The Price of Secrecy

Note the following post was authored by Wyc Orr, Vice-Chairman of the board of Common Cause Georgia.
 

At what price secrecy? Are the costs to taxpayers from bad decisions resulting from secret deal-making by public officials too high for that secrecy to be ignored? And is such concealment becoming a trend in metro Atlanta? Those questions loom following the unstoppable juggernaut of City of Atlanta-Falcons negotiations which culminated with agreement for a planned new Falcons stadium, much of which deal-making was cloaked in impenetrability — soon enough followed by the surprise revelation of the Braves’ move to Cobb County, so hidden that seemingly even most of the City of Atlanta hierarchy was caught off guard by its announcement after an agreement in principle had already been reached between the Cobb Commission Chair and the Braves.

Is such secrecy, on balance, a net good or bad? Perhaps some perspective is given by a long-ago address by President Kennedy to the perennial public watchdog, the free press — the American Newspaper Publishers Association. Speaking to that group in April, 1961, the new president recognized that even when it came to national security, secrecy had its limits, as well as its harmful effect. Kennedy told that group that:

“[t]he very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. . . . that is our obligation to inform and alert the American people—to make certain that they possess all the facts that they need, and understand them as well—the perils, the prospects, the purposes of our program and the choices that we face. . . . No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or oppositionAnd both are necessary. . . . Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed—and no republic can survive.” (italics added)

The conclusion from such recognition of the importance of as much public disclosure as possible seems evident — that if something as crucial as national security doesn’t justify near-total secrecy, what at the level of local governments could do so? Our state law clearly does not recognize any such compelling need when it comes to stadium deal-making that will impose huge costs upon taxpayers. While the state open records law protects from disclosure real estate acquisition negotiations and related materials, and documents such as sealed bids, it grants no such exemption to stadium negotiations per se or anything resembling such deal-making, at least not explicitly. Likewise, the state open meetings law permits executive sessions to consider real estate acquisition, personnel matters, and the like, but again there is no mention of protection of stadium deal-making. On the other hand, perhaps amendments to these laws to specifically bar discussions of stadium deal-making and other public-private partnerships without specific notice to the press and public, and an opportunity for press and public to access and comment on the ongoing negotiations should be considered. (And it’s particularly notable how these secret negotiations fly in the face of the lofty pronouncement of the State of Georgia in its open records act, where it proclaims that “open government is essential to a free, open and democratic society.”)

So what costs have in fact been imposed on taxpayers by these largely-concealed negotiations? The City of Atlanta has pledged two hundred million dollars of the City’s hotel/motel tax revenues toward construction of the Falcons’ stadium — a figure that doesn’t include the additional City money that will flow from future years’ “waterfall” of hotel/motel tax revenues which will also be committed to stadium maintenance over the life of the stadium. That figure could approach several hundred million dollars in additional City funds. And the Cobb County-Braves deal commits at least three hundred million Cobb dollars to that stadium, not to mention untold and perhaps presently unquantifiable costs to Cobb and other taxpayers from related infrastructure and developmental costs.

Where could those Atlanta and Cobb tax dollars have been spent if not expended on these two stadiums? For starters, Atlanta faces as much as one billion dollars in infrastructure improvements, maintenance and construction. And both Atlanta and Cobb face unfunded pension liabilities — a recent study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found both of these local governments to have funded little more than half of their expected pension obligations — with Atlanta having a “hole” in its pension plan that may be as much as$1.4B (that’s billion, with a “b”), and Cobb having a more than $400M in its plan’s “hole.”

But use of Atlanta’s and Cobb’s tax dollars for funding those infrastructure and pensions obligations instead of stadiums is a conversation never held, alternatives never considered — at least not before those stadium commitments were all but written in stone. The public, press and think tanks never had the opportunity to argue for use of those dollars more wisely to pay down other commitments of those governments or to lessen tax bills. For example, with the Cobb-Braves deal, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Transportation, were reportedly not even informed, much less consulted, before that pact was announced. Accordingly, the expertise, input and advice which those and other entities exist to provide were entirely lost in the negotiations which led to this deal.

