Warnings Against Article V Convention Are Heeded by States

I recently posted about the controversy that exists among anti-corruption groups. In particular, Wolf PAC and Common Cause are at loggerheads. Wolf PAC has been working with state legislatures to call a state convention that would amend the Constitution in order to overturn Citizens United. Common Cause opposes this approach, and in the last month they helped convince several state legislative bodies to rescind their calls for a state convention.

My heart aches for Wolf PAC. Yet Common Cause makes a powerful point.

A Quick Review of Citizens United

Before we go further, let’s quickly review why many seek to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed unrestricted political campaign contributions. As it unfortunately turns out, wealthy special interest groups have a lot of money to contribute to political campaigns. (The Supreme Court must have not realized!) Thereby, Citizens United ushered in a tidal wave of unprecedented “outside spending” into the American election process from large nonprofits, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.

This is devastating to democracy. Whomever has the most money to contribute to campaign funding (and has the power to offer favors at the end of a representative’s term) will greatly influence the legislative decisions of Congressional lawmakers. Instead of every person having one vote, every dollar has a vote.

Two Ways to Amend the Constitution

OK, back to amending the Constitution. All the progressive good guys, like Wolf PAC and Common Cause, are fighting political corruption tooth and nail. So you may wonder, since our country has successfully amended the Constitution several times already, what is the extra fervor about? You see, there are two ways to amend the Constitution. The National Archive explains:

“The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.”

The “constitutional convention” or “convention of the states” method of amendment, also commonly called Article V, has never been used.

The Argument Against Article V

Robert Reich explains in the video below why attempting an Article V amendment, at this time, is a really bad idea. In a nutshell…

  • Many Constitutional scholars warn that a convention cannot be limited to one issue.
  • The current political climate is extremely partisan, with Republicans holding the presidency, Senate, House of Representatives, and 68% of state legislative chambers.
  • Far-right proponents such as the Koch Brothers, hedge-fund tycoon Robert Mercer (a major Trump backer), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are backing the move for amendment via state convention — for objectives unrelated to Citizens United.

Note: Robert Reich is Chair of the Common Cause National Governing Board.

Would either method of amending the Constitution be a good idea right now, considering the extreme partisan nature of American politics? And considering the blatant corrupting influence that Big Money has on the political elite in Washington? What would prevent the Far-Right or establishment Democrats from hijacking an anti-corruption amendment effort, whether it was initiated by states or by Congress?

Maybe we should focus on creating anti-corruption referendums at the state and local levels — where there’s greater opportunity for citizen involvement and a better chance of bipartisan agreement. Amending the Constitution isn’t the only way to fight political corruption. With that in mind, let’s remember Represent.Us. They do good work around the country helping ordinary citizens and local officials get anti-corruption initiatives onto state and city election ballots.

Meanwhile, because four states just rescinded their call for a constitutional convention, we have a reprieve. 34 state are needed to initiate an Article V Convention. Until a month ago, the number stood at 33.


Be aware. Be fair (that is, objective).

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