Power, Politics, and the People
Navigating the Complex Landscape of Modern American Governance, Part 4
Movements for Constitutional Conventions: A Historical Perspective
Since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the amendment process has primarily been driven by the Congressional Proposal Method. This method has been used for all 27 amendments to the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention Method, on the other hand, has never been successfully used to amend the Constitution. While there have been calls and movements advocating for a convention at various times in history, none have reached the threshold of two-thirds of state legislatures required to convene such a convention. As a result, the Constitutional Convention Method remains an untested avenue for amending the U.S. Constitution.
Throughout American history, there have been several notable movements advocating for a Constitutional Convention, each reflecting the societal and political concerns of their respective eras. These movements, however, have faced significant challenges and complexities, ultimately failing to convene a convention.
During the Progressive Era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were calls for a convention to address issues like women's suffrage, election reforms, and labor rights. These issues, however, were eventually addressed through the regular amendment process or legislative actions, negating the need for a convention.
In the 1960s and 1970s, momentum built for a convention to propose an amendment for the direct election of the President, aiming to replace the Electoral College. This initiative gained some traction but did not lead to a convention.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a significant movement for a Balanced Budget Amendment. This effort came close to the required threshold of states but ultimately fell short. Similarly, the 1990s witnessed a push for term limits on Congress following the Republican gains in the midterm elections. This too gained support but did not reach the necessary number of states.
In the 21st century, the focus shifted to campaign finance reform, particularly following the Citizens United v. FEC decision. This recent movement seeks to limit the influence of money in politics, but like its predecessors, it has yet to successfully lead to a Constitutional Convention.
Public Involvement and Federal Response
The failure of these movements can be attributed to several core reasons. The high threshold for state approval, requiring the consent of two-thirds of state legislatures, poses a significant challenge. The fear of a "runaway convention," potentially altering significant parts of the Constitution in unforeseen ways, creates hesitancy. Many issues prompting calls for a convention were resolved through other means, such as amendments or legislation. The deeply divided political landscape, along with the lack of a unified, organized movement, further complicates the process. Additionally, shifts in public and political priorities over time lead to a loss of momentum for these efforts.
The movement for a Balanced Budget Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s represents the closest any effort has come to convening a Constitutional Convention. Gaining considerable momentum, it saw 32 states passing resolutions in favor of a convention. However, by the mid-1980s, several states rescinded their calls, and the national political climate shifted, leading to a loss of momentum and support. The fear of a "runaway convention" and the complexities of managing the federal budget also contributed to the decline in support. Consequently, the movement did not reach the necessary threshold, and a convention was never convened for this purpose.
These historical attempts at convening a Constitutional Convention illustrate the dynamic nature of constitutional discourse in the United States and the significant challenges involved in organizing such a convention. The public's involvement in movements for a Constitutional Convention in the United States has varied across different eras and issues. During the Progressive Era, there was significant grassroots participation in advocating for women's suffrage and labor rights, marked by rallies and active campaigning.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the movement for the direct election of the President garnered public debate but lacked widespread grassroots mobilization. The push for a Balanced Budget Amendment in the 1980s and 1990s resonated with conservative and fiscal responsibility groups, though it didn't engage the broader public in active advocacy.
The 1990s movement for Congressional term limits saw public support, reflecting anti-corruption sentiments, but this support was more passive. In the 21st century, the campaign finance reform movement, especially after the Citizens United decision, has witnessed a mix of advocacy groups, grassroots movements, and individual activists pushing for change, tapping into public concern over the influence of money in politics. Overall, public engagement in these movements has been influenced by specific issues, the effectiveness of advocacy groups, and the broader political and social context of the time.
Overall, these movements have varied in their direct impact on federal policy. Some, like the women's suffrage movement, directly led to constitutional amendments, while others influenced the national conversation and policy debates, even if they did not achieve their primary goal of convening a Constitutional Convention.
The pressure created by these movements often reflects broader societal concerns and can lead to legislative and policy changes, even if it falls short of amending the Constitution.
What are our Choices?
Over the past year, my focus has been on local involvement, and in this journey, I've encountered numerous theories and proposed processes for change. Among these, one particular approach stands out as a viable option. This approach is not only rooted in the Constitution, but it also embodies grassroots, bottom-up initiative. When we consider our alternatives, what other viable paths do we have? Can we realistically expect Congress to initiate a convention for substantial reforms?
