses standard Democratic Party language.

Worse than this, and egged on by local Democratic attorney Emmet Bondurant, a national Common Cause board member, Mr. Rapoport has stripped all state chapters of their independence to do what made us and others successful — to pick our own local agenda within the broad purpose and motto of Common Cause: “Holding power accountable.” He has renamed the state governing boards mere “advisory boards” with no decision-making authority. He insists the state chapters rubber-stamp everything the national organization advocates, whether the local perspective supports it or not.

For example, last October, in the midst of the election campaign, he demanded that Common Cause Georgia parrot the New Georgia Project’s claim that the Republican secretary of state was holding up the processing of up to 80,000 new voter registration forms to suppress Democratic votes. That was despite zero evidence this was happening. Furthermore, these forms were in the hands of the local governments of five Democrat-controlled counties, not the secretary of state. (We investigated and declined to toe the Rapoport line; national Common Cause now calls this “preventing (it) from working on voting rights.”)

Other state chapters are also alarmed by the national organization’s left turn. The California chapter wrote to the national board in June, complaining the new approach has “damaged the California organization’s ability to protect its reputation as a nonpartisan entity.” California further wrote that national’s statements “use language mimicking the language of the progressive movement, use inflammatory language, expand Common Cause’s agenda into favored issues of the progressive left, and/or criticize Republicans when criticizing both parties was possible and warranted.”

Mr. Rapoport’s policies have devastated the Georgia chapter. Of 12 board members at the beginning of this year, five have been fired or have resigned. Several others will likely not accept another term. And Mr. Rapoport has now fired, without even asking for approval by the Common Cause Georgia board, the state organization’s highly successful executive director, William Perry.

This organization has lost its way. Its nonpartisan credibility has been destroyed. No one will ever again listen to its criticisms or proposals without justifiably wondering whether they are a cover for a partisan, “progressive” agenda. Common Cause Georgia has become just another liberal advocacy group.

Georgia needs a nonpartisan government watchdog. Common Cause Georgia was that, but it is no more. To claim being nonpartisan is more than a slogan; you have to walk the walk. Whether another organization will rise in its place remains to be seen. We hope so, and meanwhile mourn what has been done to Common Cause Georgia.

Bob Irvin, Terry Taylor and Lucius Morton are former board chairmen of Common Cause Georgia.

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