An Effective Scorecard for Political Accountability

This article originally appeared on FULCRUM.

Scorecards are typically a tool for measuring progress towards a particular goal. At Common Ground Committee (CGC) our goal is to reduce polarization. One of the ways to do that is to help increase the frequency of bipartisanship exhibited within our political leadership. Doing so creates overall favorable outcomes for our country and our democracy. We need to calm the waters if we are going to move forward to address the serious problems facing our nation.

Imagine if we could create a tool to assess how well elected officials have demonstrated a willingness to bridge the partisan divide; showing they can work cooperatively toward making progress, rather than posturing strength through stubbornness and absolutism. Imagine also that this tool could not only shine a light on the value of finding common ground but also keep politicians accountable. In doing so, it would incentivize their efforts toward finding more progress and reducing division.

That tool exists, and it’s gaining traction and relevance. It’s called The Common Ground Scorecard. This powerful tool assigns a score to each U.S. senator, representative, governor, and now – presidential candidate, based on their past decisions and actions.

The Common Ground Scorecard measures the degree to which elected officials and candidates for office embody the spirit and practice of a Common Grounder; that is, someone who seeks points of agreement and solutions on social and political issues through productive engagement. The Scorecard does not assess issue positions, ideology, or any other qualifications.

The Scorecard’s premise is that certain attributes are worth practicing, regardless of ideological or party leanings. These attributes include the willingness to put aside personal biases, seek solutions, listen to perspectives, accept facts, and be respectful of others with differing opinions. The Scorecard’s methodology tracks both the incumbents’ and challengers’ behavior, showing the degree to which a candidate publicly supports the importance of common ground and bipartisanship through their speech, action, and track record.

The basis of our government, as envisioned by the founding fathers, was predicated on the expectation that people would learn to compromise – not on principles but on tactics and strategies; that finding common ground would be central to our form of government. Through this process, the majority would set the stage for our legislative system, but the needs of all parties would be heard in debates and considered in outcomes. CGC recognizes that people may not agree on fundamental principles and values. Yet, a way forward almost always can be found but it requires cooperation, compromise, and common ground.

Partisan gridlock in government may seem like the norm these days. But that’s not the full story. Change is happening, right now. Many lawmakers and their staff agree that seeking common ground is the most effective and pragmatic approach to moving forward on critical issues facing the country, and they are concerned that more of it is not happening. As more and more elected officials are becoming aware of their scores, they want to see them rise. Now, they are coming to us and asking, “What can I do to improve my score?”

We meet with people in both political parties, and they’re excited that someone’s creating a platform that holds up bipartisanship as a desirable goal with tangible steps towards getting to a place of mutual respect, and progress. We are coming from an all-time low for political discord in our lifetime and need to rebuild the trust of the electorate. Voters are tired of ideological fights and the raincloud of rancor that hangs over the Hill. Our market research was designed to discover things that the electorate wants to see improved in the political landscape, and at the top of the list was, “Hold my elected officials accountable.” Voters want the behavior to have repercussions. They are tired of rhetoric, rancor, and gridlock. There’s a reason this demographic is called the exhausted majority.

An electorate coming off a pandemic deserves better than a toxic political environment. The Common Ground Scorecard provides political accountability that may be just what the doctor ordered.

Lawmakers Receptive to the Common Ground Scorecard

Common Ground Committee co-founder, Erik Olsen, journeyed to Washington, DC with a mission to reach out to legislators regarding the Common Ground Scorecard, a voting tool that measures how well an elected official seeks common ground.  The Scorecard does not assess ideology or positions on specific issues.

Erik was met with a very receptive audience. While partisan gridlock may seem like the norm, many lawmakers and their staff agree that seeking common ground is the most effective and pragmatic approach to moving forward on critical issues facing the country, and are concerned that more of it is not happening. His meetings included sessions with the staff of members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, as well as Democratic, Republican and Independent staff members, representatives and senators of the following offices as follows:

  • Rep. Colin Allred – D, Texas
  • Rep. Bilirakis – R, Fla.
  • Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. – R, Louisiana
  • Emmanuel Cleaver – D, Missouri
  • Rep. Angie Craig, D, Minn,
  • Rep. Debbie Dingell – D, Mich.
  • Rep. Dusty Johnson – R, S.D.
  • Rep. Derek Kilmer, D, Wash.
  • Rep Young Kim – R, Calif.
  • Rep. Mike Lawler – R, NY
  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Independent, Arizona,
  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D VA, Representative
  • Sen. Jon Tester – D, Mont.
  • Rep. William Timmons – R, S.C.

The lawmakers expressed support and great interest for the Common Ground Scorecard. Erik notes, “The lawmakers I met with had great concern over polarization in Congress – in particular, the budget and potential for a government shut down this coming fall. The mood was noticeably less upbeat than on previous visits.”

Erik’s visit to the Hill was one of several Common Ground Committee initiatives to expand awareness of the Common Ground Scorecard and encourage elected officials to improve their scores and continue to seek common ground with their colleagues.

