Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 - Year in Review

2012 has been a momentous year for Common Cause Rhode Island.  And we couldn't have done it without your support, feedback, and investment.  Thank you for doing your part to hold power accountable and your belief in a better Rhode Island. Together we are making history - in 2012, we helped to:

Pass a law: Campaign finance disclosure 
  • At the initiation of Common Cause Rhode Island, the General Assembly passed a state-of-the art campaign finance disclosure bill.  Our state is now at the forefront in providing information about who is funding political advertising. 
Amend a law: Improved Access to Public Records Act (APRA)
  • For the first time in over a decade the state's "sunshine law" was drastically improved through the effort of Common Cause and other organizations including the ACLU and NEFAC.  Rhode Islanders will now have access to more information about what government is doing on their behalf. 
Amend a city charter: Redistricting
  • After a contentious redistricting process, Common Cause worked with Providence City Council member Sam Zurier to draft an amendment to the City Charter revising the process for drawing ward boundaries.  Now a supermajority of the City Council we be required to pass last minute changes among other improvements. 
Pass a new rule: Ethics Commission rule making on travel disclosure
  • At Common Cause Rhode Island's request, the state Ethics Commission passed a rule requiring all persons subject to the Code of Ethics, including legislators, to disclose out-of-state travel whose value is greater than $250 and is provided for by third parties
Warm wishes to you and yours for a happy holiday season and New Year!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thank you!

Thank you!

To all who were able to join us for our 42nd Annual Meeting on November 1st, Thank You!  It was a wonderful evening with almost 300 Common Cause supporters in attendance.  We were thrilled to make Rev. James C. Miller the latest John Gardner Fellow for his lifetime of work on behalf of Common Cause issues.  Additionally, we awarded the Excellence in Public Service Award to Mayor Angel Taveras for his work on redistricting and electoral reform.

In addition to the awards, we raffled off lunch with leading Rhode Island academics, including Michael Yelnosky, Corey Brettschneider, Carl Bogus, and Maureen Moakley as a prelude to the keynote lecture.  The evening concluded with a thought provoking talk by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School.  If you missed his presentation, you can watch a replay of it here

Common Cause Rhode island thanks all who attended and made the evening possible.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

2011-2012 Common Cause Legislative Scorecard

Today Common Cause Rhode Island releases our 10th biennial Legislative Scorecard, which saw an increase from the previous all-time lows.  Our scorecard rates all 113 members of the Rhode Island General Assembly based on votes on government reform.  Detailed descriptions of the bills used, as well as scores for individual legislators can be found here.  A more detailed list of votes for the House and Senate are also available.  Common Cause creates the scorecard as a service to our members every two years.

The 2011-2012 General Assembly saw several significant advances for open government and campaign finance transparency. The legislature passed long-sought changes to the Access to Public Records Act and enacted significant campaign finance disclosure legislation. In the areas of judicial selection and ethics reform, however, we saw little progress. Notably, neither chamber took up a Common Cause initiative to let the voters decide whether lawmakers should be subject to the jurisdiction of the state's Ethics Commission.

Common Cause used 27 Senate votes, and 28 House votes in our scorecard, focusing on our core issues of campaign finance and election reform, ethics and lobbying reform, judicial selection, open government and separation of powers. The average score for members of the Senate was 66% and 68% for the House. Those averages represent a rise from all-time lows of 51% and 48% respectively in 2009-2010. A large number of small reforms resulted in the number of votes counted rising dramatically.

Common Cause never endorses candidates for any public office. The scorecard reports only how members of the General Assembly voted on particular bills of concern to Common Cause. Scoring does not constitute opposition or endorsement.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sat Nov. 10th: Meet and greet with General Assembly members from Barrington, Warren, and Bristol

Please join Common Cause Rhode Island and General Assembly members from Barrington, Warren, and Bristol on Saturday November 10th from 10:00 am to 12:00pm at the Barrington Public Library for a discussion about issues of government transparency and accountability in Rhode Island.

This event is free and open to the public and is an opportunity for voters to meet their elected senators and representatives and listen to their plans for the upcoming legislative session. The program includes an informal meet and greet followed by an interactive question and answer section. Coffee and donuts will be served.

