By Alex Kotch, CMD contributor
A constitutional convention, something thought impossible not long ago, is looking increasingly likely. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, if 34 state legislatures “issue a call” for a constitutional convention, Congress must convene one. By some counts, the right-wing only needs six more states. Once called, delegates can propose and vote on changes and new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which, if approved, are currently required to be ratified by 38 states.
There are two major legislative pushes for a convention at the state level. One would attempt to engineer a convention for a balanced budget amendment only, and the other tries to secure an open convention for the purpose of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. But once a convention is underway, all bets are off. The convention can write its own rules, resulting in a wide-open or “runaway” convention that can make major changes to the constitution and even change the number of states required to ratify those changes.
If America gets saddled with a runaway convention, the Koch coterie of funders will be to blame. Most of the groups pushing the convention idea are being underwritten by one or more institutions tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
Attempts to Limit Topic of the Convention Likely to Fail
On Feb. 24, Wyoming became the 29th state to pass a resolution requesting a convention specifically to add a single balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Many of these legislative resolutions also attempt to set the rules for the convention and limit who can attend it to a select list of largely GOP state leaders.
Austerity advocates claim that they need only to convince five of seven targeted states—Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin—to get on board, and they will have enough states to convene a convention. As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, three linked measures were just introduced in Wisconsin and were placed on a fast track to approval.
Another faction representing a broader “Convention of States” initiative is advocating an open constitutional convention to limit “the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.” Because this open convention format would be called on a particular subject rather than a particular amendment, representatives would likely vote on any number of measures.
Legislatures in nine states—Arizona, Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana—have signed on to the Convention of States resolution,. Texas appears likely to join in, as the state Senate approved a Convention of States bill in February. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is fiercely campaigning for a convention and has deemed it an “emergency issue.” In 2016, he published a 70-page plan that includes nine proposed amendments aimed at severely limiting federal authority, even allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a Supreme Court ruling or a federal law.
Groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Common Cause, and the Center for Media and Democracy have raised the alarm about these efforts. No convention has been called since 1787 in Philadelphia where George Washington presided.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why any convention call, no matter how narrowly written, is likely to result in a “runaway” convention. A convention is empowered to write its own rules, including how delegates are chosen, how many delegates attend and whether a supermajority is required to approve amendments.
Nothing in the Constitution prevents a convention, once convened, from setting its own agenda, influenced by powerful special interests like the Koch groups. A convention could even choose an entirely new ratification process. “The 1787 convention ignored the ratification process under which it was established and created a new one, reducing the number of states needed to approve the new Constitution and removing Congress from the approval process,” writes CBPP.
Legal uncertainly surrounds the entire effort, which is sure to be litigated if successful. For instance, are states bound by resolutions passed many years ago? Will states withdraw their approval? Some states, like Delaware and New Mexico, have already moved to do so.
The Koch Connection to the Push for a Constitutional Convention
Libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch have long opposed federal power and federal spending. Koch Industries is one of the nation’s biggest polluters and has been sanctioned and fined over and over again by both federal and state authorities. In response, the Kochs have launched a host of “limited government” advocacy organizations and have created a massive $400 million campaign finance network, fueled by their fortunes and those of their wealthy, right-wing allies, that rivals the two major political parties.
The Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity says it favors a balanced budget convention. Such an austerity amendment would drastically cut the size of the federal government, threatening critical programs like Social Security and Medicare and eviscerating the government’s ability to respond to economic downturns, major disasters and the climate crisis.
AFP has opposed an open convention, calling it “problematic.” But whatever qualms the Kochs might have, they continue to be a bedrock funder of the entire convention “movement.”
Running the “Convention of States initiative” is an Austin, Texas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG). CSG reported revenue of $5.7 million in 2015, more than double its haul from two years earlier, when it launched its Convention of States Project, according to Dallas News. It now boasts 115,000 “volunteers,” although that figure may represent the number of addresses on its email list.
The group is not required to disclose its donors, but research into other organizations’ tax records by the Center for Media and Democracy, Conservative Transparency and this author show a web of Koch-linked groups having provided nearly $5.4 million to CSG from the group’s founding in 2011 through 2015:
- Donors Trust, a preferred secret money conduit for individuals and foundations in the Koch network of funders, has given CSG at least $790,000 since 2011.
- The Greater Houston Community Foundation, which is funded by Donors Capital Fund (linked to Donors Trust) and the Kochs’ Knowledge and Progress Fund, has donated over $2 million since 2011.
- The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Donors Capital Fund, gave $2.5 million from 2012-2013.