Common Ground Committee at the Points of Light Conference

Common Ground Committee CEO, Bruce Bond, moderated a panel of business leaders from Allstate, Fidelity Investments and National Healthcare Service Corporation at the Points of Light Conference held in Chicago from June 14th to 16th.  Business leaders were specifically interested in how to address polarization in the workplace. Many were not aware that a bridge movement exists.

Bruce shared data from Pew Research showing that while Americans on both sides believed the opposite party members to have dishonest and immoral traits, the news is not all bad. In reality, Americans are much more closely aligned on major issues such as immigration.

The big question of course was how to address these issues in the workplace.  Common Ground Committee’s Ten Attributes were a starting point for discussion.  Business leaders shared insights in the follow up discussion.

Here are a few key points that were shared:

  • If my corporate social responsibility team is all thinking alike on an issue, then we’re not thinking! We need to question our echo chambers.
  • Our challenge internally is to have better arguments to find better solutions that work to meet the objective.
  • One of our first internal rules to find common ground is taking winning off the table.
  • To decide if our company takes on an issue, we must be aligned with our company values, we must be clear how our stakeholders will benefit, we must know what we’re talking about, and decide if we can really make a difference or not.
  • As business leaders we must place relationships ahead of the task in order to find common ground.
  • The stakes are higher these days in business. We must listen. We must be very strategic and prepared when engaging on social issues. We must know our company DNA. Can we really move the ball?

For more in depth information on combatting polarization in the workforce, please visit, Common Ground Committee’s business portal and white paper, The Business Case for Civics Education.

CGC Trump Indictment Statement

News of the indictment of former President Donald Trump once again spotlights the current state of our politics. The concern is that we’ve become so polarized that many now see our nation’s once revered institutions as mere tools of the parties. 

The conversation — if we can call it that — taking place shows how we are constantly being pulled to either side by partisan forces who are just adding fuel to the polarization fire. And though we can acknowledge the skepticism or zealousness from either side, we must urge those engaging in this debate to identify and set aside their personal biases.

We ask our fellow Americans to not get drawn in by the conflict entrepreneurs on social media and on cable news shows. Instead, we hope citizens will resist the emotionally satisfying urge to join in the food fight. In that spirit, we also ask that our leaders curb their politically expedient temptation to get into the muck. More importantly, we staunchly condemn political violence and urge those who would use this as an opportunity to turn the fire into conflagration to stop and consider the cost of what would likely happen if violence were to break out. Lives lost, property and livelihoods destroyed, continual escalation. In that scenario, nobody wins. The country loses. 

Whatever your opinions of Mr. Trump or of the charges he faces, we must let the legal process take its course so that we might learn if the charges against him are merited. Otherwise, we are drawing conclusions about the case based on political ideology, which is exactly the mindset the Founding Fathers wanted citizens to avoid. “Innocent because the other party is out to get my guy” is not a sound legal principle. “Innocent until proven guilty” is, and that is why our legal system is based on it. The system is not perfect but its track record throughout our history shows it to be reliable in maintaining the rule of law (rather than persons) in America. This is key to keeping our nation strong. We acknowledge that the optics of the situation gives rise to the claim that there is a double standard between Mr. Trump and other political leaders whose actions have been deemed questionable. But we implore folks to let the arguments of the prosecution and the defense unfold before finalizing an opinion about fair treatment, guilt or innocence.

Our role at Common Ground Committee (CGC) is to neither be final arbiters nor passive witnesses. We do our best to be a voice that narrows divides rather than widens them. Our call for common ground and civility may sound naive, but perhaps that is because an open mind — not a cynical one  — is what this moment requires of us in order to rise above the fray rather than wade into it. Cooler heads must prevail and CGC’s mission is to remind our fellow Americans that finding common ground is a difficult but a worthwhile endeavor. It is at the heart of how our government was designed to work, and is the key to healing the “us vs. them” mindset that threatens to tear apart the social fabric of our country.

American Flag

House members embrace the Common Ground Scorecard

In late April, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen spent a week visiting members of Congress to discuss our innovative Common Ground Scorecard, a unique tool for evaluating which elected officials and candidates have demonstrated a willingness, perhaps even a desire, to bridge the partisan divide in order to solve pressing issues facing our nation.

And we could not have been more pleased with the responses.

At every meeting, whether with lawmakers themselves or their top advisors, participants were excited about the potential for the scorecard to create an environment in which bipartisan policy-making is not only tolerated but encouraged. After all, that is what Americans want.

Recent polling, conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic polling firms, found that 67% of Republicans, 75% of Democrats and 75% of independents said it is very important for officials to be willing to compromise in order to achieve results. But that is not how Congress works.

And yet, there are lawmakers who are willing to try.

Common ground doesn’t belong to either party


Take, for example, Rep. Josh Gottheimer. The New Jersey Democrat is a founder and co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a collection of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives who want to work together to develop policy solutions. Gottheimer scored a 70 the last time the scorecard was updated, making him a common ground “Champion” and one of the highest scorers in the House. His score is due to increase soon because, upon learning about the scorecard, he pledged to affirm the 10 Common Ground Commitments (also known as, our  ) that are a key element of the rankings.