The Atlanta Regional Commission exists as “the regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency,” as described by its website, for a ten-county metro area, which includes Fulton and Cobb. The ARC says that it and its predecessor “for over 65 years . . . have helped to focus the region’s leadership, attention and resources on key issues of regional consequence . . . through professional planning initiatives, the provision of objective information and the involvement of the community in collaborate partnerships” — yet that agency was reportedly left out of the Cobb-Braves discussions, and its stated history of objectivity and involving the community collaboratively never had a chance to be brought to bear on those negotiations. The DOT on the other hand describes itself as planning, constructing and maintaining “Georgia’s state and federal highways,” with involvement in “bridge, . . . public transit, rail, . . . [and in helping] local governments maintain their roads.” In other words, both the ARC and GDOT are funded by taxpayers for specific purposes directly related to the allocation of priorities and placement or relocating of transportation arteries inevitably involved in the Braves’ stadium location and construction — and the massive investment of taxpayers in these agencies, and in their expertise and experience accumulated over the years have to date been omitted from the stadium location (something already decided), and related questions of transportation, effect on traffic congestion, and many related questions.

Atlanta and Cobb officials are inclined to downplay what their committed moneys could have gone toward. Atlanta, for example, likes to argue that state law forbids use of the City’s hotel/motel tax revenues for anything other than tourism-related expenditures. But that contention ignores not only the fact that maintaining acceptable infrastructure within the city is vital to attracting conventions and tourists, but any necessary change in state law governing those tax revenues could be sought for a fraction of the time and expense as that already committed to the Falcons negotiations and now to the stadium itself. Moreover, had the City’s hotel/motel tax revenues been committed to tourism enhancement instead of the Falcons stadium, those dollars could have freed up City general fund dollars that will presumably be spent at least in part on that same tourism development.  And nothing prevented Cobb from committing the now-obligated stadium dollars to its pension obligations. But compartmentalized focus — where all other considerations are crowded out by a mesmerized mania of cutting a stadium deal at all costs — is just that: costly.

Some light was shed on these issues, however inadvertently, by remarks last month from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a group of private sector executives who advise the mayor on various issues and programs. The Mayor, according to press reports, told that committee that he is considering a bond referendum at some point in the future to seek City voter approval of 150-250 million dollars in bonds to partially fund those infrastructure improvements, which the City has no choice but to face, sooner or later. Before any such referendum, however, the Mayor is reported to have told that group that “I’ll spend the next 12 months moving the city from surviving to financial health,” as he tries to find “efficiencies” to produce moneys to pay off those bonds with the “least amount of pain.” That may be as revealing a statement about the true state of Atlanta’s financial condition as any heard in recent times – especially during the Mayor’s negotiations with the Falcons. And two things bear immediate notice — that the amount to be sought from those bonds approximates the initial amount of $200M pledged by the City to the Falcons stadium (bonds which would have been unnecessary if that $200M hadn’t been handed over to the stadium construction), and that nothing was heard from the Mayor during the stadium negotiations about the City needing to “survive” its lack of “financial health.” What would such candor about the City’s precarious financial condition have done to what little pre-deal public discussion of the stadium deal occurred? Would the polls reflecting 70% or more public opposition to public financing for the Falcons’ stadium have risen to near unanimous opposition? (Not that the City heeded that public opposition.) (Further observation: sometimes rather obscure news items contain the most revealing information, even inadvertent admissions, from public officials. It is as if speaking in friendly, low-key, low-risk environments like the “Committee for Progress,” where there is no cross-examining press or other such questioner, can induce officeholders or other government spokespeople to lower their guards and caution — and consequently to speak more candor and truth than otherwise occurs.)

Concealment of City-Falcons discussions as they progressed included the “which shell is the pea under” practiced between the City and State of Georgia. Originally, the public financing portion of the approximately one billion (again, with a “b”) dollar Falcons stadium was to come from the State of Georgia. Private meetings were conducted between the State and the Falcons, including a visit from the National Football League’s Commissioner Roger Goodell, who met with the Governor and with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. A perfunctory appearance was staged outside the Governor’s office upon the conclusion of that meeting, with little of substance being provided to the press and public.(For the State’s part, such concealment mirrored other “suddenly-sprung” initiatives on an  unsuspecting public, such as the college and university mergers involving eight institutions of the University System Board of Regents around the state, which mergers were announced after those decisions had been made.) Until that juncture, the public was left with the impression that public funding would be provided by bonds to be issued by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. However, state law would require that those bonds be approved by a vote of the Joint Fiscal Affairs Committee of the State Senate and House of Representatives. Polls showed widespread opposition to public funding of the stadium, with opposition reaching as high as 75%. Clearly the political fallout from ignoring such opposition “got to” the State, especially in light of the then-recent failure of the T-SPLOST transportation infrastructure referenda in nine of the twelve regional votes held around the state in July of 2012 — including the referendum’s failure in metro-Atlanta, where state and local leaders, who had supported T-SPLOST, were evidently “spooked” by the “rising up” of an independent electorate.