Common Cause Rhode Island is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of representative democracy by ensuring open, ethical, accountable and effective government processes at the local, state and national levels by educating and mobilizing the citizens of Rhode Island. 

In addition to being the only good government group in the state with a full time lobbyist at the State House to monitor fair and open political processes, we support community and State House-based educational programs to expand the capacity of citizen lobbyists and keep the public informed about issues of process in government. In 2012, two of our bills passed that expand the public's access to government records and strengthen our state's campaign finance disclosure. Our top policy priority for 2013 is ethics reform, a constitutional amendment to bring the General Assembly back under the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission.

We look forward to seeing you on November 10th.  If you have any questions or request additional information, please contact our office at  (401) 861-2322 or

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Common Cause Rhode Island Welcomes Rev. James C. Miller as Organization's 6th-ever John Gardner Fellow

The John Gardner Fellowship is a lifetime appointment to honor and recognize longstanding, exemplary supporters of Common Cause Rhode Island; those who follow in the footsteps of John Gardner, founder of Common Cause, who demonstrate extraordinary and unwavering devotion to the organization, and who further its mission and best interests wherever and however it is within their power to do so.

Common Cause Rhode Island is proud to announce that Rev. James C. Miller will become the 6th-ever John Gardner Fellow in our organization's history at the 42nd Annual Meeting on Thursday, November 1, 2012.  The John Gardner Fellowship is the highest honor bestowed upon volunteers in name of Common Cause's Founder.
Rev. James C. Miller

Jim Miller has served the fight for holding power accountable for more than fifty years in his ministry career as a community organizer and church pastor, and joins Alan Hassenfeld, Natalie Joslin, John Sapinsley*, Lila Sapinsley, and Henry Sharpe.

Jim has been involved with Common Cause ever since his divinity school professor of social ethics admonished students to choose key social justice and political reform organizations to support and align their ministries.  Jim’s twenty-one years of dedication to Common Cause Rhode Island began in 1991 when he began his post as Executive Minister of The Rhode Island State Council of Churches.  Before moving to RI, Jim had The Providence Journal mailed to his Rochester, NY residency. News articles sharpened his awareness for the need of religious leaders to become involved in RI governmental reform.  As soon as Jim set foot in RI, he convened RI interfaith leaders to join business and civic leaders and Common Cause RI to form the RIght Now! statewide coalition calling for ethic and political reform of RI state and city government.

During his twenty-year tenure with Common Cause Rhode Island, many of which he served as President of the Governing Board, our citizen lobby pioneered the decade-long fight for Separation of Powers, which was won in an epoch 2004 Supreme Court decision.  Jim has been at the forefront of our organization’s efforts to enact Judicial Reform and General Assembly openness to citizens’ response for campaign finance reform measures and other key issues of governmental accountability. 

Jim retired as the 35th minister successor to Roger Williams as Minister of The First Baptist Church in America, the first church to be established in Rhode Island and the first Baptist congregation to be founded in America in 1638.  Jim currently serves as Pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Providence, the first Italian Baptist Church in RI organized in 1893.  Jim’s ministry career has centered on racial justice and equality, international peace-making, revitalization of cities, development of affordable housing projects, youth ministries, and college chaplaincy.  Today, Jim serves as a board member of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, the Governor’s appointee to the RI Commission on Prejudice & Bias, and a Common Cause Advisory Council member.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Win a lunch with your favorite scholars of Rhode Island Politics

Need one more reason to join Common Cause Rhode Island this Thursday for our 42nd Annual Meeting?

Win lunch with one of Rhode Island's top political minds!
Join your favorite on campus for a fancy box lunch, dynamic conversation, and get one of their publications in the bargain!

1 ticket for $5 - 5 tickets for $20 

Proceeds to benefit the Common Cause Rhode Island Education Fund. For more information please contact us at 401-861-2322.  Tickets will be sold and winners will be drawn at the Annual Meeting.

Prof. Carl T. Bogus, Roger Williams University School of Law

Publication: Buckley: William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Rise of American Conservativism (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011)

Brief bio: Professor Bogus’ interests include:  modern American political ideology and how it affects public policy and law; torts and product liability; and gun control and the Second Amendment. Professor Bogus has testified before Congress and spoken about these topics across the country. In addition to books and law reviews, his writings appear in opinion journals and newspapers, including The Nation, American Prospect, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Washington Times, and the Providence Journal. Read more.