In fact, we met with a half-dozen House members or their top aides and in every case the lawmaker pledged to affirm those commitments (except for those who had already done so).

The Common Ground Commitments are a series of statements that put politicians on record as willing to listen to opposing positions, acting in a positive, respectful manner, and welcoming honest debate. The 10 commitments are:

  • I will identify and set aside personal biases.
  • I will commit to seek agreement, progress, and solutions.
  • I will listen first to learn perspectives and experiences.
  • I will not assume, but seek to understand motives and intentions.
  • I will seek outcomes all can live with but not compromise principles.
  • I will accept that good people may disagree.
  • I will use and accept facts.
  • I will stay respectful.
  • I will resist demonizing.
  • I will de-escalate hostile situations.

Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina affirmed her adherence to the commitments during our meeting. Mace, who has become a bit of a media darling during her second term without taking extreme positions like some of her colleagues on the left and right, told us she loves the scorecard and is excited to see lawmakers getting public credit for their behavior.

In fact, we are working with Mace and Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois to arrange a joint appearance on an upcoming episode of our podcast. (Mace has the 12th highest score among House Republicans, and will move higher when we update the numbers. Krishnamoorthi ranks 13th among House Democrats.)

We need to keep the momentum going

We are shining the light on good things that are happening in politics, highlighting bipartisanship and cooperative work among members of Congress. And we will continue to do so but we cannot do it alone.

There are dozens and dozens of organizations dedicated to building bridges, but for change to happen on Capitol Hill, lawmakers need to embrace common ground concepts. We are grateful to those who have shown leadership on that front, often without realizing they were being recognized for their efforts.

Gottheimer’s Republican counterpart atop the Problem Solvers Caucus is Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who has the third highest score in all of Congress. Together, those two lawmakers could bring about real change in Congress, by advancing their caucus’ work and engaging more members in the idea of finding common ground.

Similarly, more committees can embrace the work habits of the China panel and the now-defunct House Committee on the Modernization of Congress, both of which espoused common-ground ideals in the search of progress.

And we are grateful to the members of the media who share our passion for common ground activities. Take for example Julie Mason, a former White House correspondent who now hosts a show on Sirius XM’s POTUS Politics channel. Each week, Mason interviews a lawmaker who scores highly on our scorecard, shining a light on the good work those members are doing. In those interviews she explains she is talking to that lawmaker because of their Common Ground Scorecard score and, initially, asks the lawmaker to comment on it. Showcasing those often overlooked lawmakers is critical to improving the state of politics.

If more members of the media focused on those lawmakers, rather than the members who play to the fringes and suck up air time, we could see real change in Congress.

Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon are the product of America’s media landscape. It’s time to meet the exhausted majority’s rising demand for positive journalism

In a piece published by, Common Ground Committee Co-Founder Bruce Bond and Tom Fishman, CEO of Starts With Us, discuss the media’s role in polarization and signs that Americans may be ready for change.

Two of the news media’s most controversial figures are now without a job. Following its $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, Fox News parted ways with Tucker Carlson on Monday. On the same day, CNN fired Don Lemon, whose time at the network was marred by controversy both on and off camera.

These two hosts differ in many ways, from ideology to their relationships with the facts. But taken together, in light of their shared fates, they represent a microcosm of a media landscape that thrives on division and outrage. Carlson was the top-rated prime-time news host and CNN This Morning saw a ratings increase following Lemon’s return to co-hosting duties. News outlets must satisfy ratings–and nothing drives clicks more than conflict. Today, many would agree that the tenor of news has shifted too far towards sensationalism and partisanship–and it appears the networks themselves might be on the precipice of an introspective moment.

Our latest research found that, in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, the most hyper-partisan politicians received more than four times as much media coverage as the most bipartisan politicians. The study by the nonpartisan organization Starts With Us (SWU) used the Common Ground Scorecard–a tool from Common Ground Committee that measures how likely an elected official is to work across the aisle. This discrepancy shows that bipartisan problem-solvers are too often left in the dust while America’s top news outlets give undivided attention to the loudest voices.

As former tech and media executives who are now working to reduce polarization in our country, we believe this is a critical moment to shift what gets covered and who covers it. With two prominent conflict entrepreneurs out of the picture, CNN and Fox can either maintain the status quo and bring in carbon copies who will continue stoking anger and division, or they can chart a new course that not only turns down the temperature but also stands to capture a sizable market. We know this market exists because every day, we come across people who are exhausted by the rancor that today’s media environment promulgates.

The networks aren’t the only ones with a role to play in making change. Now that there are two empty seats at America’s largest cable networks, citizens must tap into their power and help decide who comes next.

