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The Common Sense Coalition Promises to Disclose its Donors (with Update)

Ryan Morgan of the Common Sense Coalition says that it is working to continue the work that Americans Elect started.

Like Americans Elect, The Common Sense Coalition is a 501(c)(4) corporation. The Common Sense Coalition holds leadership in common with Americans Elect and explicitly identifies itself as continuing the mission of Americans Elect, but in its disclosure behavior it promises to be rather different from Americans Elect.

On June 20 of this year, I wrote to The Common Sense Coalition noting that it seems to have been initiated more than a year ago, also noting its writing in support of donor disclosures, and therefore requesting its Form 990 report and a list of its donors.

On June 18 John Robinson, the Executive Director of The Common Sense Coalition, wrote back in reply:

Thank you for your interest in information about the Common Sense Coalition. Our Articles of Incorporation and amendment are attached in .pdf format. Although we are not required to provide bylaws, the Board has not adopted any bylaws as of now. Our Board of Directors are listed on our website: While we are not required to disclose our contributors, however, in the interest of transparency, we have a) added language to our donation site ( noting that any and all donations made there will be publicly disclosed. and b) we will, in the near future, add a section to our website listing our contributors. In addition, our organization has not completed a full tax year and will not file a Form 990 until next year. Also, our organization has not yet prepared or filed a Form 1024 application for exemption. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

John Robinson

There are three points worth noting here.

First, the Articles of Incorporation for The Common Sense Coalition are already on the public record as required by law. The Kansas Secretary of State maintains a copy here.

Second, it appears that The Common Sense Coalition has been active since the middle 2011, and since the Articles of Incorporation for the coalition indicate a tax year ending in December, a Form 990 should have been filed. There’s a need for clarification here, and I’ve asked John Robinson to supply it.

Third, and most importantly, the Executive Director of The Common Sense Coalition has pledged in writing that “any and all donations made there will be publicly disclosed. and… we will, in the near future, add a section to our website listing our contributors.” This is an unusual step for a 501(c)(4) corporation. It’s what we should expect for any corporation that wants to involve itself in politics, but unfortunately secret funding sources have become the norm. Americans Elect never disclosed its donors. The Common Sense Coalition promises to start off on the right foot by disclosing them all, a promise that if fulfilled will make it better than normal.

Contrary to Robinson’s assertion, there’s still actually no notice of this commitment on the website of The Common Sense Coalition — but I’ll chalk that up to institutional inertia rather than malintent. In the months to come I’ll track the coalition’s performance to uphold its pledge and hope to share good news. If the coalition does keep its pledge, it can be referenced as an example of alignment with the public spirit when interacting with other corporations. More substantively, the funding sources for The Common Sense Coalition will allow us to track connections and interests associated with its activities.

Important Update, 10:30 AM: the coalition’s donation page has now been updated with a notice that is somewhat reassuring and somewhat alarming:

In the interests of transparency, we plan to release the names and amount of donations. If you would not like your donation information disclosed, please contact us after donating at

Releasing all donor information except for the donor information it doesn’t release isn’t fully transparent. In fact, you could say that the donations a 501(c)(4) corporation keeps secret are the most important ones. Let’s wait and see how The Common Sense Coalition handles disclosures in practice.

Update, August 24 2012: about two months after making its promise, The Common Sense Coalition has released the names of its donors. You can review that list of names here. There are 40 donors total, and 36 of them have been named. The 4 anonymous donors gave only 00.27% of all money contributed to the Common Sense Coalition, making the problem of anonymity not significant.

7 thoughts on “The Common Sense Coalition Promises to Disclose its Donors (with Update)”

  1. Tom says:

    You and your readers should definitely check this out:
    (from the prelude to the paper)

    This study considers the relationship between a global systemic banking, monetary and solvency crisis and its implications for the real-time flow of goods and services in the globalised economy. It outlines how contagion in the financial system could set off semi-autonomous contagion in supply-chains globally, even where buyers and sellers are linked by solvency, sound money and bank intermediation. The cross-contagion between the financial system and trade/production networks is mutually reinforcing.