Or is it more plausible that such a convention would emerge from a grassroots movement driven by state legislators? I firmly believe that the impetus for change must originate from the grassroots level.
However, it's crucial that any such convention focuses on issues that truly matter to us, the people. It's not just about convening; it's about ensuring that the agenda of this convention aligns with the needs and aspirations of the citizenry.
I am not an advocate for extreme measures like martial law, as some theories propose. I don't wish to see our president's authority undermined, regardless of my personal voting choices. Secret tribunals and military interventions are not the solutions I seek.
This grassroots approach offers a path forward that aligns with our constitutional principles and doesn't disrupt the essential work of local action, which remains a cornerstone of our democratic process. Let's take a closer look at where this process currently stands and how it might unfold.
The Convention of States Project officially began in 2013. It was launched as a response to what its founders perceived as a long-term expansion of federal power and overreach. The Convention of States Project is an initiative aimed at proposing constitutional amendments through a convention as outlined in Article V of the U.S. Constitution. This process necessitates two-thirds (34) of state legislatures applying for a convention to propose amendments, which must then receive ratification from three-quarters (38) of the states.
The project was established to address perceived systemic issues with the federal government by proposing constitutional amendments. These amendments seek to clarify the original meaning of certain constitutional phrases and effectively overturn Supreme Court precedents thought to have expanded federal power beyond its intended limits.
Article V of the Constitution permits the proposal of amendments either by Congress or a convention calling upon the application of two-thirds of the state legislatures. Regardless of the proposal method, amendments require ratification by three-quarters of the states. As of the latest information, fifteen states have passed the Convention of States Project’s application, including Florida, Georgia, Alaska, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, and Mississippi. The application has seen introduction in 49 states over the past three years, with several states passing it in one legislative chamber.
In September 2016, Citizens for Self-Governance, the parent organization of the Convention of States Project, hosted a simulated Article V Convention with participants from all 50 states, showcasing the feasibility and safety of the Article V convention process.
The project has received substantial support from public figures, legislators, legal experts, and a strong grassroots movement, evident in social media and widespread petitioning. The proposed amendments include fiscal restraints on the federal government, limits on the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, term limits for federal officials and Congress members, and other measures to reinforce the original intent of constitutional clauses.
To address concerns about a potential “runaway convention,” the project emphasizes procedural safeguards, such as defining the scope of authority through the triggering applications and allowing state legislatures to recall delegates who exceed their mandate.
Overall, the Convention of States Project signifies a notable effort to use Article V of the Constitution for proposing amendments aimed at limiting federal power and clarifying constitutional interpretations. It represents a strategic utilization of constitutional mechanisms by states and grassroots movements to impact the structure and functioning of federal governance.
The key issues outlined in the "Convention for Proposing Amendments - Proposed Rules" document, reflecting the priorities of the Convention of States movement, are:
Fiscal Restraints on the Federal Government: This involves proposals to impose fiscal limitations on federal spending and debt. The goal is to create amendments that would enforce budgetary discipline and reduce the federal government's fiscal overreach.
Limiting the Power and Jurisdiction of the Federal Government: This aspect focuses on amendments aimed at clearly defining and potentially reducing the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. The objective is to ensure that federal powers remain within the bounds originally intended by the Constitution.
Term Limits for Federal Officials and Congress Members: The proposal for term limits targets long-serving members of Congress and possibly other federal officials. The aim is to foster political accountability and reduce the concentration of power among a small group of long-term incumbents.
Again, I want to emphasize that embracing the Convention of States Project doesn't negate our local responsibilities to engage and contribute to our communities. Having examined various approaches, I firmly believe that this method is the most aligned with constitutional principles. It stands out as not only the most rapid but also the most congruent with the local initiatives we are undertaking in our communities. Yet, I propose that we consider broadening the scope of topics in the amendment process. My suggestion for additional topics is as follows.
Click on the link above, Scroll down to the map, select your state and sigh the petition.
Addressing the issue of corporate capture through a state-led constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution involves proposing and ratifying amendments that specifically target the influence of corporate power in government. Here are some potential solutions that could be considered in such a convention:
Campaign Finance Reform Amendment: This amendment would aim to limit the influence of corporate money in political campaigns. It could include provisions for public funding of campaigns, strict limits on corporate donations, and transparency requirements for political contributions and spending. The goal would be to reduce the impact of corporate financial power on elections and policy-making.