Against that backdrop, the state — including its legislative and executive branches — soon showed that they did not relish their imprimatur being on public dollars for the stadium. So the State of Georgia quickly lateraled the public financing to the City of Atlanta, which under the direct involvement of Mayor Reed, the City was only too ready to take up. Soon enough it was evident that not only would the public be ignored and excluded from the negotiations between the City and the Falcons, but that the rage of the Mayor would be vented upon any who dared to question the deal. Common Cause Georgia was excoriated by the Mayor as a “once venerable and well respected organization,” for its audacity in pushing for a public referendum on public financing of the stadium, like the T-SPLOST which had recently failed in the metro area.The fact that the City had provisions in its Charter and Code of Ordinances specifically providing for such referenda didn’t stop the City from disparaging Common Cause Georgia’s efforts to allow the City’s voters to have their say through such a referendum.

So the question returns: at what price is secrecy? The answer? — clearly at a great price. Concealment not only makes a mockery of pretenses of open and accountable government, but by its nature results in decisions being made before all the facts are in and diverse opinions heard. What’s more, there are hidden costs of the compartmentalization that accompanies secrecy — the negotiators operate in a vacuum, failing to consider the public moneys which are about to be committed against the whole picture of their governments’ total debt, liabilities and obligations.Their secrecy begets more secrecy. And even the secret-holders get surprised, and burned, by others’ secrecies. (At some point, such clandestine deal-making causes the negotiators to even delude themselves, and to euphemistically engage in semantical silliness to justify their doings — one Braves’ executive said their negotiations with Cobb were not “secret,” but rather “confidential.”)

Mayor Reed was obviously so mesmerized by, and fixated on, the prospect of entering a deal with the Falcons and NFL that he and the City – despite now-revealed ongoing discussions between the City and Braves over the Braves’ interest in gaining more control over development of the area surrounding Turner Field — completely lost sight of the crucial importance of the Braves. Recently-released e-mails show that the Braves were indeed piqued by the vastly disproportionate interest, indeed preoccupation, of the City with the Falcons as compared to the Braves. Indeed, one can well understand how the Braves felt jilted by the City’s plea that it couldn’t afford to “ante-up” money and take other steps to improve “The Ted” and its environs while it was widely-disseminated what the City was committing to the Falcons deal. But what enabled, and even fed, the City’s complete misreading of the Braves’ status was secrecy — the ability of both Atlanta and Cobb to largely deal in concealed circumstances. And in the end, secrecy which the Mayor and City thought was its friend, became its worst enemy — because if the Braves/Cobb negotiations had been public, the City could have know that it was about to be pennywise while pound-foolish — that an 81- home date downtown pro sports team was about to be allowed to “fly the coop” while the City was fixated on a 10-home date (including two exhibition games) pro football team. Bad arithmetic by anyone’s counting.

What if instead openness had been practiced in both stadium negotiations? What if Mayor Reed had known about the Cobb-Braves negotiations while he was rushing pell-mell forward with a blind determination to seal a Falcons deal, regardless of costs? Could Reed have shifted his sights to the Braves, and realized that their 81 home dates (i.e., close to one-fourth of the days in the year) meant even more to the City, and to merchants and businesses who profit from the influx of money-spending fans at home games, than the Falcons 8 home dates and 2 exhibition games? What different — and better — outcome may have been achieved if citizens, think-tanks, other governmental agencies (the ARC, GDOT, and others), and the like had been heard before stadium decisions were made, thus allowing consideration of such broader perspectives while government officials could consider those views, rather than having to defend decisions already made before those views could be voiced? For all the practiced disregard and disdain of government officials for public opinion (to wit, governments ignoring those disapproving polls), as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed long ago, those who condescendingly disparage the opinions of the “great mass” of people are in error, because the citizens know plenty: “Don’t you deceive yourself, say I, the great mass understand what’s what, as well as the little mass.” There’s a lot of accumulated wisdom out in the citizenry, which is completely lost when that group is relegated to irrelevance. So-called “public hearings” are but mere window-dressing, the illusion of democratic input, when held after decisions have been made. If “two heads are better than one,” what about several million heads?