Citizens for Self-Governance also has two Koch-connected board members. Eric O’Keefe is a director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group which has taken in considerable funding from Koch-linked groups like the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and was at the center of the long-running “John Doe” criminal investigation of Scott Walker’s campaign coordination with dark money groups.
O’Keefe was the national field coordinator for the Libertarian Party when David Koch ran for Vice President in 1979 on the Libertarian Party ticket. The party’s platform called for the end of campaign finance law, the minimum wage, “oppressive Social Security,” Medicaid, Medicare and federal deficit spending.
The Koch agenda has not changed much since.
Another board member is Tim Dunn, an oilman from Midland, Texas who is vice chairman of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a right-wing think tank that’s raked in over $1 million from Koch family foundations, $160,000 from Koch Industries in 2012 alone and at least $1.8 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.
Dunn runs another political group, Empower Texans, which supports Republican candidates and has taken in funds from Donors Trust and “Americans for Job Security,” a Koch-tied dark money group that was slapped with a severe fine by the FEC for its involvement in a dark money shell game intended to disguise the origin of its funds.
Both TPPF and Empower Texans back the constitutional convention idea.
What’s more, a 501(c)4 nonprofit connected to CSG, the Alliance for Self-Governance (which does business as Convention of States Action), received $270,000 in 2012 from Americans for Limited Government, which has received funding not only by Donors Capital Fund but by two Koch-funded political groups, the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Job Security.
Those two groups exchanged millions of dollars in 2010 and 2012, illegally hiding the source of funding for political expenditures, lying to the Internal Revenue Service and making unlawful contributions to pass-through groups, prompting investigations and historic fines by the both the State of California and the Federal Elections Commission. Eric O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth also funneled $450,000 to Alliance for Self-Governance in 2012, at a time when WCFG was battling the Walker recall.
Any time any organization is named “self-governance” or “limited government” you can be sure that Wisconsin’s Eric O’Keefe is either a founder or on the board, and indeed O’Keefe is tied to all three organizations: CSG, the Alliance for Self-Governance and Americans for Limited Government.
If the Kochs and their friends don’t want an open constitutional convention, they’ve sure done a lot to aid the effort.
American Legislative Exchange Council
CSG also has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that unites conservative politicians with big-business lobbyists who develop cookie-cutter “model” legislation behind closed doors at ALEC meetings.
ALEC has long been funded by Koch Industries and a representative of Koch Industries sits on its executive board, while representatives from the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity groups fund and sit on various committees. ALEC has also received funding from Koch family foundations. CMD estimates this funding to be over $1 million, though the actual total could be much higher. In addition, ALEC gets funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.
According to Common Cause, “no group has been more influential” in promoting an Article V convention than ALEC. In 2011, ALEC commissioned a handbook for state legislators on how to push for a constitutional convention. The group has produced at least three model balanced budget amendment bills and has endorsed several model bills calling for a convention to vote on constitutional amendments, such as requiring Congress to get approval by two-thirds of the states before imposing new taxes or increasing the federal debt or federal spending.
CSG has sponsored ALEC conferences and led sessions focused on a constitutional convention. In 2015, ALEC’s board of directors officially endorsed CSG’s open convention plan as a “model” bill. The group had previously endorsed a balanced-budget-only plan. ALEC’s Jeffersonian Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit formed in 2013, has been lobbying state legislators to propose such a convention, CMD reports.
More Koch Money Pushing Austerity Amendment
Another group, the Florida-based Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, is backing a balanced budget convention bill that 29 states have approved. In its effort, the group has lobbied for the bill and attended ALEC conferences and other similar events. On its website, the task force lists ALEC and the Heartland Institute as partner organizations.
“ALEC has been instrumental in providing us a forum within which to present our campaign, recruit sponsors, and approve model legislation that legislators can be confident in,” claims the site.
Another big backer of the balanced budget amendment approach is the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which is also tied to the Koch brothers. A member of ALEC, it has received $5.6 million from the Donors Capital Fund since 2011 and tens of thousands of dollars each from the Charles Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Heartland publishes posts praising or defending the Kochs and even put out an annual environmental report from Koch Industries.
“The Heartland Institute has put the full weight of its influence behind the BBA Task Force as well as other campaigns in order to encourage the states to use their power to amend the U.S. Constitution,” reads the site.
Compact for America, formed by a former counsel with the conservative Goldwater Institute and staffed by more Goldwater alumni, has its own balanced budget convention proposal, which only four states have signed on to. The institute, which promotes many of ALEC’s model bills, has taken in big donations from Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund and the Charles Koch Foundation.