Lobbying Reform Amendment: This amendment would seek to regulate and limit the lobbying activities of corporations. It could establish stricter rules for lobbyists, including longer waiting periods for former government officials to become lobbyists, and more transparent disclosure of lobbying activities and expenditures. The aim would be to reduce the undue influence of corporate lobbyists on legislation and policy.
Corporate Person-hood Amendment: This amendment would address the legal doctrine of corporate person-hood, which grants corporations some of the same legal rights as individuals. It could clarify the extent and limitations of these rights, potentially reversing or modifying the effects of decisions like Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed for increased corporate spending in politics.
Regulatory Capture Prevention Amendment: This amendment would focus on preventing corporations from exerting undue influence over regulatory agencies. It could include measures to ensure the independence of regulatory bodies, such as fixed terms for agency heads, restrictions on the revolving door between corporations and regulatory agencies, and requirements for public and transparent regulatory processes.
Economic Fairness and Anti-Monopoly Amendment: This amendment would aim to promote economic fairness and competition. It could include provisions to strengthen antitrust laws, prevent monopolistic practices, and ensure fair competition. This would help to limit the power of large corporations to dominate markets and influence government policy to their advantage.
In response to the evolving political and social landscape of our nation, I propose a series of constitutional amendments. These amendments are not definitive solutions, but rather thoughtful suggestions aimed at addressing some of the critical issues we face today. They reflect a deep consideration of our current challenges and are presented with the intent to spark constructive dialogue and potential action.
Draft Amendment: Election Reform Amendment
Article [X] - Election Reform Amendment
Section 1. In all elections for federal offices, including but not limited to the President, Vice President, and members of Congress, the following procedures shall be uniformly applied in every state and territory of the United States:
(a) Voting Method: All voting shall be conducted using paper ballots. Each ballot must be clearly legible and allow voters to mark their choices in a straightforward manner.
(b) Voting Day: All federal elections shall occur on a designated Election Day. Voting shall be conducted on this single day, with no extension or early voting periods, except as provided for absentee and military voters in accordance with federal law.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation:
(a) Standardization of Ballots: Congress shall establish uniform standards for the design and distribution of paper ballots to ensure consistency, security, and ease of use across all voting jurisdictions.
(b) Polling Locations and Hours: Congress shall ensure that sufficient polling locations are available in all voting jurisdictions and that these locations are accessible to all voters. Polling hours shall be uniformly set to provide ample time for all eligible voters to participate.
(c) Counting and Tabulation: The process of counting and tabulating votes shall be conducted publicly and transparently, with provisions for independent oversight and audit.
(d) Voter Identification: To ensure the integrity of the electoral process, voters shall present valid, government-issued identification at the time of voting. Provisions shall be made to ensure that all eligible voters have access to such identification.
Section 3. This amendment shall not be construed to infringe upon the rights of citizens to vote, except as specifically provided herein to ensure the integrity and security of the electoral process.
Section 4. This amendment shall take effect in the first federal election cycle following its ratification.
Draft Amendment for Campaign Finance Reform
Section 1: Congress shall have the power to set and enforce limits on contributions and expenditures made to influence elections for Federal office, including contributions and expenditures from any source, individual or entity.
Section 2: The States shall have the power to set and enforce limits on contributions and expenditures made to influence elections for State and local office, including contributions and expenditures from any source, individual or entity.
Section 3: Congress and the States shall require public disclosure of the sources of all contributions and expenditures made to influence the electoral process at all levels of government. This disclosure shall be timely and accessible to the public.
Section 4: Legal entities, such as corporations, unions, and political action committees, shall not be considered as individuals with the rights of free speech under this amendment in regard to political contributions and expenditures. This section shall not be construed to limit the freedom of the press.
Section 5: Nothing in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, or to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Section 6: Congress and the States shall have the authority to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 7: Public financing options for federal political campaigns shall be established, offering matching funds for small donations, and providing a complete public financing model for candidates who opt-in and agree to certain spending limits.