It’s time that we recognize what’s going on in our own Georgia governments — at all levels, local and State. Secrecy — keeping vital discussions and decisions from voters and taxpayers until the “deal is done” and it’s too late for citizens, relevant governmental agencies, and the press to have any meaningful input. Secrecy is costly — and as long as government officials continue to practice that secrecy in deal-making – especially something as expensive as stadium deal-making — Georgia taxpayers will continue to bear the brunt of that secrecy.

Posted in Georgia Legislation, Government Ethics, New Stadium, Transparency | 1 Comment

Cobb County and the Braves: Striking Out on Transparency

Note the following post was authored by Terry Taylor, a Common Cause Georgia board member.

 

The Metro Atlanta area has been a hotbed of stadium-related news over the last 18 months. While the Falcons dominated the conversation for most of 2013, the Braves came on strong with its announcement that the team would be moving to Cobb County. The total budget for the stadium is $672 million, of which $300 million will be contributed by Cobb County and the Cumberland Community Improvement District.

Common Cause Georgia does not oppose the Braves moving to Cobb County, or even Cobb County using public funds to build a stadium. What we do oppose is using such a substantial amount of public money without significant public engagement. When a request for a public referendum was rebuffed, Common Cause Georgia called on the Cobb Board of Commissioners (BOC) to publish a communications plan for reporting to citizens on the county’s involvement in the stadium.

To the BOC’s credit, Commission Chairman Tim Lee announced that a communications plan will be unveiled in mid-January 2014. In addition, the Cobb County web site is now populated with FAQs, the Transportation Plan and an economic analysis. At first blush, that seems pretty responsive.

But as sports commentator Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend.” What the county has published so far raises more questions than answers. And for transparency warriors like Common Cause Georgia, that’s not good.

Take the economic study posted on the Cobb County web site, for example. Titled “Summary of the Economic and Fiscal Benefits of a MLB (Major League Baseball) Team and New Ballpark to Cobb County,” this study appears to be the only financial analysis considered by the BOC. That seems to be a reasonable assumption: Cobb County makes no reference to any other quantitative work done or used, and it’s the sole analysis posted on the site.

After reading the study and Cobb’s web site postings, here are just a couple of areas where citizens need some good answers:

The Economic Analysis and Due Diligence. The analysis was prepared by Brailsford & Dunlavey and commissioned by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, the latter of which openly promoted the stadium project. As an aside, the AJC’s Truth-O-Meter referred to the work as “a flawed study commissioned by stadium boosters.”  The analysis does not offer details or explanations behind assumptions used in coming up with the numbers. Not providing the needed rationale for the assumptions is what you would do if you want to avoid difficult questions, and that’s not the best impression to leave.

Did the Cobb BOC have an independent expert not paid for by a booster examine the analysis and opine on the results? Citizens have a right to know if this common-sense due diligence step was taken or not

Fiscal Benefits – Are All Costs Included? The study highlights the ongoing fiscal benefits to Cobb County from the stadium and associated development. But the study itself makes no reference to new capital expenditures or increased spending by the county – only the benefits, not the county’s costs, are included. In the web site FAQS, Cobb states that on an annual basis a “$10 million return from ballpark operations and taxes on an investment of $8.67 million produces a positive projected return on investment of 15%.” But Cobb acknowledges in the FAQs that there will be extra costs beyond the $8.67 million in redirected property taxes – more police, for example — but they haven’t figured out how much yet. Are there more outlays ahead that haven’t been baked into the calculation?

The Proposed Cobb Stadium – Cobb Transportation Plan on the Cobb web site addresses existing public transit and road projects already in process or planned. The Five-Year Cobb Transportation Plan is due to be completed in Spring 2014 and the long-range plan is scheduled for later in the year. Will Cobb County identify incremental expenditures associated with the new stadium and include those in the ROI calculation? That would only be fair: The county would not have made those outlays if the Braves weren’t coming to Cobb.

One of the FAQs says that the return on investment (ROI) using a “conservative calculation” produces “a positive return for the county.” Sure, many projects will look good if you don’t include all the costs. And it’s not helpful to say that there’s a positive return: Cobb didn’t indicate whether the BOC looked at alternative ways to spend the money that could have created more bang for the buck. If all options were considered and the stadium was the best one, that’s fine. Was that what was done?

There are other questions. How will the BOC track and validate hiring numbers and revenues that have been trumpeted in Cobb’s official messages? Being able to measure results is  essential for knowing if we’ve succeeded or failed. And why hasn’t a timeline of major milestones and deliverables been published? Hopefully that will be in the Cobb’s communications plan produced in January.