Sensationalist news is like junk food. It is fun to consume and cheaply satisfying. That is why hosts like Carlson and Lemon have historically been a boon to ratings–and it’s why 10 times more Americans have heard of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene than Rep. Don Bacon, according to the SWU study. But just because we like eating candy, it does not mean that is all we want. In fact, there is ample evidence that shows people want more balanced, solutions-oriented news coverage.

A new study from More in Common found that 63% of Americans believe the media should report on solutions as much as problems–and 88% want to celebrate what is right rather than criticize what is wrong. The same organization’s research discovered that two-thirds of Americans are part of an “exhausted majority” who have effectively tuned out politics.

The two nonprofits we lead are part of a larger bridge-building movement that seeks to engage this demographic. What started out as less than 10 organizations prior to the 2016 election has skyrocketed to more than 500 today.

There are signs that some outlets sense Americans’ desire for a change and are producing content that focuses more on where we agree than disagree. Even Bret Baier’s nightly Fox News show has a weekly segment and podcast called Common Ground. The existence of such a segment, which encourages two guests to find areas of agreement, would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Turning to the debt ceiling debate, multiple outlets highlighted the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus’ proposal. Finally, a Reuters Institute survey of international leaders indicated that three-quarters are planning a greater focus on solutions journalism.

CNN, Fox, and the entire industry should move quickly to capture this growing interest in solutions over conflict. If they choose to ignore the opportunity, citizens can help change their minds.

Every time we click on a salacious headline or watch even a minute of a divisive news program, we cast a vote in favor of that type of content. What if we encourage our friends and families to consume more stories featuring bipartisan leadership groups or about people with differing beliefs who find common ground? We must step into the power of our collective attention to create momentum for more balanced content that refuses to be defined by division.

If enough of us get on board, we can drive a profound change in our media landscape. As dark as things look, we believe the seeds of change are being sown, and we all have it in us to help them grow.

Bruce Bond is the co-founder and CEO of Common Ground Committee, and is a former group executive of industry research at Gartner. Tom Fishman is the CEO of Starts With Us and a former senior VP of MTV Digital and a former product strategist at Facebook.

Originally published on on April 27, 2023.

The Politics of Climate – Panel 2

Having Productive Climate Conversations 

Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to have not only productive climate conversations from different points of view—but also possible to be surprised by how much you agree. 

That was the conclusion reached during the panel “Finding Common Ground in Climate Conversations,” a discussion between Gina McCarthy, former EPA Administrator and White House National Climate Advisor in the first two years of the Biden administration, with conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Joe Árvai, Director of the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California. 

Arvai began the discussion by acknowledging the evolution in Stephens’ views on climate. Following a trip to Greenland last year, his skepticism changed. 

“I wasn’t a climate skeptic in the sense that I denied the anthropogenic human-caused contributions to a warming planet. But I was skeptical about the consensus that this was not just a problem like many problems, but a unique global catastrophe,” he said. “What changed for me wasn’t really my understanding of the facts. What changed for me was my perception of risk.” After he was invited on a trip with oceanographer John Englander of the Rising Seas Institute, Stephens witnessed firsthand the visible evidence of the retreat of some of the largest glaciers in the world, “a moving and profound experience.” But before even taking the trip, he experienced the exchange of ideas with Englander to be intriguing, and appealing.  

“The fact is that [Englander] did not approach me either as an imbecile or as a bad guy. He approached me as a guy he wanted to have a conversation with. And I think that’s really important when we have conversations across differences,” he said. “If you’re operating assumption is that someone who thinks differently from you must be stupid or must be bad, the conversation is going to be a failure at the start. If you go into the conversation, on the other hand, with a view that this person is not necessarily your enemy, this person might be coming from an honest place of doubt, then you’re likely to have a productive conversation. And in fact, that’s exactly what happened.” 

McCarthy acknowledged that her own thinking has also changed over the years, as she saw how vital economics would be to the success of climate innovation – and the extent to which innovative technology could benefit the economy as well.  

“It’s weird for me to say this, but I’m beginning to quote James Carville all the time. ‘It’s about the economy, stupid.’ Yes, it’s about health, it’s about the planet. But it’s a hugely winning framing when you have millions of people not working. When you can actually advance building in different ways, when you can rebuild roads and bridges to be more resilient, when you can actually preserve natural resource areas for yourself and your kids,” she said. “These are compelling issues that actually all follow how we thought the world could and should be given an opportunity to change, with the lens of understanding that climate change was no longer a sacrifice. It was the road to abundance. And what I’m seeing now is that businesses and private sector are jumping all over this.” 

Arvai noted that it seemed as if the panelists were landing in a similar place with respect to the role that markets and business can play in climate innovation.. 

“Gina said something I agree with completely, and it’s also well and wisely put: the road to abundance,” Stevens said. “Part of the problem with a lot of the messaging around climate is basically, ‘Eat your broccoli. Consume less, walk lightly upon the Earth. The future is going to be one of less and less, and you just have to suck it up.’ That may make certain people feel virtuous, but I don’t think that’s a winning message for most people in the world who think their lives should be, as you said, more abundant than their parents’ were, and successively through generations.”  

