During her nine years (1992-2000) in the Maine Senate, Chellie Pingree was always aware of Common Cause. The non-profit, non-partisan citizens' lobby organization monitored campaign finance reform and the accountability of elected officials throughout the state, as it's done throughout the country since 1970.
"I welcomed the presence of Common Cause when I was a state legislator," said Pingree, the Senate Majority leader for her final four years in office. "And one of the things they did was clean up the campaign finance laws and allows us to not be constantly under the pressure of special interests and big money."
Now the president of Common Cause, based in Washington, D.C., Pingree thinks the organization can make a difference in Alaska. She's in town today, and visited Anchorage on Friday, to launch the groups newest state chapter, and 37th overall.
The group has more than 200,000 members nationwide, more than 500 in Alaska. The group will now have a chapter office in Juneau, allowing a lobbyist to work in the Capitol and helping the organization establish a network in the legislature.
"When we open a state chapter, more people feel like can find a way to gain access to government," Pingree said. "This is a time when Alaskans are debating a tremendous number of large issues, and citizens need to feel like the government is open and accountable."
"The people who were working with (the 500 members) approached us, and they had a lot of concerns about the openness in state government, the accountability of elected officials and conflicts of interest," Pingree said. "Those are the issues we typically work on in the state."
Common Cause sends e-mails to members letting them know how legislators voted. It also attempts to put pressure on representatives who, according to a press release, "limit public participation in the political process."
"We're an institution that's been around for a long time, so people in the state are accustomed to the Common Cause members being actively engaged and kind of looking over their shoulders," Pingree said. "That's not to say we haven't made a few legislators mad when we've pointed out things that they did in secret or in violation of ethics laws, but it's critical in a healthy democracy. If you get to the point where you think all politicians are corrupt, who goes to the polls?"
For more on the group, go to:www.commoncause.org orwww.alaskacommoncause.org