The New Face of Common Cause

Rapoport: Expanding the mission.
National Journal
Courtney McBride
See more stories about...
Courtney McBride
Feb. 10, 2014, 5:14 p.m.

With a back­ground in the areas of cam­paign fin­ance, voter re­gis­tra­tion, and eco­nom­ic equal­ity, Miles Ra­po­port is poised to take charge of the ven­er­able watch­dog group Com­mon Cause next month.

Ra­po­port, 64, is a former Con­necti­c­ut sec­ret­ary of state who has spent the past 13 years as pres­id­ent of Demos, a New York-based lib­er­al think tank. The son of a teach­er and a glass-shop own­er in Lyn­nbrook on New York’s Long Is­land, Ra­po­port sees him­self as a good fit for the pres­id­ency he’ll as­sume on March 10.

“I had a strong ori­ent­a­tion for so­cial justice from the be­gin­ning,” he said.

Foun­ded in 1970, Com­mon Cause has spent the past four dec­ades ad­voc­at­ing for great­er cit­izen in­volve­ment in the polit­ic­al pro­cess. It boasts 400,000 mem­bers and sup­port­ers na­tion­wide, as well as 35 state chapters.

Former pres­id­ent Bob Edgar, a six-term Demo­crat­ic con­gress­man from Pennsylvania who died last April a month shy of his 70th birth­day, was widely re­garded as a pas­sion­ate ad­voc­ate for a more in­clus­ive polit­ics. Oth­er past pres­id­ents in­clude noted cam­paign fin­ance re­form ad­voc­ate Fred Wer­theimer, former Mas­sachu­setts At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Scott Harsh­bar­ger, and Rep. Chel­lie Pin­gree, D-Maine.

Former Labor Sec­ret­ary Robert Reich, who chairs the Na­tion­al Gov­ern­ing Board for Com­mon Cause, said in an in­ter­view that the board “didn’t set out to find an­oth­er Bob Edgar.” Rather, mem­bers sought a suc­cessor who could bring sim­il­ar skills to bear while also help­ing to ad­vance the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s long-range goals. Reich says that Ra­po­port is well-suited to the post due to his long re­cord of work on is­sues of eco­nom­ic in­equal­ity and the re­la­tion­ship between money and polit­ics.

Asked to char­ac­ter­ize the work that Demos has done dur­ing his ten­ure, Ra­po­port said the or­gan­iz­a­tion has “be­come an im­port­ant pub­lic policy and ad­vocacy cen­ter for an eco­nomy where every­one has an equal chance and a demo­cracy where every­one has an equal say.” One re­cent ex­ample: the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent use of an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der to in­crease the min­im­um wage for fed­er­al con­tract­ors — a move pro­posed by Demos in 2013.

In a way, Ra­po­port says, he has had three dis­tinct, but re­lated, ca­reers: as a com­munity or­gan­izer and act­iv­ist in Chica­go, Bo­ston, and Con­necti­c­ut; as a le­gis­lat­or and sec­ret­ary of state in Con­necti­c­ut; and as a lead­er in the non­profit sec­tor.

After two years at Har­vard, Ra­po­port gradu­ated from New York Uni­versity in 1971 and jumped in­to com­munity act­iv­ism, start­ing with the Cit­izen Ac­tion Pro­gram in Chica­go and later cofound­ing Mas­sachu­setts Fair Share in Bo­ston.

From 1979 to 1984, he was ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Con­necti­c­ut Cit­izen Ac­tion Group, which set the stage for a dec­ade in the state Gen­er­al As­sembly and four years as sec­ret­ary of state.

In 1998, Ra­po­port lost a Demo­crat­ic primary for the seat va­cated by Rep. Bar­bara Ken­nelly, D-Conn. He sub­sequently foun­ded a small firm, Demo­cracy­Works, to con­duct ad­vocacy work in Con­necti­c­ut. Three years later he was tapped as pres­id­ent of Demos.

Reich, who re­cused him­self from the se­lec­tion pro­cess due to a pri­or ac­quaint­ance with Ra­po­port, ex­plained that the in­com­ing Com­mon Cause pres­id­ent “is a true re­former in every sense of the word, and he’s also an ex­cel­lent man­ager.”

While Com­mon Cause has mostly fo­cused on polit­ic­al rather than eco­nom­ic is­sues, Ra­po­port sees room to ex­pand its mis­sion. He looks for­ward to con­tinu­ing his work on voter re­gis­tra­tion and trans­par­ency in elec­tions, but also said the group has a plat­form to ad­voc­ate for great­er equal­ity of eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity as well as to mo­bil­ize Amer­ic­ans on is­sues of sus­tain­ab­il­ity and en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion.

Reich echoed those sen­ti­ments, say­ing Com­mon Cause should “work not only on get­ting big money out of polit­ics, but also on the reas­ons why big money is now play­ing such a prom­in­ent role in polit­ics.”

In April, Ra­po­port and his wife Sandra (Sam) Lu­ciano, a former long­time Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tion­al Uni­on em­ploy­ee who now teaches at a com­munity col­lege, will cel­eb­rate their 34th an­niversary; the couple has two sons and three grand­chil­dren. They cur­rently reside in West Hart­ford, Conn., but plan to re­lo­cate to the Wash­ing­ton area, likely to Vir­gin­ia, in the com­ing months.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
15 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×