The New Face of Common Cause

Rapoport: Expanding the mission.
National Journal
Courtney Mcbride
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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.

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