Prof. Corey Brettschneider, Brown University

Publication: When the State Speaks, What Should it Say? How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality (Princeton University Press, 2012)

Brief bio: Professor Corey Brettschneider teaches political theory and public law. Brettschneider received a PhD in politics from Princeton University and a JD from Stanford University. He is the author of When the State Speaks, What Should it Say? How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality, (Princeton University Press, 2012) and Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government (Princeton University Press, 2007). Read more. 

Prof. Maureen Moakley, University of Rhode Island

Publication: Rhode Island Politics and Government (University of Nebraska Press, 2001)

Brief bio: Maureen Moakley (Ph.D. - Rutgers - 1984) is a Professor of Political Science and  teaches American Government, State Politics and Media and Politics. She writes extensively on state politics; her books include: The Political Life of the American States, Party Alignment and State Politics, and Rhode Island Politics and Government with Elmer Cornwell.  In addition to her academic work, she does regular political commentary on state politics on Rhode Island PBS and Rhode Island NPR. Read more.

Prof. Michael Yelnosky, Roger Williams University School of Law

Publication: The Impact of “Merit Selection” on the Characteristics of Rhode Island Judges (Roger Williams University Law Review, Fall 2010)

Brief bio: Professor Michael Yelnosky brings an extensive background in employment law. He is active in the legal community and recently served as a neutral arbitrator in the case RIBCO v. State of Rhode Island. As President of the RI Chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association, Yelnosky has moderated a program on the Roberts’s Court’s treatment of labor and employment law issues. He has also written on Judicial Selection in RI. Read more. 

It's not too late to purchase your tickets to the Annual Meeting.  Please contact us at 401-861-2322 to reserve your seat. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

42nd Annual Meeting featuring Prof. Lawrence Lessig

Common Cause Rhode Island
42nd Annual Meeting
Thursday, November 1, 2012
"Keeping Democracy:
 The Lessig Perspective"
Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School
Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University

Lessig is a leading expert in intellectual property law and the corruptive influence of money on democracy, and an entertaining multi-media presenter. His latest book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Our Politics and a Plan to Stop It, suggests that trust in our government is at an all-time low due to the power of special interests taking priority. While America may be divided, Lessig vividly champions the idea that we can succeed if we accept that corruption is our common enemy and that we must find a way to fight against it (

Previously, Lessig clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. Lessig is also a founding board member of Creative Commons and Root Strikers

His multi-media presentation style is so engaging and unique it has been dubbed “The Lessig Method” by communications experts and can be described as “a fantastic combination of content, art and brand....” (David Hornik, VentureBlog).

This year's event will also honor Rev. James C. Miller as Common Cause Rhode Island's 6th-ever John Gardner Fellow and Mayor Angel Taveras for his Excellence in Public service. We are proud to honor Rev. Miller and Mayor Taveras for their decades of work promoting representative democracy in the community and in local and state government.

Purchase tickets online

Mail a check payable to: 
Common Cause Rhode Island
245 Waterman St, Suite 400A
Providence, RI 02906   

For more information or to inquire about table sponsorship please contact us at:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Greater disclosure on gifts to elected officials needed

For the last six months we've been reading about members of the General Assembly taking lavish trips on the dime of outside groups.  It's time for the public to know much more about these gifts, and who is behind them.  That's why we've requested a change to the financial disclosure requirements in Rhode Island so that all elected officials much report gifts they've received because of their official position.

Click here to read the letter to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Farewell to John Sapinsley, Common Cause Rhode Island co-founder

We were saddened to learn of the passing of John Sapinsley, one of the co-founders of Common Cause Rhode Island. You can read about Professor Sapinsley's extraordinary life here. John was a great supporter of our work in good government over the years. We were proud to award him our highest honor when he and his wife Lila were made John Gardner Fellows. He will be missed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Merit selection for magistrates

Common Cause played a large role in enacting the most sweeping change to judicial selection in the United States, back in 1994. Unfortunately, that system has been undermined ever since by the explosive growth in the number of magistrates in Rhode Island. We are supporting a bill in 2012, H 7086, that would require magistrates be selected under the open and transparent merit selection process. You can read our testimony here.