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"Everybody's organized but the people. Now it's the citizens' turn."
John Gardner, 1972 speech
In the summer of 1970, Gardner took what he called "the biggest gamble of my career," and founded Common Cause, a citizen's advocacy group. In his work in government and in the Urban Coalition, Gardner saw that there were a lot of strong special interests, but no one pushing for the concerns of average citizens interested in the greater good. With disenchantment in government growing, Gardner's idea was planted in very fertile soil, and in 23 weeks, 100,000 people signed on to Common Cause's mission to make political institutions more open and accountable.

Video clip  Video from the film:Gardner Founds Common Cause

But before he could focus on governmental reform, the membership in Common Cause urged Gardner to speak out against the war in Vietnam. He did, and Common Cause joined groups in pressuring President Nixon to remove American troops from that country. While ending the war in Southeast Asia was one of Common Cause's policy goals, the organization focused its efforts not on what government did, but how it did it.

Common Cause became one of the staunchest advocates of campaign finance reform. In 1971, they sued both the Democratic and Republican parties for violating campaign fundraising and spending limits, and began to push federal and state governments to open up legislative hearings and governmental decision-making. Common Cause's crusade did not go unnoticed. After the group sued President Nixon's re-election campaign, John Gardner was put on his infamous "enemies list." After the Watergate scandal and various abuses of power by the Nixon Administration came to light, Common Cause was instrumental in getting the landmark campaign finance reform legislation of 1974 passed which put in place limits on contributions and disclosure requirements for campaigns.

more information  Learn more about The Wategate Scandal

more information  Learn more about Campaign Finance Reform: Then and Now

Campaign finance reform has been on the national agenda ever since, and Common Cause has been one of the most vocal advocates. Yet, campaign finance reform is not without its critics. Some say it limits the right of citizens to express their political views. Others say that it favors the two major political parties over other candidates. No matter what one thinks about campaign finance reform, it has become one of the most important issues in American political debate, an issue that John Gardner helped put on the national agenda.

Video clip  Video from the film:Gardner Speaks at Common Cause Anniversary Celebration

more information  Learn more about The Rise of the Citizen Groups



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timeline legend
1970 John Gardner founds Common Cause, a citizens advocacy group
1971 Congress passes initial campaign reform bill
1972 Five men arrested breaking into Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate; Nixon re-elected President
  John Gardner writes "In Common Cause" to explain the aims of his new organizations
1974 Nixon resigns the Presidency
  Common Cause leads the fight and helps win the passage of historic campaign finance reform legislation
  John Gardner wins JFK Profiles in Courage Award
1975 Last American troops leave Vietnam
  With his daughter Francesca, John Gardner publishes "Quotations of Wit and Wisdom"
1978 Common Cause plays leading role in fighting for Ethics in Government Act