He pointed to innovations that are productive with an essentially invisible cost, like more energy-efficient homes, and better irrigation systems. 

“It’s not going to come – and I say this with the highest respect for Gina — from the minds of clever EPA administrators. It’s going to come from entrepreneurs who are probably in this room [of college students] right now  thinking about how they put their environmental passions together with their entrepreneurial abilities and find something nobody has thought of before.” 

Both panelists agreed that action and solutions are more effective coming from the bottom up than the top down, and that policy nudges and incentives are more effective than regulations.  

Arvai said he was proud to conclude that common ground had indeed been found between our panelists on climate. Which prompted laughter from both panelists, who said they were prepared to deny it.  

The Politics of Climate – Panel 1

The Politics of Climate  

Is there a bipartisan path to climate change solutions?  

That was the central question of the panel “Finding Common Ground on the Politics of Climate,” a discussion between former U.S. Representatives Val Demings (D-FL) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). The two former members of Congress brought perspectives from both sides of the aisle to progress on climate policy with an eye to sustainability and equity. The conversation was moderated by journalist and political strategist Bob Shrum, Director of the Dornsife Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California.  

As a starting point, Shrum said, we can agree that “any rational debate about whether climate change is real has ended. According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of all adults now view climate change as a top priority — 65 percent of Democrats, but only 11 percent of Republicans. When it comes to specific policies, 69 percent of U.S. adults favor the United States taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050 – that is, releasing no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is removed— which breaks down to 90 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans in favor of this goal. 

“I also think if we look at where we are these days, we’re in much greater agreement between Republicans and Democrats,” said Kinzinger. “I have actually been heartened over the last few years to see that there is in my party now a recognition that you can be pro-doing-something-about-climate,  and survive.” 

The real landscape of debate these days, Demings suggested, is the cost of solutions. Specifically, what strategies are worth the cost, how should they be prioritized, and to what extent responsibility rests with the public or private sector. “When I served as a law enforcement officer, and certainly as chief of police, the safety and security of the people in our community was our primary concern. When we talk about this very important issue of climate change, the safety and security of the American people should be our primary concern,” said Demings. “As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, we looked at the threat of climate change as a national security issue. And it is.” 

Both former Representatives pointed to recent legislation representing the most ambitious climate and clean energy laws and next-generation technologies in the U.S.  

“I like the investment in green technology. You have to weigh the fact that we have 31 trillion in debt in this country. How do we make wise spending decisions?” asked Kinzinger. “There’s a debate between what role the government plays in that, and what role the private sector plays. One of the amazing things that doesn’t get talked about enough in this country is the fact that the private sector has stepped up and invested in reducing America’s carbon output.” 

Why is it that the points of disagreement get more airplay than the areas of agreement? Demings asked. “I think one of the mistakes that we make when we’re trying to solve problems is we get bogged down where we disagree,” she said. “I think we should start every discussion defining those areas where you agree. And then decide, ‘How can I improve on those areas?’ “ 

One area of agreement between both Demings and Kinzinger is the importance of climate justice — the effects of climate change and global warming on underserved communities, and the belief that low-income areas should not endure lower quality air and water or suffer from inadequate aid when their areas are hit harder by climate disasters.  

“I don’t care what party you’re in, how can that not be important to you?” Demings asked. “And how can you not reach across the aisle and work with your colleagues on the other side to address those environmental justice issues? If we agree on that, that ought to be pretty doggone simple.” 


Rising Interest in the Common Ground Scorecard

Episode 6

Our Take on - Common Ground - Episode 06

Are political tides turning toward common ground? Our co-founders explore the evolving landscape.

Seeking common ground and reaching out to the other side may play a greater role in next year’s election than in previous years. During a recent visit to Washington, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen noted increased interest in the Common Ground Scorecard among Members of Congress and their staffs.

“There’s definitely from a polarization perspective more interest in getting away from that in the upcoming election,” said Bruce Bond in this episode.

Erik Olsen says that during meetings with Members of Congress, “they are very interested in representing themselves as bipartisan.”

This episode of Our Take on Common Ground also focuses on findings of a recent survey that found two-thirds of voters said they would be considering the degree to which a candidate worked with members of the other party as a factor in their voting decisions.

Separate research conducted for the anti-polarization movement Starts With Us, was also discussed. A recent study found that seven Members of Congress with the lowest numbers on the Scorecard received much more news media coverage than those with the highest scores.

Bruce Bond

Bruce Bond is Co-Founder, CEO and Board Chair of Common Ground Committee. He is a 30-year veteran of the information technology industry including an executive position at world-renowned analyst firm Gartner, launching several successful software start-ups, and roles as industry analyst, software developer, and chief information officer (CIO). Mr. Bond graduated with an AB degree in Politics from Princeton University where he was a national-class distance runner.