Section 8: Digital advertising and online platforms involved in political campaigns must adhere to transparency requirements, including the disclosure of funding sources and spending amounts for online political ads.
Section 9: An educational and awareness program shall be established to inform the public and political candidates about the new campaign finance rules, ensuring compliance and fostering an understanding of fair and transparent campaign financing.
Section 10: A periodic review clause mandates a comprehensive review of this amendment every ten years to assess its effectiveness and make necessary adjustments in response to evolving campaign finance practices and technologies.
Draft Amendment for Lobbying Reform
Section 1. Establishment of an Independent Lobbying Regulatory Commission: An Independent Lobbying Regulatory Commission (ILRC) shall be established by Congress. This Commission shall be responsible for the regulation and oversight of all lobbying activities at the federal level. The ILRC shall operate independently of Congress and the Executive, ensuring impartial enforcement of lobbying regulations.
Section 2. Waiting Period for Former Officials: Individuals who have served in federal government positions, including elected and appointed offices, shall be subject to a mandatory waiting period before they can engage in lobbying activities. This waiting period shall be no less than [specified number of years] following the conclusion of their government service.
Section 3. Transparency in Lobbying: All lobbying activities, including direct and indirect lobbying efforts, shall be publicly disclosed. The ILRC shall maintain a comprehensive and publicly accessible database of lobbying activities, including detailed reporting of lobbying expenditures, the issues lobbied on, and the entities involved.
Section 4. Restrictions on Lobbyist Contributions: Lobbyists and lobbying entities shall be prohibited from making campaign contributions to federal candidates or elected officials during active lobbying engagements. This is to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure the integrity of the legislative process.
Section 5. Enforcement and Penalties: The ILRC shall have the authority to enforce the provisions of this amendment. Violations of these lobbying regulations shall result in significant penalties, including fines and potential disqualification from lobbying activities.
Section 6. State-Level Lobbying Regulations: States shall have the authority to enact and enforce similar regulations on lobbying activities within their jurisdiction, in line with the principles established in this amendment.
Section 7. Periodic Review and Adjustment: A periodic review clause mandates a comprehensive review of this amendment every [specified number of years] to assess its effectiveness and make necessary adjustments in response to evolving lobbying practices and technologies.
Draft Amendment for Corporate Person-hood
Section 1. Definition and Scope of Corporate Person-hood: The rights granted to corporations and other artificial entities established under the law shall be distinct and separate from the rights granted to natural persons. This amendment clarifies that corporations do not possess the same constitutional rights as natural persons.
Section 2. Limitations on Political Spending: Corporations and other artificial entities shall not have the right to spend money to influence the electoral process. This includes direct contributions to political campaigns, political parties, or political action committees, as well as independent expenditures in political campaigns.
Section 3. Corporate Speech: While corporations retain the right to free speech in the context of their business operations and communications, this right shall not extend to political campaigning or influencing legislation and public policy.
Section 4. Transparency in Corporate Political Activity: Any political activities that corporations engage in, within the limitations set by this amendment, must be fully transparent. Corporations shall publicly disclose any political activities, including lobbying efforts and contributions to organizations engaged in political advocacy.
Section 5. Enforcement and Penalties: Violations of the provisions set forth in this amendment shall be subject to strict penalties, including fines and potential legal action against the corporate entity and its responsible officers.
Section 6. State and Federal Legislation: Congress and the States shall have the authority to enact legislation to enforce and elaborate upon the provisions of this amendment, ensuring that the political influence of corporations is appropriately limited and regulated.
Section 7. Judicial Review: The judicial interpretations of corporate rights existing prior to this amendment are subject to review and modification in accordance with the principles established herein.
Draft Amendment for Regulatory Capture Prevention
Section 1. Independence of Regulatory Agencies: Regulatory agencies shall operate independently of undue influence from the entities they regulate. This independence is fundamental to ensuring fair and effective regulation in the public interest.
Section 2. Fixed Terms for Agency Heads: Heads of regulatory agencies shall be appointed for fixed terms. These terms shall be staggered to ensure continuity and to prevent undue influence from any single administration or political cycle.
Section 3. Restrictions on the Revolving Door: Strict limitations shall be placed on the movement of individuals between roles in regulatory agencies and positions in the industries they regulate. A mandatory waiting period shall be established for former regulatory officials before they can work in the industries, they previously regulated, and vice versa.