Common Cause Georgia board members who live in Cobb County will continue to talk with the BOC about comprehensive communications with citizens. Again, we don’t oppose the stadium or the use of public funds. Cobb residents need real information and genuine transparency, something they haven’t had so far.

If I were grading the Cobb BOC on transparency, I would be generous (I’m an easy grader) and give it an “Incomplete” at this stage. But in the margin of the report card I’d write, “You clearly did not understand the assignment. Try again from the start.” Or we could stick with a baseball analogy and say they’ve struck out in their first at bat, but it’s still early in the game.

Posted in New Stadium, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What is the CBP?

Lately, the residents, city officials, and representatives of Atlanta have dealt with their fair share of disagreements on whether or not sporting event venues should be publicly funded. Plans for the new Braves stadium in Cobb County have only just begun while the plans for the Falcon’s stadium are just being finalized.

The Community Benefits Plan (CBP) for the Falcon’s stadium was an essential topic of discussion at the Atlanta City Council meeting on Dec. 2. Previously, Council agreed to authorize the sale of bonds in order to help publicly fund the stadium. Upon this agreement, an amendment was added requesting that a CBP be approved before any bonds could be sold.

However, even developing a CBP posed problems—nonetheless getting it passed by council. All Council resolutions were previously made using the term ‘agreement’ rather than the term ‘plan’. The name of the arrangement is important because Community Benefits Agreement would be binding while Community Benefits Plan would not. After a split committee vote between council members, city employees, and community representatives due to controversy, the CBP was sent to Council for final word.

Since then, the Atlanta City Council unanimously passed the Community Benefits Plan for the $1.2 billion dollar structure. The stadium is projected to be complete by 2017 but, until then, the residents of the English Avenue, Vine City, and Castleberry Hill areas await the construction of the new Falcon’s stadium to begin surrounding their homes.

For more information on the CBP, click here http://bit.ly/18wHn8P.

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How could $1 Billion in public money be put to better use?

I’ve talked to a lot people during our petition drive to put the public funding of the new stadium on the ballot. Many of those people indicate that they feel like Atlanta could put the Hotel/Motel Tax revenue to better use than building a successor facility for a building that is younger than I am.

If I could divert the funds, I’d put that money toward the transportation woes facing the metro area. For starters, the money could go towards tackling the $922 million infrastructure backlog. I, for one, am pretty tired of tearing up my tires on the potholes and broken streets around the city.

But our transportation woes are having an effect on more than just our morning commute. The New York Times recently publicized the Equality of Opportunity Project, which found that Atlanta ranks dead last for potential for upward social mobility. One theory to explain the findings relate to Atlanta’s vast sprawl and our transportation problems.

Income Ladder Map

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The REAL Public Contribution to Billion Dollar Stadium

The public has been told repeatedly that Billion Dollar Stadium will only use $200 Million of the public’s money through the Hotel/Motel tax. That figure is misleading. The $200 million number is only for construction costs paid by the City. There are many other ways the public will be contributing money for years to come on the new stadium.

Stadium Funding Small

For starters, according to this law, 39.3% of the Hotel/Motel tax collected through the year 2050 must go to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority specifically for the Georgia Dome or its successor facility. According to this document, 39.3% of the projected Hotel/Motel tax collected through 2050 will be $882,564,382. So while, only $200 million of that $882 million can be spent on construction, the GWCCA and City will be using Hotel/Motel tax money in other ways, as the figure below illustrates.

HM Tax Collections Chart

The City of Atlanta has calculated a differed number for the 39.3% of the hotel/motel tax that will be collected, and we will share their number for the sake of transparency. They estimated that the Hotel/Motel tax will bring in $494,100,000 by 2044. It should be noted though, that their calculation doesn’t figure in any of the growth that the stadium is supposed to bring to Atlanta’s tourism industry. The Hotel/Motel tax will also run through the year 2050, which the City’s figure fails to include.

In addition to the 39.3% of the Hotel/Motel tax funds, Billion Dollar Stadium will also benefit from public money in other ways. There will be $30 million given in construction material tax breaks, $24 million for the use of free state land, and $15 million from Invest Atlanta for community development.

That makes the grand total for the public’s contribution either $951 million according to the GWCCA, or $563 million according to the City of Atlanta. That’s between half a billion to a full billion in public money. Either way it’s much more than the $200 million they’ve been selling us.

