12 Comments

  1. Dan Rink

    Your post is very astute with much needed advice. Most political observers have concluded that a Constitutional amendment is nearly impossible for the foreseeable future given the gerrymandered states and the polarized parties. In my opinion, we cannot wait for an amendment, nor can we afford to invest all of our reform energies in this one strategy. There are many other ways to counter or at least minimize the damage from Citizens United and related decisions in the short term. Our target for a coherent and comprehensive reform package should be the 2020 elections, with perhaps a trial run of some of the proposed reforms in the 2018 mid-term elections. We need to think through and pursue multiple approaches. The upcoming National Citizen Leadership Conference, 30 Sept – 2 Oct, would be an ideal venue to launch a broader reform movement.

    • Paul Westlake Paul Westlake

      Thank you, Dan. I’m in favor of an all-of-the-above approach, as long as it’s accompanied by a transpartisan national strategy, which is currently lacking. The intimate nature of local politics–neighbors talking to neighbors–makes it easier to frame local initiatives, like the anti-corruption ordinances advocated by Represent.us, as transpartisan. I think it’s much harder to make that case when the only states to have passed applications for a convention to address Citizens United are reliably blue. 75 percent of voters may agree with some kind of remedy to Citizens United, et al, but the issue isn’t enough, in itself, to make party loyalists switch their votes.

      Right now, Republicans are able to fundraise on the charge that Citizens United championed free speech and a new amendment would destroy the First Amendment because that argument fits the anti-Democratic party rhetoric they’ve been using for decades. We have to be smart about helping not just to elect pro-amendment Dems, but pro-amendment Republicans. We have to win this in the primaries for both state and federal legislative offices, in both parties.

      We need to recalibrate our approach after every election. But, even if Dems keep the White House and retake the Senate this year, it won’t change the calculus for us by all that much. The next big calibration will come with redistricting after the 2020 census. Everyone needs to keep an eye on that ball this time around.

      Nice hearing you on the NCLC conference call tonight. I’m looking forward to digging into this stuff with people from all across the country and the movement this fall.

      pw


  2. Great article, Paul. With regard to the counting the calls for a convention, the U.S. House has already started counting them: http://clerk.house.gov/legislative/memorials.aspx

    The calls are being counted irrespective of subject, so calls to undo Citizens United are being lumped in with calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment. And they’re already up to 29 states! Since there are over 700 applications in existence, the House could count another 5 states anytime they want. So, at the moment, if the Republicans want to call a convention, the only thing that could stop them is a filibuster in the Senate.


    • Sorry, my numbers are wrong. I wasn’t counting states that have rescinded applications. The correct count is 20 down, 14 to go: http://wiuta.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Application-Count.jpg

    • Bob Sarafconn

      Jim, can you clarify/document “the US House has already started counting them”? Your link is to a page on which various convention calls have been published (most if not all of which specify the purpose of the convention being called for). The House Rule referenced only calls for applications to be publicly available, not for them to be validated, categorized, or counted, and the letter from the Judiciary Chair attached to each application does no more than transmit it to the Clerk to be published. Do you see anyplace where the House (or the Judiciary Committee, or even a subcommittee) indicates that applications on different subjects are being counted together toward the 38 required?

    • Paul Westlake Paul Westlake

      Thanks, Jim. You’re right that the GOP could pretty much do it whenever they want. But they’re not as close as you might think. As Bob Sarafconn correctly points out, the task for the House Clerk is nothing more than making the applications they’ve received public, authorized in a short addition made to the House Rules at the beginning of this session. It’s not actually an official count, something that would need to be authorized under a joint resolution by both chambers, which hasn’t happened. But you’re essentially correct that only a filibuster could stand in the way if the GOP decided to push a resolution through the Congress.

      pw


  3. With global temperatures more than halfway to a tipping point of no return, and Congress paralyzed by partisan bickering, the risks of an Article V amendment convention must be weighed against the risks of climate chaos. Ben Franklin famously said, “We hang together or we hang separately.” If we cannot come together in the face of the overwhelming threat of climate change to repair our political system in time to bring about a rapid transition to a clean-energy economy, we’ll surely and deservedly “hang separately.”