Section 4. Transparency in Regulatory Processes: All regulatory processes shall be conducted with maximum transparency. This includes public disclosure of meetings, agendas, and decisions, as well as public access to comment on proposed regulations.
Section 5. Public Participation in Regulatory Decision-Making: Regulatory agencies shall provide mechanisms for meaningful public participation in the regulatory process, ensuring that the interests of the public are adequately represented and considered.
Section 6. Oversight and Accountability: A system of regular audits and reviews shall be established to monitor the activities of regulatory agencies, ensuring they act in accordance with their mandates and resist undue influence.
Section 7. Enforcement and Penalties: Violations of the provisions of this amendment by individuals or entities shall be subject to significant penalties, including fines, dismissal from public office, and legal action.
Section 8. Legislative Authority: Congress shall have the authority to enact further legislation to support and clarify the provisions of this amendment, ensuring robust prevention of regulatory capture.
Draft Amendment for Economic Fairness and Anti-Monopoly
Section 1. Strengthening Antitrust Laws: Congress shall enact laws to strengthen antitrust regulations, ensuring fair competition and preventing monopolistic practices. These laws shall be designed to promote market diversity and consumer choice.
Section 2. Preventing Monopolistic Practices: Strict measures shall be implemented to prevent corporations from engaging in monopolistic practices that harm competition, consumer rights, and market fairness. This includes but is not limited to price-fixing, market allocation, and anti-competitive mergers.
Section 3. Fair Competition: All entities, regardless of size, shall have the opportunity to compete in a fair and open market. Laws shall be enacted to prevent large corporations from using their market power to unfairly disadvantage smaller competitors.
Section 4. Review and Adjustment of Existing Mergers and Acquisitions: A process shall be established for the review and potential adjustment of past mergers and acquisitions that have led to market concentration and reduced competition.
Section 5. Transparency in Corporate Practices: Corporations shall be required to maintain transparency in their business practices, especially in areas concerning mergers, acquisitions, and market strategies, to ensure they comply with antitrust laws.
Section 6. Protection of Consumer Rights: Consumer rights shall be explicitly protected, ensuring that consumers are not subjected to unfair practices, price exploitation, or reduced quality of goods and services due to lack of competition.
Section 7. Enforcement and Penalties: Violations of antitrust laws and principles of fair competition shall be met with stringent penalties, including fines, dissolution of monopolistic entities, and criminal charges where applicable.
Section 8. Legislative Authority: Congress shall have the authority to enact further legislation to support and clarify the provisions of this amendment, ensuring effective enforcement of antitrust laws and the promotion of economic fairness.
Summary: Embracing a Grassroots Movement for Constitutional Renewal
Our journey through American history and the evolution of the U.S. Constitution reveals a narrative of legal subversion, where the original intents of this foundational document have been increasingly overshadowed by corporate influence and political maneuvering. This historical context sets the stage for a pivotal grassroots movement aimed at reclaiming the Constitution's original spirit and purpose.
At the heart of this movement is the call for a Convention of States, as outlined in Article V of the Constitution. This process, a testament to the foresight of the Founders, empowers state legislatures to propose amendments to the Constitution, thereby offering a systemic solution to federal overreach and the erosion of individual liberties.
The proposed amendments, drafted with careful consideration, aim to address critical issues such as campaign finance reform, lobbying activities, corporate person-hood, regulatory capture, and economic fairness. These amendments are designed not only to rectify current imbalances but also to fortify the Constitution against future subversion.
This initiative is fundamentally a grassroots movement, relying on the collective voice and action of concerned citizens. Understanding our constitutional history and the ways in which it has been legally maneuvered is crucial for effective advocacy. To this end, resources and links for petitions will be made available, providing a platform for civic engagement.
The call to action is clear: citizens are encouraged to reach out to their state representatives and legislators, expressing their support for the Convention of States and the proposed amendments. This communication is vital in conveying the urgency for change and the desire for a more balanced and representative government.
The emphasis is on making meaningful, impactful changes through this convention. It's a rare opportunity, one that may not arise again soon, to enact significant reforms that align with the principles of limited government, individual liberties, and a true republic. The message is to seize this moment, to be part of a movement that could reshape the American political landscape in a way that honors our history and safeguards our future.