If America faces the madness of a runaway convention, voters of both parties will know whom to blame.
Mary Bottari contributed to this article.
I’ve had this nagging feeling that all of it, Donald’s entire campaign and illegitimate so-called presidency, the executive orders, the golfing, the Russian investigations… everything has just been a distraction from the real agenda.
I couldn’t put my finger on it. What could the REAL plan be. It was right out there in the open. Gaining speed, after more and more republican states signed on, calling for a Constitutional Convention.
I’ve been reading sporadic coverage about the Constitutional Convention in the works, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. This has been in the works for years, if not decades. Patiently, step by step, Governor by Governor, legislature by legislature, state by state.
They, a MINORITY of the population, in key elected positions in state legislatures and state governors are going to change the U.S. Constitution. This is why the Kochs bought and paid for so many governors and state government officials with campaign and other contributions.
THIS is the end game of the Kochs, the GOP, and international corporations.
Donald’s executive orders and the current GOP agenda we see unfolding on a daily basis pale in comparison to what would be unleashed in a runaway Constitutional Convention.
The final piece they need is a hand-picked Supreme Court Justice in place, for when their overreach during the Constitutional Convention raises legal roadblocks.
So, the distractions, Donald and his agenda, are but a all taste of what we are all in for when they unleash a Constitutional Convention. We ain’t seen nothing yet.
If this goes the way the Kochs plan it, among incalculable damage to our nation and our Democracy, I actually believe the West Coast states of Oregon, Washington, and California, would secede, taking over 50 million people with them and creating the world’s 5th largest economy.
I believe that the Iroquois Constitution (AKA Great Law of Peace) had a 5-year renewal clause. I think if the U.S. Constitution had had such a clause from the beginning, we might not be in the various pickles we are today. Moreover if the U.S. Constitution had included a few other clauses of the Iroquois Constitution (e.g., women’s authority to set the public agenda), we may have avoided a good deal of unnecessary suffering. Ever since 2014, when I first read Barbara Alice Mann’s book comparing the U.S. Constitution and the Iroquois Constitution, I have been advocating a rewrite of the U.S. Constitution. At the very least I would recommend her book to any American who truly wants to dream the American dream, as originally dreamed by the original inhabitants — and perhaps living descendants: Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas (2004, Peter Lang publ.). Gantowisas is variously defined as clan mothers, government women, and indispensable women. Begging for women’s rights seems like peanuts compared to the status of Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) women for 500+ years in the northeast woodlands (not to mention the women of other North American indigenous nations). I think the Women’s Marches get this. They just don’t quite have all the public policy framework and language. If Center for Media Democracy wants to promote a national book club to read the U.S. Constitution in the light of the Iroquois Constitution as well as all the new democratic techniques that are being developed (e.g., Participatory Budgeting, food-and-farm policy councils, Complete Streets), I would be happy to help with the concept and with outreach.
Blake L Hayner
According to Thomas Jefferson America should have had a Constitutional rewrite every 21 years. The 1% wrote the first Constitution then and the 1% will write it again.
Enjoy the ride folks soon Corporations will be the only persons in America that will have the right to vote!
I would like for the author to have read the 1987 Department of Justice Report on Article V Amendments before writing this report. This DOJ Report debuncks the concern over runaway or unlimited conventions. As recently as last year the Congressional Research Service has confirmed the DOJ findings. The American Bar Assoc also supports it. Finally, there are four checks and balances in place to prevent this. Read Article V and see that a convention can only propose amendments. It still has to be ratified by 3/4 of the States, as David K says above.
Actually wanting a balanced budget? This is shocking. As Tolerant Liberals, we want nothing to do with fiscal responsibility.
Yes, we should raise taxes and reduce the amount we spend on the military. Our wars should be paid for with taxes and bonds and paid for within a generation. That said, I believe the federal government must have the flexibility to run deficits during times of great stress to the country. Though difficult, we simply need to pay our bills. Everyone should be taxed and it should be a progressive tax based on means and who benefits the most. The wealthy have and do benefit the most from our society and from what has been built before. They are perfectly capable of paying a higher percent of tax than the rest of us. It’s not class warfare, it’s common sense. I pay a higher tax than lower income people and that’s fair. If we want to guaranteed health care for all in this country than we should pay for it. When our debt starts to really hurt us we will raise taxes. But It really should be done sooner and gradually. Everyone should pay a minimum tax if they earn income.