This is exactly why we are pushing to let the people decide whether or not they want to contribute this much to Billion Dollar Stadium. If you would like a say in the process please visit www.AtlantaRaiseUp.com

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A bad news day for government

Written by: CCGA Board Member, Terry Taylor

Front Page 5-11My happy weekend mood took a nosedive when I looked at the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Saturday, May 11. Here are the titles for three out of the four stories on that page:

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How to make government pay and other sad stories

Written by: CCGA Board Member, Terry Taylor

Having been in banking and investment management all of my career, I was drawn to the May 8, 2013 Wall Street Journal story titled “Big Banks Push Back Against Tighter Rules.” The article notes that these banks have hired “longtime, influential Washington hands to deflect regulatory and political pressure to strengthen their finances and to sell assets.” Then it mentioned that Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager for Obama in the 2012 election, was hired as a consultant by Bank America to provide “strategic advice,” including how to avoid government efforts to break up big banks.

This is the same Stephanie Cutter who said in a PBS Newshour interview last September, “It wasn’t always politically popular, but it was the right thing to do, from saving the auto industry, or beating back fierce lobbying by the big banks and Wall Street to pass Wall Street reform.”

I guess she’s now not so worried about doing the right thing to beat back fierce lobbying by the big banks. A check is involved, you see.

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Job Opening, with Conditions

This is a recent blog posted by Bill Kraus – Chair of Common Cause Wisconsin since 1995 and Common Cause National Governing Board Member from 2003 to 2007.

Bob Edgar (1943-2013)
Late President of Common Cause

Due to the unhappy, unexpected, too early demise of Common Cause’s national president Bob Edgar, there is a job opening in Washington DC that may be of interest.

Common Cause was founded many decades ago by a Democratic president’s cabinet member who happened to be a Republican. He, like everyone who has ever served in any government anywhere, was acutely aware of the fact that these governments are mostly of, by, and for the interest groups large and small, worthy and less so, powerful and not to whom those we elect are too often beholden.

When he formed Common Cause, he said that the only interest not actively represent in this special interest free for all was the general interest, the people, those who want a government that works for all more than an advantage for any or many of the special interests which may or may not be advantageous for the country. He figured Common Cause would correct this oversight.

Over the years Common Cause has become an institution with its own history and image in Washington and in several but much less than many states.

It differs from other interest organizations in several ways which anyone who is thinking about applying for its top job must consider.

First the good news. Under Bob Edgar’s leadership the organization itself has been rebuilt. It has enough money to run at a viable speed. It has a responsible, reputable board, an excellent staff, and an impossible assignment. Maybe that isn’t really good news, but it needs to be mentioned.

So it’s leader has to be good at the things Bob excelled at, and has to face a few immutable facts. The people whose hands are on the levers of power are mostly annoyed by Common Cause. Nobody likes a nagger. Common Cause nags.

At its best Common Cause nags about things that others ignore or don’t know exist. Things that make our fragile democracy work. The process itself. This makes Common Cause essential. And ineffective.

On the Common Cause shortlist are things like openness and transparency, the extraordinary influence of money in elections, the distortions that assault the elective process like gerrymandering and voting rights and rules.

If any candidate ran on these ideas and issues, he or she probably lost, which is why no candidate who won did.

There is no good government caucus in any legislature that I know of, certainly not in Washington or Madison.

What Bob Edgar knew he had to do next, having cleared the debris from the train wreck he inherited when he took the Common Cause job, was get the process issues on the short agenda of those in power.

What his successor will have to deal with is a very large membership which is composed mostly of old lefties. They dutifully pay their dues. They just as dutifully do not go much beyond doing that. They do not join the organization to be part of a movement. They join the organization so its staff will do the grunt work of pushing, persuading, threatening, and promising that they do not want to do or are no longer able to do.

The other thing Bob’s successor will have to do, and which Bob was in the very early stages of starting to do, is deal with the image that everyone else in and out of power has of the organization.

To put it bluntly Common Cause is regarded as a lapdog of the left. This accounts for the aversion the right has for the organization’s work no matter how worthy. The unhappy other side of the power coin is that when the left wins the majority and stands up to exercise it, the lapdog falls to the floor.

The work of Common Cause, which is widely admired, draws little wind from the recalcitrant Republicans and the duplicitous Democrats who alternatively have the power to do what Common Cause and the unorganized people say they want.

If you want the job or want to nominate someone who wants the job, make sure he or she knows how to keep the money flowing to keep the organization afloat and can take the giant step of de-partisanizing its image so it can become a first step toward putting the people, and their general interest, back into the game.

This, after all, is why Common Cause exists.

Give to the Bob Edgar Legacy Fund

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