Florida Common Cause lays off its staff as funding dries up

One of Florida's longest-running watchdog groups is virtually shutting down at the end of the month amid a cut in funding.

Common Cause Florida's only two paid employees have been laid off as part of a larger downsizing, announced late last week, of about 20 positions across the country.

With the motto ''holding power accountable,'' nationwide Common Cause has fought for ethics and accountability at all levels of government.

In Florida since 1974, Common Cause fought for bringing back paper voting ballots, the restoration of voting rights for felons and the lobbyist gift ban.

Longtime executive director Ben Wilcox, based in Tallahassee, finds himself out of a job at a time when other watchdogs -- including newspapers -- are cutting back.

''That poses a danger for the ability to act as a watchdog over the public's interest in the Legislature and the political process,'' he said.

Nationally, Common Cause's budget for this fiscal year is about $13 million. But a few months ago, Common Cause realized revenue was falling short and ultimately made about $2 million in cuts through furloughs, salary reductions, and layoffs, said spokeswoman Mary Boyle.

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