Common Cause Maryland in the State House

As we near midnight on the last day of the legislative session, we are proud of the solid progress we made this year towards creating a more responsive and accountable democracy. Common Cause Maryland moved significant reforms on money in politics, and advanced technical reforms on a range of issues — the first time, in fact, that we can recall the legislature moving bills on all five key areas of government reform, including money in politics, voting rights, redistricting, transparency, and ethics, in one legislative session.

In a session book-ended with ethics scandals, and marked by partisan bickering in between, the progress we saw in the last 90-days proves that our elected officials can come to Annapolis and set aside their political concerns to focus on solid policy — fixing the fissures we are seeing in our democracy. Of course, in the mix of bills we championed this year we have some that are critical wins, some that are disappointing losses, and some that lay the foundation for future reforms. You can read more about that in our press release. In this blog, we want to take the opportunity to talk about what Common Cause does for these 90 days — why we are so proud (and exhausted!) at the end of session.

Common Cause Maryland is the only group focused solely on ensuring our democracy is responsive and accountable. We identify areas of concern and position reforms through solid research and policy development. We are proud to have worked successfully with the Governor and the legislature on reforms that will strengthen our democracy right here and now.

What does that mean, in the day to day? It means we are the ones…

Positioning policy reforms. We first started talking about the need for a coordination bill in 2015. We had monitored campaign activities in the 2014 election, and noticed that SuperPACs were not only emerging on the Maryland electoral scene, but they were working too closely with candidates — without any clarity in our state law on what defined coordination. We brought legislation to an interested Delegate, and worked with state campaign finance staff and national experts to refine that legislation over the next two years. This year we finally saw the legislation pass, in time to make an impact for the 2018 elections.

Monitoring legislation, and catching problems — before they pass. We were excited to see legislation move that would strengthen accountability around third party campaign entities, such as independent expenditures and PACs, requiring them to have a resident agent in the state who would be liable for any violations of campaign finance law. When an amendment was attached to that bill that would have undermined our reporting requirements for donors to campaigns, we were able to catch that proposal and fix the bill language immediately.

Providing information to legislators and the press. We get calls constantly throughout session. Calls from reporters, asking for background information on an issue or for an interview on a bill or a situation. Calls from legislators, asking for help drafting a bill, for our support on a bill, or for talking points to explain a bill to their colleagues. We bring expertise to the discussion, providing context and support for issues and reforms.

Doing the research on timely issues. When we analyzed giving by the bail bonds industry (see our blog “Pay to Play”) we never anticipated the traction that analysis would get. Our research was noted in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, on WYPR — it became the undercurrent to the policy debate on bail reform. While we were excited to see that research making a difference, we were not surprised. Few groups have the interest in digging into campaign finance reports or ethics reports, looking for the trends and stories that they tell. Our research and analysis helps inform and drive forward the policy debate.

Our staff work tirelessly year-round to ensure a democracy that works for all Marylanders. Our work is often complicated, and often unseen and unsung. But the results are evident in the legislation that passed this session.

A full wrap up of the legislative session will be available on Common Cause Maryland’s website at md.commoncause.org.