The Logical Path to End Corruption
Wolf-PAC’s Plan to Use the Constitution
Written by Alison Hartson, Co-National Director with Wolf-PAC
I used to tell my students that my #1 goal for them was not to memorize any one author or event from the stories we analyzed or the history we studied, but for them to learn to be critical thinkers. A big part of critical thinking is being genuinely open-minded to all sides of an argument. Know your own biases; know others’. Read and listen to information, especially that with which you disagree, and do so with compassion. Then, based on all of that information, come to your own conclusion.
That is how I decided to put my career on hold as a highschool teacher and instead work with a political organization, Wolf-PAC, that is using what I view as a necessary strategy to solve the most pressing issue of our time: the disproportional influence of money on our political system. Look no further than this last presidential election, where both sides ran their campaign platform on this issue, to see how cross-partisan it is. They used different catch-phrases, “getting big money out of politics” or “draining the swamp,” but they were both talking about the same thing — the corruption happening in D.C. where good people run for office and then get consumed by a system that has been largely left unchecked and unaccountable to we the people.
Research proves what we have all been sensing for a long time: the root cause of so many of the problems that exist in our country (environment, education, healthcare, economy, freedom, privacy) is the way in which money is able to buy access and, therefore, disproportionately influence policy makers in America.1 Despite the writing on the wall, I do not believe that it’s too late, but I do believe that we must do every single thing in our power, right now, to correct this trajectory while we still can, or else the centuries-old experiment of democracy in America could fail. It is that serious, which is precisely why I made the difficult decision to upend my life as a highschool teacher and work on this plan full time.
Wolf-PAC has one goal: to get an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will reverse the damage that has been done by the U.S. Supreme Court around campaign finance reform. The solution to this problem is an Amendment because the U.S. Constitution is the only authority above the High Court. Anything less is a bandaid, and I refuse to leave this growing problem to future generations.
An Amendment that addresses campaign finance reform is not a silver bullet. Few things in life are, but it is an extremely important step to moving our country in the direction it needs to go — towards elections that are free of the corrupting influence of money in our political system and fair enough that any citizen can run for office, not just millionaires and their allies. I want to live in a country where elected officials work to please their voters, not their donors; where candidates are encouraged to discuss the merits of their ideas, not the talking points given to them by special interests.
There are only two ways to propose a U.S. Constitutional Amendment, as stated in Article V of the U.S. Constitution:
- ⅔ of each house of Congress can vote to propose an amendment, or
- ⅔ of the states (34 states) can pass a resolution that calls for a national convention to propose an amendment.
Article V also states that either way the amendment is proposed, whether by Congress or a convention, it then goes back to the states for approval (aka “ratification”). The ratification stage requires ¾ of the states, 38 states, to vote in support of an amendment before it becomes part of the Constitution, ensuring that it must have broad public support from the American people.
It is well known that all 27 of our U.S. Constitutional Amendments were proposed by Congress. What is not as well-known is that more than half of those Amendments were initiated by calls for an Article V Convention, including the Bill of Rights. History shows us that pressure from the states is an important and effective check against the federal government. It is essential that we learn from history, and the most popular example of this strategy working effectively is the 17th amendment. When Congress refused to change the way they were elected, the states began applying for an Article V Convention for the specific purpose of the direct election of senators. When they got within a couple of states of the ⅔ needed to force a convention on the subject, Congress decided to act and proposed the amendment out to the states for ratification.
With history as its guide, Wolf-PAC was formed to achieve its goal of getting a Free and Fair Elections Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 2014 our volunteers worked with state legislators to pass binding resolutions in three states that call for an Article V Convention to propose an amendment dealing with the issue of campaign finance reform, and in just one year we had opposition working behind the scenes to stop us. Since then, we have passed our resolution in two more states, but as of just last week, that same opposition is now working overtime to rescind our resolutions and erase the hard work of all our volunteers and the state legislators who have fought to get big money out of politics. And the opposition may not be who you would think.
Common Cause, a political organization founded in 1970, says that one of its main issues is to end the corrupting influence of big money in our political system through a U.S. Constitutional Amendment. They send petitions and fundraising mailers with these claims. At the same time, they use their resources to send lobbyists into the states we work in with our volunteers in order to stop our legislation. We have spent the last couple of years trying to reason with them, asking them to at least not fight us. Not only have they refused to do this, but they have amped up their attack on Wolf-PAC. We reached out again recently but to no avail, so now we are letting you know because we want to be sure that the American public at least hears both sides of the argument and makes an informed decision based on facts, not conjecture.