Erik Olsen

Erik L. Olsen is Co-Founder, CFO and Board Member of Common Ground Committee. He has more than 25 years of experience in investment management and fund management, and nine years of real estate investment experience. Mr. Olsen serves as Managing Partner of CataMetrics Management, a Registered Investment Advisory firm. Mr. Olsen specializes in macroeconomic analysis and policy issues. Mr. Olsen holds a B.A. degree from Principia College and an M.B.A. from the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA.

common ground agreements in the workplace

Part 3: Corporate Civic Engagement Resources for Corporations

This is the third in a three-part series on the rise of corporate civic engagement, an increasingly important component of good governance for an evolving business community and an evolving nation. Part 1 explained the importance of corporate civic engagement and Part 2 presented examples of how corporations have become engaged in civic and social issues.

There is no indication that corporations will find the political landscape easier to navigate in the coming years. In fact, as the Democratic and Republican parties become more entrenched thanks to partisan redistricting and the primary process continuing to weed out moderate candidates, it is more likely that the corporate leaders will find themselves trying to balance on an ever-narrower beam.

Often, corporations are compelled by stakeholders – employees, shareholders, customers, and government officials – to take a stand once a divisive issue becomes a major point of contention in the news media or on social media. Sometimes that may be unavoidable, but there are other occasions where prior planning can make those moments less confrontational and better for business. The Common Ground Committee has put together some resources that can help in either or both of those situations. Some are consultants, one is a coalition of businesses and another is a business-driven academic program. Each business will need to decide what option is appropriate and, in some cases, more than one might be a good fit.

The Common Ground Committee does not endorse any of these resources, nor has it conducted business with any of them. Any company interested in exploring these options should fully investigate what works best for their needs. We welcome your feedback that may inform possible updates to this research.

Business for America

During her 15 years at Apple, Sarah Bonk devoted considerable volunteer time to nonpartisan political reform and civic organizations. But by 2017 she wanted to do more, to have a greater impact. After initially considering a focus on climate, Bonk realized policy could not be changed until the public policy system was addressed. So, leaning on her expertise in the business community, she launched Business for America, which works with the corporate world on bipartisan political reforms and technological improvements for democracy. 

As Bonk explains it, “No one in business intentionally means to harm democracy. Having a well-functioning democracy is in the best interest of business in the long-term.” As a membership-oriented trade group, BFA works to mobilize corporations toward action on behalf of democracy.

“We believe that the business community and the public have a shared interest in the health of our representative democracy — and we see immense potential for the business community to take a leadership role.”

What began as a platform for addressing the role of money in politics has expanded to include electoral reform and civic education. Members may pick and choose which activities are best for them. “You get to choose what is the right flavor for your business, the right way to lean in,” Bonk says. But the bulk of the work is focused on public policy advocacy rather than civic engagement, separating BFA’s work from some of the other organizations introduced below.

Not only is the work limited to issues of democracy, but it is further narrowed to concepts that have broad, bipartisan support. For example, BFA has invited its members to join the push for the Electoral Count Reform Act and the Civic Secures Democracy Act. The former would revise the rules governing the role of Congress and vice president in ratifying the electoral votes, while the latter would invest $1 billion in civic education. Both measures are supported by Republicans and Democrats.

On the other hand, BFA did not support the sweeping election reform bill known as the For the People Act, or H.R. 1, because it was a partisan bill pushed through the House by Democrats without any Republican input or support.

(BFA is supporting the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would replace elements of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court, even though it lacks Republican support. As Bonk notes, until recently, the VRA had always received widespread backing from both parties, from initial passage through multiple renewals.)

There are no preconditions for joining BFA. Members must merely be for-profit corporations and pay a membership fee. Then they choose how to demonstrate their support for democracy. Some decide that providing financial support and lending their brand is sufficient. Others want to engage in advocacy efforts. They may do so by signing on to a letter in support of legislation, joining a coordinated lobbying campaign, taking action on their own or writing op-eds.

“You’re under pressure to do something about this crisis, about democracy, about voting rights, about election integrity. It’s hard to know what to do or to stick your head out there alone,” Bonk says. “BFA is there to help with a practical, bipartisan approach to a system of government that can endure as our Founders envisioned.”

In fact, she believes corporations have an obligation to defend democracy.

“As businesses who have benefited from the economic system and the stability it has afforded and the freedoms it has afforded us, you have a responsibility to help other people benefit from what you benefited from.”

Civic Alliance

In recent years, individual companies have increased their support for voter participation by offering time off to vote, providing voter education tools, and donating time and resources for election administration. But there’s a growing understanding that corporate civic engagement requires year-round efforts to support employees and customers, not just programming geared around Election Day.

That idea led to Civic Alliance, a coalition that has grown to nearly 1,300 corporations pledging to strengthen democracy. Democracy Works, a nonprofit that develops technology to help people vote, and the CAA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the high-powered Creative Artists Agency, united in early 2020 to launch the Civic Alliance as a way to support corporations that want to increase voter engagement.

That first year, Civic Alliance focused on promoting voter registration, helping people find where to voter, and encouraging first-time voters. Before uniting in that effort, the two organizations claimed to have nearly 5 million people vote in 2018.

