While many groups are advocating an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment, Convention of States, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance, a conservative advocacy organization, has a more far-reaching plan. Its “Convention of States” plan calls for a constitutional convention to draft an amendment to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”
Citizens for Self-Governance advocates a complete change in how the federal government operates. Its Facebook page features attacks on the IRS, the EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court, and President Obama’s executive order on immigration as examples of federal government overreach. COS also has attacked the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark ruling on marriage equality, arguing that an Article V convention could help overturn the decision.
Led by homeschool and religious-right political activist Michael Farris, the Citizens for Self-Governance Convention of States project has deep ties to the tea party movement, ALEC, and the Koch brothers. Mark Meckler, president and founder of the Citizens for Self-Governance, and is the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.
In 2015 alone, the Convention of States’ model resolution was introduced in at least 37 states. Since the start of the Convention of States campaign, four states have passed the initiative: Florida, Georgia, Alaska, and Alabama. To move its agenda, Citizens for Self Governance has deployed professional lobbyists and grassroots activists to pressure legislators. The group also has sponsored ALEC conferences and made presentations to legislators at ALEC meetings. After Citizens for Self Governance led several ALEC conference sessions on the Convention of States initiative, ALEC’s Task Force on Federalism and Internal Relations and the ALEC board of directors unanimously endorsed the measure in September 2015 as ALEC model legislation.
Citizens for Self Governance (“CSG”) is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization as the “John Hancock Committee for the States.” Its lobbying arm to promote the constitutional convention, Convention of States Action, is a 501(c)(4). Neither group is required to disclose donors, but tax documents show that a significant portion of CSG’s funding has come from donor-advised funds such as the Koch-linked Donors Trust and the Greater Houston Community Foundation. The latter has been one of CSG’s biggest funders, contributing $859,382 in 2011 and $1,164,268 in 2012. For 2013 however, the Foundation’s tax documents show just a $5,000 contribution to CSG, and reveal it came from Houston real estate mogul Richard Weekley. A prominent advocate for tort reform in Texas, Weekley has attended secretive fundraising meetings hosted by the Koch brothers and is a mega-contributor to GOP and conservative causes, including the Republican National Committee and numerous members of Congress. It is unclear if all of the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s funding to CSG was provided on behalf of Weekley.
Former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) also has been an outspoken advocate for an Article V convention. In February 2015, just one month after retiring from the Senate, Coburn joined Convention of States as a senior advisor. Since then, Coburn has traveled across the country, testifying in favor of Convention of States bills in front of state legislative committees. Coburn also has lent his name to pro-convention op-eds in popular media outlets such as USA Today.
Coburn has used the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell, upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, to bolster his call for a constitutional convention.
Former Arkansas Governor and two-time GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is another endorser of the Convention of States initiative. At ALEC’s July 2015 conference in San Diego, Huckabee argued in a speech that Article V is the “only way” to limit the power of the federal government. Huckabee also backed using Article V to propose amendments to overturn U.S. Supreme Court rulings. “It is not the law of the land because five unelected lawyers in black robes said it. They don’t have that power,” he argued.
In addition to Kasich and Huckabee, 2016 presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Sen. Rand Paul have all announced their support for an Article V convention.
Far to the left on the political spectrum from Article V convention advocates like Coburn, Huckabee, and Citizens for Self-Governance, a collection of campaign finance reform activists is pushing for an Article V convention to change campaign finance law.
Galvanized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, these activists favor an Article V convention to propose an amendment that would permit new campaign finance regulations. Led by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, their call for a convention channels frustrations with a nonresponsive government similar to those heard on the right. In 2011, Lessig teamed with Mark Meckler and Citizens for Self-Governance to host a conference promoting the idea of a new constitutional convention.
Other Article V advocates on the left include political commentator Cenk Uygur, who in 2011 founded Wolf PAC, a political action committee dedicated to passing state resolutions calling for a constitutional convention to overturn Citizens United and other Supreme Court rulings on campaign finance. Over the last five years, Wolf PAC has raised $650,000 and spent over $520,00052 to pass convention calls in the state legislatures of California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Vermont.
Professor Lessig, an advocate for a convention, briefly described his views to a popular audience during a television interview with Bill Maher on HBO on October 16, 2015. Professor Lessig told Maher that "people get terrified when you use the word ‘constitutional convention’ because technically a constitutional convention can do whatever the hell it wants. And that’s not what we’re talking about. The Constitution gives us the ability to have a convention for one purpose: to propose amendments." Whether a convention may only have “one purpose” is widely disputed, as discussed in this report. For example, leading constitutional scholar Professor Laurence Tribe said it is an open, unresolved question whether, among other things, the "convention can set its own rules, independent of Article V," and change the threshold for ratification – which goes far beyond merely proposing amendments.
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