Any move by Republicans to open up the Constitution to amendment should be resisted vehemently by any patriot who loves and respects our democratic form of government. The GOP has been corrupted by the Koch brothers and other billionaires of the extreme right who want a smaller, weaker federal government only so that they can impose their will on the nation. They know that the states alone are too weak to resist them. What awaits us, if they succeed, is an onslaught of lawsuits at the state level funded by billionaires to overwhelm the legal and legislative process at the local level. Consider just one example: the Wisconsin State Budget in 2016 was roughly half of the net worth of Charles and David Koch (according to Forbes Magazine). In the 2016 election alone, the brothers Koch pledged to spend $900 million. In Wisconsin, they saved Republican incumbent Ron Johnson from defeat by pouring millions into attack ads against his front runner opponent in the final weeks. These two billionaires alone have the funds to overwhelm the legal and legislative branches in the majority of states. They aim to take our natural resources, pollute our environment, strip workers of all protections, destroy public education damaging our society beyond repair. Shrinking the authority of the federal government and the agencies that protect regular Americans is nothing but a ruse for a dictatorship of the corporations and the super rich who now control the Republican party. Wake up America. Vote these dirty politicians out of office in our states and in Congress, before they change the Constitution to the point where we no longer have a fighting chance to defend our democracy, our families, and our communities from their greed and ambition.
Young Lady, you are a very good corporation / government employee. Let me show you how you are.
1. You say we are a democracy. We are a REPUBLIC that is what was established. This wonderful government called a democracy brain washing verbage was created since the constitution done at the 1787 Convention with George Washington presiding was created in secrecy, behind closed doors, excluding the people and NEVER RATIFIED by the people. It was a business contract.
2. Our wonderful founding fathers were involved in this deception. The constitution has always been a CONTRACT, a business contract. Nothing else.
3. The people demanded the Bill of Rights NOT the founding fathers. The Bill of Rights was written for the people, ratified by the people of the colonies and used by the people of the colonies. The Bill of Rights was to be a separate document from the Constitution so the people had their voice. Instead, this wonderful party of traitors combined the Bill of Rights into the many unscrupulous amendments which took AWAY YOUR RIGHTS.
4. You can shout about the money people all you want – money runs the government for their corporation NOT FOR YOU OR ME. All people that still call themselves U.S. Citizens are residents of one of the following: the District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoan Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Military bases within the several states and Federal agencies within the several states. All of these entities are run by the Congress of the United States corporation. If you do not habitat in any of those territories, you are a state citizen of your state PERIOD. For your information, our Vietnam soldiers that stated they came from a specific state did NOT go to the POW camps. Those that said the United States of America went to POW camps. Why you ask. Because Vietnam communist were in a POLICE ACTION with the United States of America NOT the individual states, who did not declare any police action on Vietnam.
5. The Republican and Democratic parties are both socialist, communist representatives. They do not represent We, the People. Both of those parties took on the platforms of the Communist and Socialist parties back in the 40s and 50s. These political frauds do not represent We, The People.
6. We, the People, are the power. We need to stop supporting the fraud of big government and get back to being responsible for our own communities in common unity to have a better life than the corrupt Democracy you so strongly support in our state where each habitats. Reside is a military term.
7. Remember the entire history of this country has been a lie, an attempt to divide the people and create the fear that FDR stated “the only thing you fear is fear itself” (perhaps said wrong). However, FEAR is a weapon of mass destruction. Your TV and media bombard you with fear tactics to keep you frozen in FEAR.
8. United we stand is our People power. The people are awake and learning what truth is. We are a Republic for which we, the People stand.
Your ignorance is palpable. I have fought communism my entire life. If you cannot distinguish totalitarianism — which features, brainwashing, massive corruption, unfettered power by the nomenclatura (look it up), slave labor camps and the extinguishing of opposition, often by murder — from our two political parties, then you ought to get education before you deign to suffer us through your bizarre, misguided and frightful commentary. And, while you are at it you might want to study up on republican forms of government and democracy. The two are not mutually exclusive and ours, in fact, is both.
David K Dyer
The Convention of States Project does not purport or desire to rewrite the US Constitution; instead it seeks to hold a convention for propose Amendments to the US Constitution. No matter what comes out of an Article V convention, 38 States will have to agree to ratify those Amendments for them to become additions to the Constitution.
The Kochs have enough money to buy enough members of state legislatures to swing 38 states.
isn’t it interesting that the big money libertarians like the Kochs and Mercers hate big government, free speech, and pretty much the entire Constitution until their big money buys elections, judges, or legislation? then they’re all in for big government in the form of corporate personhood and big money is free speech.
Koch’s are KOWARDS with a capital K.