Apparently Common Cause has found common cause with an extremist right-wing conspiracy theorist group, The John Birch Society. Co-founded in 1958 by the Koch brothers father, Fred Koch, The John Birch Society was denounced by the Republican National Committee as early as 1965. They are notorious for their conspiracy propaganda, including communist accusations against President Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Civil Rights Movement. Their fears of the fluoridation of water as a communist plot were the inspiration behind the madman who destroyed the world in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.” As reported by Lisa Graves, the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, Fred’s son Charles Koch used his wealth to fund a bookstore in Wichita, Kansas (Koch Industries headquarters) that was stocked with John Birch Society conspiracy theory material.
The John Birch Society is also the group that started the conspiracy theory around the Article V Convention. Their propaganda centers around what they call a “runaway convention.” In the 1960’s, a movement was underway for a limited Article V Convention to address the Supreme Court case Reynolds v. Sims which ruled that legislative districts must have generally equal populations within each chamber of the legislatures of each state. Prior to that case, many states had one house that was wildly disproportionate, like the Senate at the federal level. In the age before the internet, a covert lobbying effort led to 33 states to call for an Article V Convention on this issue in only about 5 years. In order to quickly stop this amendment from being proposed, many otherwise credible people on both the political left and right adopted the John Birch Society conspiratorial propaganda. Rather than arguing the merits of the amendment, they simply spread fear about the path of a limited Article V Convention. That tactic has continued to be used by the John Birch Society, and now by Common Cause. On January 25, 2016, The John Birch Society published an article calling on states to rescind their Article V Convention applications. Common Cause is now doing the same.
What Common Cause and the John Birch Society claim is that a convention can’t be limited to a single issue, despite the mounds of evidence provided by scholars to disprove that hypothesis. What opponents tend to leave out of their argument is the fact that the Constitution cannot, under any circumstances, be changed or amended at a convention called under Article V. When people use the term “constitutional convention,” “con con,” or “runaway convention”; when they warn that the sky is falling and a convention will take away our 2nd amendment rights, gut social security or Medicaid, or reinstitute slavery (yes, they actually make this obviously outrageous, and downright offensive, claim with a straight face), what they appear to imply is that the convention can not only propose amendments, but also ratify them.
When their runaway hypothesis is countered with the ratification check against any proposed amendment, they will claim that the convention can simply lower the ratification threshold. That is factually not true. Article V states clearly that ¾ of the states must ratify any amendment proposed by Congress or a convention. Changing the ratification threshold would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would require 75% of the states to approve of lowering the ratification threshold before being able to lower it. This is not debatable, and is so plainly wrong upon a simple reading of the constitution that it makes one wonder if you can trust anything they say. It is fear-mongering and demagoguery run amok.
The runaway convention hypothesis has been debunked by “the majority of scholars who have taken up the question,” as reported by the Department of Justice.2 The Attorney General of the United States under the Carter Administration, Griffin Bell, agrees: “I think the convention can be limited. The fact is that the majority of the scholars in America share my view.”3
As mentioned, I do my best to remain open to all sides of a debate, and in doing so what I can gather of the vast scholarly work that has been done on this topic is that the experts almost uniformly agree that a runaway theory is unfounded. I have yet to see any evidence to support the opposition’s position. What I do see is a lot of speculation and fear-mongering. Speculation itself does not bother me. I for one enjoy a good philosophical conversation, and asking questions is critical, but in the face of mounds of contrary evidence, this gives me pause. Fear-based arguments without sufficient evidence to back them up is not intended to get us to make rational decisions; it’s intended to scare us into inaction.
Opponents to an Article V Convention would like for us to be terrified of using the Constitution to guide our country towards real change. Instead they ask us to support the status quo by relying on Congress to fix itself. Does anyone really believe they are going to do this? This is an illusory path meant to placate us.
We reject this path of stagnation and inaction. We don’t act out of fear; we lead with courage. This system must be fixed. Corruption must be uprooted. And we must work together to create real change and bring back democracy.
Wherever you fit on the political spectrum, from right to left and everything in between, you likely understand how important and urgent it is that we correct the abusive, corrupting nature of money in our political system. I just hope that you also understand how much of an impact your voice and your actions can have on the future of our country and our world.
Wolf-PAC is made up of people from all walks of life: engineers, military veterans, doctors, accountants, farmers, students, lawyers, scientists, mechanics, office managers, and teachers like me. We have all chosen to embark on this necessary journey towards a government where our elected officials represent our values so that we can then begin to fix all of the other pressing issues we hold dearest to our hearts. Let’s work together and use the tools of democracy we have at our fingertips to get us there.
For more on this topic: The Honest Path to Save Democracy
Update April 20, 2017: Thanks to a reader for pointing this out to me, I added “as a communist plot” in paragraph 11 to clarify that is what the John Birch Society was claiming.
1 Gilens, Martin & Page, Benjamin I. (2014, September). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), 569.
2 Meese III, Edwin (1987, September 10). Limited Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the United States Constitution. The Department of Justice, 4.
3 Meese III, Edwin (1987, September 10). Limited Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the United States Constitution. The Department of Justice, Appendix iv.