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Chellie Pingree

      . . . President & CEO, Common Cause. In 2003, Ms. Pingree took the lead of this non-partisan citizen activist group which advocates honest, open and accountable government and citizen participation at all levels of government. Prior to that, she served eight years in Maine’s state Senate, where she rose to majority leader and in 2002, made a strong showing against an incumbent for U.S. Senator. Her many awards include Consumer Health Advocate of the Year by Families, USA. Before entering the political life, Ms. Pingree was a successful businesswoman and community activist.

Excerpts3:48 secs

One voice makes a huge difference, says Chellie Pingree, whether she is talking about electoral politics, corporate governance, federal agencies or the non-profit sector. This is the PEOPLE’s country and it’s time for the PEOPLE to take ownership of it, she insists. “Holding Power Accountable” is every citizen’s job, just as it is the guiding light of Common Cause, of which Ms. Pingree is President and CEO.

The mechanics of what we do in a democracy are extremely critical, Ms. Pingree says, pointing to state politics and lobbyists, voting rights, the enormous power of corporations, the growing concentration of media ownership, and redistricting and apportionment that have eliminated competition from most Congressional races. Just consider the system by which America finances political campaigns (an ongoing Common Cause concern.) Ms. Pingree pronounces it obscenely out of control.

“Transparency” is also fundamental, she says, whether she’s talking about federal policy and law making, corporate governance, the Federal Communications Commission or Security and Exchange Commission, or the way family foundations and NGOs are run. At every level, we need to know if someone gave something and got something in return, she declares.  That rules out secret meetings and blocking or silencing the press. In a democracy, she knows, it is critical to have access to information, from the street corner to the Oval Office.

More than ever before, Ms. Pingree says, regular people see what is happening -- they see money having too much of an interest in everything, big interests having control over everything from their health care and jobs to tuition rates at their kids’ public colleges. Ms. Pingree’s convinced that if Americans saw in a foreign country what’s currently going on at home, the diagnosis would be “unhealthy.”

Here’s the cure. Citizens acting like ... citizens. Ms. Pingree calls herself an “Activist” and urges us all to join her. Be active at any level that feels appropriate, she suggests, whether talking with friends in the workplace, debating what’s going on in the local city council or school system, or being heard about important international decisions America is making. What’s important is to understand that every voice really matters, at all of levels and in all arenas. (As a former State Senator, Ms. Pingree knows that sometimes 5 telephone calls will turn a legislator around.) Run for office -- it’s one of the most important things people can do, she says. Not everyone will run for Congress, but a lot of people can run for school board, planning board or City Council. And stand up for what’s right. If we don’t bring ethics and integrity into decisions about policy and politics, there is no future for a democracy, Ms. Pingree believes.

All of these things are as true today as they were when John Gardner, a Republican who served in Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic administration, started Common Cause as a nonpartisan, membership-based organization intent on having a citizen over the shoulder of every politician. Common Cause, like democracy, has work to do. There’s no time like the present to get involved.

[This Program was recorded May 17, 2004, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

The government is us, Chellie Pingree tells Paula Gordon Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Ms. Pingree describes how Common Cause founder John Gardner’s original idea -- we need a citizen looking over the shoulder of every politician -- still applies.  She compares his era to ours.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:22 secs

Conversation 2

Ms. Pingree insists all politicians are not crooks or irresponsible, describes their challenging task and reiterates the importance of politicians staying connected to constituents instead of big funders. The people are often way ahead of politicians, she says, and expands on how Common Cause encourages people to express their concerns and focuses on issues critical to democracy. She addresses elected officials and lobbyists, corporations, and the media, whose public interest obligations she describes.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:21 secs

Conversation 3

Describing herself as an activist, Ms. Pingree shows how public financing of elections works in Arizona and Maine -- reminding us that “As goes Maine, so goes the nation” -- and calls the difference in campaigns revolutionary. She shows how States continue to act as “laboratories of democracy.” The 2004 presidential election campaign will cost $1B, she says, wondering if highly profitable media companies are the best recipients of this money in a time of scarce resources, calling today’s election system obscenely out of control. Common Cause worked for years to pass the McCain-Feingold bill, Ms. Pingree says, celebrating the return of small donors to campaigns, eager for this trend to grow.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:19 secs

Conversation 4

Election reform has been a Common Cause issue from its beginning, Ms. Pingree recalls, describing “flags” raised by the 2000 election. She reiterates the fundamental importance of voting in a democracy -- whether for officials or a referendum -- and shows how redistricting and apportionment contribute to a critically important failure -- non-competitive races in most districts in the U.S. She shows how all these issues relate to each other and end up encouraging citizens not to participate. Ms. Pingree explains why “transparency” is critical at all levels and must not be sacrificed to inappropriate security concerns. She honors Harry Truman’s (WW2) and John Gardner’s (Vietnam War) watchdog roles in wartime and describes a host of problems created by privitizing formerly military functions.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:35 secs

Conversation 5

A former businesswoman as well as state legislator, Ms. Pingree applies “Holding Power Accountable” to business, especially large corporations.  Governance is discussed within corporations, federal agencies and non-profits. She demonstrates why one can never give any entity a “pass” at any level. If we don’t bring integrity and ethics into policy making on all fronts, she declares, there is no future for a democracy. She explains why Common Cause limits itself to the fundamental processes of democracy, where they can make the most significant change.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:04 secs

Conversation 6

Ms. Pingree describes the FCC and media concentration as a critical issue and expands. She urges people to become active at any level that feels appropriate -- from talking to friends to running for office -- and to take ownership of government.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:17 secs


Bill Bozarth, the Executive Director of Common Cause/Georgia, was instrumental in arranging for Ms. Pingree to be our guest.  We are appreciative.

We also thank the staff of the 191 Club in Atlanta, GA, for their interest, their courtesies and their enthusiasm for our Show. Jennifer Janssen, Member Relations Director, was particularly attentive. We are pleased to be working with them and thank them for their support.

We applaud the work of Common Cause. In fact, we think so highly of it that Bill Russell serves on the Board of Common Cause/Georgia.

Related Links:
To learn more about Common Cause, visit their website and GET INVOLVED, whether in this fine organization or the many others where citizens can make a difference.  Democracy only works when we do!

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