    • Paul Westlake Paul Westlake

      I think the point that keeps getting lost in the drive for an Article V Convention is that tallying the applications for one, and the call to create one, are at the sole discretion of the U.S. Congress. The only advantage of a joint resolution setting out rules for tallying convention applications is that it requires only a simple majority vote to pass, whereas an amendment proposal emanating from Congress requires a two-thirds majority. But since both methods are still vulnerable to a Senate filibuster, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

      The real work is still in convincing enough voters to make it a campaign issue in the primaries at both the state and federal level. Only when elected officials think their jobs are truly on the line will we see the kind of momentum we need to overcome the arithmetic and get a proposal out to the states. Climate change is a real life-and-death emergency on a global scale. I don’t think pursuing an ad hoc convention application strategy in blue states makes it any more likely that climate change will be addressed any faster. On the contrary, it might very well make this process take even longer.

      pw


  4. Six years have passed since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision legalized political bribery. Members of Congress, beholden to the oligarchs who fund their increasingly expensive political campaigns, have not proposed a constitutional amendment to fix our broken democracy, despite resolutions from 17 states calling on them to do so. Patriotism is turning into cynicism as government of, by and for the people increasingly serves only the interests of a tiny but all-powerful economic elite. As Donald Trump pointed out in a Republican primary debate, major donors expect something in return when they make contributions to political candidates.

    In 1775 the colonists risked hanging for rebelling against King George and monopolization of their economy by the British East India Company. Freedom from oppression was more important to them than life itself.

    We fought a terrible Civil War to end the oppression of slavery. In his immortal Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln expressed his hope that government of, by and for the people would never perish.

    Progressives led by trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt passed the Tillman Act in 1907 to prohibit monetary contributions to national political campaigns by corporations, which ended the domination of Congress and oppression of the people by so-called robber barons during the Gilded Age. That was soon followed by ratification of the 17th Amendment, which provided for direct election of senators, who then had to begin taking the interests of their constituents seriously.

    Unregulated stock market speculation in the Roaring Twenties led to the Great Depression. FDR’s New Deal provided FDIC, unemployment insurance, and social security, stabilizing the business cycle for the next 50 years. The burgeoning middle class drove a consumer-based economy to a level of prosperity never before seen in history. We the People asserted our sovereignty by demanding civil rights, a cleaner environment, and an end to a pointless war.

    However, in 1976 the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision found that limits on campaign spending were an unconstitutional infringement of First Amendment free speech. This allowed economic elites to regain the upper hand through outsized political campaign contributions. The marginal tax rate for the super-rich plummeted from 90% during the Eisenhower years to less than 40%, and the capital gains tax dropped to a mere 15%. Billionaire Warren Buffet’s secretary now pays taxes at a higher rate than he does. Dwindling financial resources of the beleaguered middle class threatens the stability of our consumer-based economy, as evidenced by the Great Recession of 2008-9, when millions of Americans lost their homes.

    Faced with economic instability and the threat of catastrophic climate change, now more than ever we need government that serves the people, as envisioned by great Americans from James Madison to Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt. We desperately need to end corporate domination of our political system by establishing that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Article V is the only effective tool we have to amend the Constitution to restore government of, by and for the people. We should use it.

    • John Blumenstiel

      Mr. Westlake’s article certainly lays out many concerns re: the Article V convention strategy, but unless I overlooked something, I did not see what the alternative
      being proposed is. For every democracy movement ever launched, there have been those who felt the time, conditions, resources,etc were not yet right. I have no doubt but that Mr. Westlake’s concerns are deep and well intentioned, but to me the issue is: the longer one waits for the right time, the more freedoms we lose and the more consolidated the power of the elites become, the “right time” down the road may never come and if it does it will be an even more uphill battle. The time is now and we must begin to think, plan and act strategically to regain our rights and the push for an Article V convention is one tool to organize and educate around.
      John Blumenstiel

      • Paul Westlake Paul Westlake

        John,

        One alternative to what’s happening right now is a coordinated national strategy that puts a premium on getting convention applications out of non-blue states. Montana seems like the perfect place to start, given the way the electorate has responded to Supreme Court meddling in recent years. If we get Montana to pass an application for a convention on overturning Citizens United, perhaps other red, or at least purplish, states could be encouraged to follow. Maybe a Virginia or Missouri or New Hampshire or Maine. We get a few, then we have a the beginnings of a real phenomenon. But right now, all I see is blue states on the convention path, and that only feeds into the anti-amendment narrative.

        Another alternative is to simply work to get Congress to pass a proposal in both chambers and send it out to the states for approval. But in either case, the groundwork is still the priority. We still need to connect the dots for voters, mobilize support, raise enough money to compete with paid media and earn enough clout to compete with earned media. I built this website because I think the time to work on this issue is now, not because I want to wait. But I want a smart strategy that gives us a chance of actually winning. Making ourselves feel good about getting out there and doing something is fine but if it isn’t contributing to a winning strategy, it’s just self-indulgence.

        pw

  5. Paul Lauenstein

    As the Amendment Gazette correctly points out, the amendment proposals that have been filed in Congress are inadequate. I would trust a convention of state delegates with no financial stake in the outcome to propose a good amendment more than I would trust Congress.

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