By Michael Olneck
At the risk of scare-mongering about an Article V convention, I want to offer a fervent dissent from the position taken by Jesse Durst in his recent article.
And, since I know folks outside O.W.R. are reading and circulating Jesse’s piece, I want to emphasize that it represents Jesse’s individual position, and does not represent an O.W.R. position. O.W.R. is developing a platform for discussion at its convention, and Jesse’s proposal is not in any of the current drafts of the platform. O.W.R. is also developing “bite size policy” positions to accompany the platform. If this is introduced, I will strongly oppose its inclusion.
There is NO guarantee that an Article V convention can be limited to the items leading to the call for its convening. A 1987 memorandum submitted by Ed Meese is not authoritative. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the question.
Moreover, delegates to such a convention would most likely be chosen by the Wisconsin State Legislature — as they would be if the other resolutions now circulating calling for a balanced budget amendment were passed.
A collection of delegates chosen by Wisconsin legislators to consider an amendment related to Citizens United, its antecedents, and its progeny, would no doubt support language that ratifies previous Supreme Court rulings in more explicit and airtight language. The effect would be to extend the possibilities for plutocrats and corporations to control our politics, for example by removing any remaining campaign finance limitations. The likelihood of any amendment such delegates would favor successfully “restor[ing] balance and integrity to our elections” (SJR 24) is nil.
Furthermore, if O.W.R. and other progressives advocate for an Article V convention, it will undercut our objections that such proposals are dangeorus when made on behalf of causes antithetical to the commitments of O.W.R.
I do agree with Jesse that only a constitutional amendment can overturn the doctrines that money is speech, and that corporations enjoy the constitutional rights of natural human beings. That is why Wisconsin United To Amend, and local United To Amend chapters (formerly affiliated with Move To Amend) have worked for seven years to develop grassroots support by passing local referenda supporting such an amendment. To date, over 100 communities have passed such referenda by large margins, recently by enormous margins – even in Republican districts.
United To Amend hopes this strategy will motivate the Legislature to (1) Allow for a statewide referendum on the question – for which a resolution sponsored by Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Lisa Subeck has been introduced; (2) Join the calls of numerous other states favoring this amendment.
I, personally, and not speaking for United To Amend, believe we need to find new strategies that make support for our amendment an issue of electoral consequence in state legislative elections. To date, we have not succeeded in that.
But, until we do, I am not willing to take the risk of supporting an Article V convention, which might be able to propose amendments about anything. In Trump’s America, who knows what might pass in the states?
Michael Olneck is Professor Emeritus of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been active in South Central Wisconsin United to Amend since 2010, and is on the Platform Committee of Our Wisconsin Revolution.