Common Cause is apoplectic about the combination of privacy and free speech.

For example, on their national website Common Cause states “The 2012 election will be the most expensive in history, with hundreds of millions spent by ‘independent’ groups that do not disclose their donors.”

It’s not just on the national scene; Common Cause has raised those very concerns right here in Colorado. In response to a rule proposed by the Secretary of State, Elena Nunez, Director of the Colorado branch of Common Cause, expressed the worry that the proposed rules would “allow large entities to spend significant amounts of money” on both ballot issues and in elections without filing public disclosures.

To frighten people about “secret money,” Common Cause frequently cites the arrangement of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. If you are unaware, A SuperPAC like American Crossroads must disclose its contributors, but a 501(c)(4) organization like Crossroads GPS is not required to. When a 501(c)(4) gives to a SuperPAC the SuperPAC reports the contribution from the 501(c)(4), but the 501(c) (4) does not have to report where it got the money that it gave to the SuperPAC. Common Cause joins others in condemning American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS for doing just that.

Sanctimoniously outraged, Common Cause is spearheading several initiatives aimed at changing federal and state law, including the U.S. Constitution, to limit free speech. The funny thing is that in the course of doing so, Common Cause is using the very same tactics it ostensibly abhors to hide the funding sources of its initiatives.
In Colorado we have a type of committee called an “issue committee,” which is analogous to a SuperPAC, but instead of spending money on candidates it spends money on ballot initiatives. Common Cause set up an issue committee, called Coloradans Get Big Money Out of Politics, which I’ll refer to as “Coloradans Get.”

Coloradans Get dutifully files its disclosures including who are its contributors. In the period between June 26, 2012 and July 26, 2012 Coloradans Get raised almost $95,000, but over $68,000 of that sum came from Common Cause, a 501(c) (4) organizations, by the way. One might assume, reasonably, that given its self- appointed role as guardian of transparency, Common Cause discloses all its donors even though the law doesn’t require it to. Such would be a reasonable assumption but an erroneous one.

Common Cause accepts anonymous donations. On an ironically named “Donor Transparency Policy” page, Common Cause has a section making clear that it does take anonymous contributions. On the “Privacy Policy” page, Common Cause states, “Your right to privacy is important to Common Cause. . . . Individuals who wish to make anonymous donations may do so by contacting Bette Marchant, Vice President for Finance.”

To be sure Common Cause does disclose the names of many donors, and for many of those donors the organization indicates a “contribution level,” but this is less informative than one might expect. That voluntary disclosure excludes much information requires of others by both Colorado and Federal rules, including contributor address, the occupation and employer for large contributors, and contribution amount. Moreover, a review of Common Cause’s most recent Annual Report reveals that of the more than $7.5 Million it received in individual contributions, no more than $1.4 Million, or less than 20%, could be estimated by their voluntary disclosure. That’s hardly the full transparency they demand of others.

In sum, we have a 501(c)(4) organization accepting anonymous contributions and giving more than many Coloradans make in a year to Coloradans Get without having to report where it got that money. While certainly Common Cause is complying fully with the law, like Moliere’s famous Tartuffe, it makes an ostentatious show of piety while being nothing more than a hypocrite.