Massachusetts resolution S-379 will help to get big money out of politics and save representative democracy, if we can get out of our own way.
“And for liberals who fear what might come of a right-leaning convention, trying to block it may not be enough. It could be time to start building a viable convention movement of their own.”
Anyone who agrees with this curiously brilliant message from David Scharfenberg should support S 379, currently before the Massachusetts House Elections Committee. It calls for a Convention to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end the corrupting influence of big money in politics.
Wolf-PAC has gotten similar calls through five states so far. While this is an issue strongly supported by liberals, it is a mistake to call it a liberal issue, as it is the only issue that polls well enough across the political spectrum, ranging from the high 80’s up to 95%, to achieve the very high threshold needed to be ratified by the States.
Unfortunately, Mr. Scharfenberg’s statement of support for Wolf-PAC’s goal was buried at the end of his Boston Globe Ideas Section article on Sunday, which was otherwise riddled with basic errors in Constitutional law and filled with decades-old fear mongering talking points designed to kill such efforts. Reached for comment, Mr. Sharfenberg said the timing of the article had nothing to do with the resolution currently before the Massachusetts legislature. Boston Globe policy does not permit a proper response from Wolf-PAC.
Like many op-eds, Mr. Scharfenberg’s article is far from unique in the echo chamber of newspaper opinion pages. No serious legal scholar who has actually cited sources in a peer reviewed law journal has supported such a string of ludicrous claims. But most people don’t read James Madison’s 1830 treatise on the Constitution or Thomas Neale’s contemporary reports for the Congressional Research Service (1, 2, and 3) or the centuries of scholarly work in between. They read the opinion pages they find on Google and Facebook. That’s why groups opposing Wolf-PAC have worked hard to ensure that opinion writers like Mr. Scharfenberg hear these lies from sources they trust, who heard it from sources they trust and so on. This stems back nearly 40 years.
There have always been a handful of fringe ideas about every aspect of the Constitution, but fear mongering over the Article V Convention process began in earnest in a 1979 Senate committee hearing. Prior to that, Convention calls had been an important part of the Progressive Era, used most notably to force an incalcitrant Senate to propose the 17th Amendment, granting the people the power of direct election of those Senators. But that was decades earlier, and by the 1960’s and 1970’s, multiple strong conservative Article V Convention efforts culminated in the Balanced Budget Amendment campaign.
On the right, opposition included the extreme conspiracy theory organization known as the John Birch Society, on whom Stanley Kubrick based the villain in his film Dr. Strangelove. They opposed the Amendment because it would require taxes to be raised in order to meet the high current spending threshold. Additionally, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, more infamous for killing the Equal Rights Amendment, joined in opposition to amending the Constitution in general. These two groups worked with groups on the left, most notably Common Cause, but also the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, and the League of Women Voters, all of whom opposed a Balanced Budget Amendment.
Many of these groups also do great work, but they have been regurgitating the same narrative for so long that by now few people at these organizations have any idea that they were lies from the very start. Common Cause claims that ending the corrupting influence of money in politics is their primary goal, just like Wolf-PAC. Yet, they have been our biggest opponent, fighting against our efforts at every turn, right along side their old partner the John Birch Society.
By the early 1980’s the Orwellian “Citizens to Protect the Constitution” (CPC) formed as a coalition with all of these groups from the John Birch Society to Common Cause as partners. CPC was founded by Linda Rogers-Kingsbury, the Chief Clerk and Deputy Staff Director of the committee at the 1979 Senate hearing. While both the John Birch Society and the AFL-CIO issued official statements in support of the group, for the most part the CPC coalition worked under the radar. Most of the member organizations advocated in their own name rather than openly admitting to their partnership. But they all repeated the same fringe ideas so often that everyone assumed they must be true.
A comprehensive report by the American Bar Association in 1973 disputed arguments later made by CPC. Similar reports by the Department of Justice under both Presidents Carter and Reagan agreed. Contemporary legal scholars who have devoted their careers to this issue, like Rob Natelson on the right and Lawrence Lessig on the left, all agree. Indeed, everyone who has looked at the issue outside of a political context, or has gone back to a comprehensive analysis of credible primary sources, has agreed that the CPC talking points are flat wrong.
Today, 35 States, 1 more than the 2/3 needed to call a Convention, have active applications that have been officially counted by Congress. But, they are on different issues and so they cannot be counted together. They are literally in separate piles. Adding more convention calls to Wolf-PAC’s pile has no impact on the piles of calls for other issues. Despite lofty projections by some organizations, no campaign is imminently close and only the issue of free and fair elections has the overwhelming majority needed across the political spectrum to get the 75% of the nation necessary to actually amend the U.S. Constitution. We should be adding to our pile to match public opinion. It’s time to fight for what we believe in.
Call your Massachusetts State Senator and State Representative and tell them to Support S. 379. In other States, call your State legislators to support the Wolf-PAC resolution where you live and join the fight at wolf-pac.com.