Since then the mission has expanded. Civic Alliance now works with companies to develop civic engagement plans that go beyond voting, including educating employees and customers about how to run for office, serve on a board or simply have a voice. But the organization also helps companies stand up for democracy.

“We stand together in support of fair and transparent elections, in which voting is safe and accessible. And we use the combined influence of our platforms to empower every American to use their voice.”

Civic Alliance has issued three nonpartisan public statements, each of which member companies were invited to sign, in response to attacks on democracy. One promoted election integrity, calling for safe access to the polls, trust in election officials, and patience as the 2020 votes were counted. The second called for a peaceful transition of power following the events of Jan. 6, 2021. And the third protested a wave of state legislation offered in the spring of 2021 that made it harder for people to vote.

During 2021-22, Civic Alliance has offered its members toolkits on redistricting, civic holidays, and midterm elections to encourage engagement year-round. Looking ahead, materials will be prepared on the off-year state elections, civic education, and other opportunities to engage beyond voting.

“We talk about a company building a civic culture internally, whether providing civic education or helping people navigate civics in their [employee resource groups],” says Sarah Gwilliam, a senior program manager at Meteorite and a member of the Civic Alliance team.

One of the key initiatives is continuing the Election Day of Service. Launched for the 2020 election, the program encourages companies to contribute poll workers, physical space for voting, legal support for election workers and other resources.

Joining Civic Alliance is a simple, cost-free process. A company representative just needs to visit the Civic Alliance website, pledge to encourage civic engagement by employees and/or customers, and then start building programs.

The core toolkit available to members is the Corporate Civic Playbook, which helps companies develop an action plan specific to their culture and goals and apply best practices developed by other Civic Alliance members.

Corporate Civic Consultants


Recognizing a gap in the market, Mairin Macaluso co-founded Corporate Civic Consultants in late 2021 to help companies that “have a need and don’t know how to rise to the moment.” As Macaluso explains, not responding to political, civic and societal issues is no longer an option for companies – not when they are getting pressure from employees and investors and need to rebuild trust among all stakeholders.

CCC’s strategy for corporate leaders and boards involves proactively addressing issues, rather than waiting for the market to force action. 

“CCC partners with companies to reduce risks, realize opportunities and build the civic capabilities that modern stakeholders demand.”

To achieve those goals, CCC is building a set of tools and guidelines that will help companies build a “probiotic” strategy, in Macaluso’s vision, rather than waiting for employees, investors or customers to demand action. The broad strategy focuses first on business strategy (“What is the business problem you’re trying to solve?”) and then addressing the societal implications (“How can having a good civic engagement strategy help that?”)

One key part of the CCC strategy is to break down the walls that silo civic engagement efforts within a company. For example, roles may be divided among governmental affairs, communications, and talent human resources all have pieces of this pie. Without one point of contact, there may be little responsibility and little accountability.

Before launching CCC, Macaluso was the director of member impact and engagement at the Leadership Now Project, a membership organization focused on helping business leaders support and improve American democracy. While CCC is separate from Leadership Now, Macaluso is able to leverage relationships built during that phase of her career to broaden the services she can now offer. 

For example, if a corporation wants to work on resolving polarization within its workforce, she can tap into groups like More in Common, Civic Genius and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Macaluso acknowledges there are pre-existing resources for corporations in the marketplace, such as crisis communications advisors and traditional consulting firms that offer environmental, social and governance (ESG) or corporate social responsibility (CSR) guidance, but those have drawbacks. Often, they are reactive rather than proactive, and they are careful about engaging on divisive issues. “Why would McKinsey jeopardize their business by rocking the boat with one company while helping another?” Macaluso says. “No one focuses on corporate civic engagement or corporate political responsibility.”

Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce

Housed within the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Sustainability in Business, the Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce is designed to help companies be more proactive, principled and integrated, according to Doty. With the public and stakeholders looking to corporations to take a more active role in solving the societal problems, business leaders are under pressure to develop plans that will meet those demands while also protecting the economic goals. CPRT aims to help them accomplish both by creating a framework to follow.

“We are trying to help companies better align their approach to political influence to their commitments,” Doty says.

CPRT is currently working with six Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, to build the initial version of that framework. To be included in that initial cohort, corporations had to meet three criteria: 

  • Each had to have already placed a stake in the ground as good corporate citizens
  • Their names had to carry the weight necessary to make other corporate leaders curious.
  • They had to be a work in progress, looking to improve on their corporate political responsibility.

One of the big ideas developed by the taskforce is the use of an outbound impact assessment, commonly used in Europe for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues. Such an assessment can help a corporation predict where it might face pressure in the future. For example, a retail business might consider whether it is impacting employees’ ability to vote. 

The taskforce has also identified three criteria for determining when to engage on an issue:

  • If the company is contributing to the problem.
  • If the company has already made a related commitment (such as encouraging people to vote, employee empowerment, promoting women’s rights, etc.)
  • If the problem is of such consequence that it is foundational to the entire system.

