by Jim Stirling
Research Fellow, John Locke Foundation
With General Assembly redistricting committee meetings underway and the U.S. census data finally released, all eyes will be on how the new districts will be drawn. This includes all the previous actors in last decade’s redistricting litigation and advocacy, such as former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee and local groups like the League of Women Voters. Many of these groups have been heavily involved in redistricting lawsuits, conducted get out the vote efforts for progressive policies, or are members of Blueprint NC, an organization that gained notoriety in 2013 for its internal memo calling to “Eviscerate, Mitigate, Litigate, Cogitate and Agitate” the Republican leadership.
Over the next several weeks, our Center for Public Integrity will be putting out profiles on these groups and actors to provide greater transparency on the organizations involving themselves in the redistricting process. Where better to start with this than Common Cause NC, the organization that led the most recent federal redistricting case, Common Cause v. Rucho, and the state-level redistricting case, Lewis v. Common Cause.
Common Cause North Carolina is a state subsidiary of the national organization Common Cause, a DC-based watchdog group started by President Lyndon Johnson’s former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, John W. Gardner, in 1970. The national group is a 501(c)4 that advocates for left-of-center policies such as a national popular vote for president, opposition to voter I.D. laws, automatic voter registration, allowing election day voter registration, online voter registration, and calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump.
Common Cause has also advocated for the passage of two controversial election bills, Nancy Pelosi’s “For the People Act” H.R. 1 and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Act” H.R. 4. Both bills would massively change election laws that would likely benefit Democrats in elections by interjecting the strict federal oversight into state-run elections. The John Locke Foundation’s Andy Jackson outlined the changes for North Carolina should the “For the People Act” be implemented.
The national leadership team for Common Cause has consisted of prominent Democratic figures, including Robert Reich (Clinton Admin. Secretary of labor), Chellie Marie Pingree (former democratic U.S. Representative for Maine), and Archibald Cox (President John F. Kennedy Labor advisory and later Solicitor General). More about the national group can be found here.
Common Cause NC is a subsidiary group that supports much of its parent organization’s policies. One additional policy that the North Carolina branch’s website advocates for is the support of taxpayer-financed public campaigns for judicial races.
Common Cause NC receives it’s funding through its parent organization’s 501(C)(3), Common Cause Education Fund, which in turn receives grant money from left-wing foundations such as George Soros’ Open Society, Proteus, Tides, A.J. Fletcher Foundation, and the Winston Salem based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. While it’s hard to track how much of their money is placed into the North Carolina branch due to all donations and grants going through the national organization; the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has earmarked $75,000 in grants for 2016, 2017, 2018 & 2020 for “General operating support of its North Carolina Office”.
Common Cause Education Fund is a partner of Blueprint NC, the organization whose ten-year vision mentioned, “Progressives are prepared to influence the redistricting process in 2020”.
Common Cause NC has been heavily involved in the redistricting process, filing lawsuits, and organizing events against Republican map-drawing since Republicans redrew the maps in 2011. They have been joined in these lawsuits against the Republican-run legislature by groups like Obama’s former Attorney General Eric Holder’s organization Democratic National Redistricting committee, which helped support the legal fees of the Common Cause lawsuits.