    It is argued that in order to understand systemic risk in the globalised economy, account must be taken of how growing complexity (interconnectedness, interdependence and the speed of processes), the de-localisation of production and concentration within key pillars of the globalised economy have magnified global vulnerability and opened up the possibility of a rapid and large-scale collapse. ‘Collapse’ in this sense means the irreversible loss of socio-economic complexity which fundamentally transforms the nature of the economy. These crucial issues have not been recognised by policy-makers nor are they reflected in economic thinking or modelling.

    As the globalised economy has become more complex and ever faster (for example, Just-in-Time logistics), the ability of the real economy to pick up and globally transmit supply-chain failure, and then contagion, has become greater and potentially more devastating in its impacts. In a more complex and interdependent economy, fewer failures are required to transmit cascading failure through socio-economic systems. In addition, we have normalised massive increases in the complex conditionality that underpins modern societies and our welfare. Thus we have problems seeing, never mind planning for such eventualities, while the risk of them occurring has increased significantly. The most powerful primary cause of such an event would be a large-scale financial shock initially centring on some of the most complex and trade central parts of the globalised economy.”
    (there’s more, then the paper with the details follows)

  2. John Lumea says:

    Thanks, Jim, for continuing to follow this.

    Robinson writes that (emphasis mine)

    we have (a) added language to our donation site…noting that any and all donations made there will be publicly disclosed. and (b) we will, in the near future, add a section to our website listing our contributors.

    In (a), Robinson appears to limit the CSC’s disclosure pledge to cover only those make their donations “there,” i.e., via the CSC Web site.

    Even Americans Elect did that much, if I remember correctly.

    But the large 5-, 6-, and 7-figure donations — and, potentially, corresponding influenece — that we usually have in mind, when critiquing the non-disclosure practices of 501c4s — i.e., the kinds of donations that Peter Ackerman and his gang of 50 made to Americans Elect — these donations generally are not made via an organization’s Web site.

    A big question that Robinson’s response would seem leave hanging is: Does the “contributors” of (b) mean all contributors or only those that are narrowly delineated in (a)?

    In the fine print just below the “Submit” button on CSC’s Donate page, the phrase “we plan to release the names and amount of donations” does actually follow the invitation and contact information for making donations “by check” or “in some other form,” as well as by swiping one’s credit card on that page.

    So the implication on the CSC’s Donate page — if not altogether in Robinson’s response — is that any disclosure list would include all donors and their respective donations.

    But the next sentence in that fine print may be the most important of all:

    If you would not like your donation information disclosed, please contact us after donating….

    Very Americans Elect.

    1. John Lumea says:

      In the first blockquote, the text following the word “there” was not intended to be highlighted.

      I meant to draw attention to — and to make the connection between — “our donation site” and “there.”


    2. Jim Cook says:

      Right. I noted this as well, in an update to the article earlier this morning. The donations page text was updated this morning after I noted it hadn’t been, and it features this new language.

      The key will be to follow The Common Sense Coalition and see whether it actually publishes a list of all donors and donation amounts.

      1. John Lumea says:

        Thanks, Jim — I think I started writing before your update came in.

        Either that, or I just missed the update in a fog of precaffeination.

        Of course, here in the summer of Pacific coast San Francisco…

        Even after coffee, the fog remains.

  3. AETransparency says:

    Well, it’s a start (maybe?). Anyone intimately or otherwise involved in Americans Elect’s leadership cannot fail (I would hope) to draw the lesson that you can’t be at once both secretive and ‘grassroots’…at least not on the web. Perhaps these folks are smart enough to avoid AECorp’s downfall.

    1. AETransparency says:

      Woops…hit return too soon. I wanted to go on to say that we shouldn’t leave it to Jim and Irregular Times alone to hound these guys. Those others who hounded AECorp to death…including John Lumea, and ourselves…should also make similar requests of CSC. A request from one ‘lone gunman’ they might be tempted to chalk up to a single idiosyncratic crank (no offense intended, Jim); but a wave of cranks all making the same request will be more likely to capture and hold their attention.

      Maybe it’s time for us (AETransparency) to spawn off CSCTransparency. Just changing our name rather cloning won’t do, as AECorp has promised, like the Terminator, “I’ll be bach,” and we certainly intend to be there too when they are. But in the meantime, we’ll ping CSC with a similar request.

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