For many companies, voting rights (particularly for people of color), hits all three bullet points, according to Doty, noting that they contribute to the problem by donating to state legislators who change the voting rules

In the end companies want to know how they can increase trust among their customers, employees and investors. The taskforce believes that can be accomplished through transparent and accountable participation in society. The framework will help companies develop cross-functional structures with accountability reporting that focuses on their contributions and commitments to the public space.

Over the course of 2022 and 2023, the taskforce expects to double its membership as it refines the framework and grows the program. Eventually, the framework will become available to more businesses, which will also be able to participate in an annual forum.


A strategy and consulting firm that claims its expertise is “creating a healthy democracy,” Impactual traces its lineage to one of of the biggest brands in voter engagement. The agency’s founder and president, Ashley Spillane, ran the MTV-spawned Rock the Vote and has been credited with rebuilding the program at a time when young voters were seeking news ways to get engaged.

Spillane also co-authored a Harvard Kennedy school study on the voter participation initiatives run by eight companies during the 2018 elections. “Civic Responsibility: The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout” found the companies were able to support democracy and improve their businesses without significant financial investment.

Impactual works with philanthropic organizations, corporate brands, influencers and nonprofits, providing a range of services that cover marketing and communications, creative work, program support, philanthropic advising and strategic planning – all with a goal of achieving nonpartisan civic engagement.

Clients have included Uber, YouTube, Converse and Viacom as well as philanthropic organizations like Democracy Fund and the James Beard Foundation.

Impactual “helps figure out how brands touch consumers and how to build a brand that is authentic,” according to Juiette Boberg, a senior director at the firm. And for companies that need crisis communication support when an issue of corporate civic responsibility arises, Impactual does it in “a more organized, pre-planned way.”

The firm’s past projects include:

  • Helping MTV Entertainment Group successfully run a program encouraging people to vote early, recruiting polls workers and explaining the election progress through creative digital content and in-person events.
  • Working with Uber to create election tools available within the ridesharing company’s app. By adding on email and social media elements, Uber reached tens of millions of people.

Additional Resources

The Dialogue Project

Housed at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, The Dialogue Project produced a report in 2021 on ways the business community can help improve civil discourse and reduce polarization. Researchers prepared case studies, conducted interviews with CEOs and other business leaders, and utilized quantitative data from Morning Consult in preparing the report, which contained some eye-opening results.

They found that more than half of Americans said the inability of people to have respectful dialogue with someone who has opposing views is a major problem. And the hardest issues to discuss are politics, race/ethnicity, immigration, gun laws and sexual orientation – and those are also the hardest issues on which to find common ground, according to the research.

But nearly 80 percent said people “need to be more respectful when talking to people who do not agree with them.” And that’s where the Dialogue Project’s recommendations come in. The people running the program developed eight principles that companies should follow if they want to be part of the solution:

  1. Commitment starts from the top: listen and be accountable.
  2. Listen to understand, not win.
  3. Encourage and reward/acknowledge compromise.
  4. Value diverse points of view and make space for new ideas.
  5. Build and have empathy.
  6. Rely on facts instead of emotion.
  7. Ensure everyone feels heard.
  8. Start at the root of the problem.

Among the corporate leaders who have contributed their expertise to The Dialogue Project: Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Antonio Neri, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Walmart Inc. CEO Doug McMillon.

Traditional Crisis Communications 

The Common Ground Committee recognizes that some corporate leaders may still require traditional resources to support public relations campaigns, either because they are more comfortable with more established firms or need to respond to stakeholder demands.

These firms have not been vetted by CGC, nor do we recommend any of them. Each company should conduct any research necessary before hiring consultants.

Training Resources

Often, one piece of a corporate responsibility plan will include providing training opportunities for employees and other stakeholders. A number of organizations offer a range of services to teach people to engage in civil dialogue and how to find ways to bridge differences. The Common Ground Committee has no formal relationship with any of these organizations but offers them as a starting point. Companies interested in such services should fully research these and other options.

Mediation Resources

Sometimes, training isn’t enough and additional resources are needed to resolve conflicts – conflicts that can be detrimental to business goals. These organizations offer mediation resources, but, again, they are not recommended by Common Ground – merely provided as a starting point for research and vetting.


Corporate leaders interested in pursuing these (or other) options should take proper steps to determine what approaches best fits the business. The first step should be to determine the corporation’s values and needs? Do you need a way to support employees’ ability to vote? Do you want to become a prominent support of a healthy democracy? Do you need to be better prepared for possible criticisms for your stance on divisive political issues? Your mission, vision and values statements should help you determine what is needed.

While the Common Ground Committee does not endorse any specific solutions or solution providers, we believe this document offers a starting point for you to determine the best path forward. Inevitably, your employees, customers or shareholders are going to demand something more. These resources can help you address those concerns before they are even raised.

Common Ground Committee recommends that business decision makers move out of a defensive position and get in front of the effects resulting from polarization. Common Ground Committee can advise your company on understanding polarization, navigating resources and finding a more proactive posture to help depolarize a business environment, a community and the country.