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Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks has been doing this thing called wolfPAC for the last few years, trying to get the USA states to call for a article 5 convention in order to amend the constitution to forbid the kind of political bribes we see thrown around today.

Despite this, people apparently think this won't work, or that it may backfire, though I've never been able to understand why they think this, thus I'm just wondering if someone here could explain their objection to me, and why Cenk might still be so sure it will work.

Edit: Ya'll asked for a link, so here's one of many vids they did on the topic. Just search 'wolfpac' on their channel to find others.

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    A link might help. Particularly if it has a plan for keeping vested interests out of a convention. I also think bribes are already frowned on, so I'd guess you (they) are talking about something slightly more nuanced. If so it might be better to use another word or phrase. – user9389 Feb 1 '17 at 17:50
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    It's not hard to find a link explaining what's meant by political bribes. From the WolfPAC petition page: "I support a Constitutional amendment saying that corporations are not people and they do not have the right to spend money to buy our politicians." No video watching necessary. It's a movement to reverse the Citizens United decision. – Brythan Feb 1 '17 at 21:13
  • This post seems more like advertising than anything else. – Andrew Grimm Feb 1 '17 at 22:12
  • There was a big Intelligence Squared debate on the topic of conventions. Worth a listen (somewhat). – user4012 Feb 2 '17 at 1:51
  • Details matter. If they don't have a draft of the amendment that they're proposing, it's not even possible to tell if people actually agree with them. As just a simple example -- how would it affect religious organizations and unions? – David Schwartz Oct 2 '17 at 10:59
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Others have explained why it is unlikely that a constitutional convention will be called to amend the the constitution. I'll concentrate on what might backfire. A constitutional convention is almost certainly (never tested in court) an open convention. It could propose any change that it might like. So a convention called to reverse the Citizens United decision might allow corporations to vote instead. Or modify the constitution in some more likely fashion.

Note that the eleventh amendment was passed to reverse a Supreme Court decision. The court has effectively repealed it by creating a legal fiction that instead of suing the state, the plaintiff is suing some government official. This gets past the clear language and allows individuals to sue states in federal court.

Most people trying to reverse Citizens United propose actual amendments. Note that a side effect of the particular language used in this petition could be to block newspapers or television stations from talking about politicians. Most media is published by corporations. To get around this, most proposals specifically exempt the media. But that takes us back to the eleventh amendment, judicially repealed by a legal fiction.

This kind of amendment doesn't address the real problems of the system. Note that the ultra-rich can do all the campaign things that a corporation can do, and this doesn't affect them. Even under the usual amendment, a bundler can tell the employees and owners of the corporation to donate to certain politicians. The bundler can collect the checks and carry them to each politician personally. That's the real legalized bribery, not the kind of activity allowed under the Citizens United ruling.

A simpler way to end "ownership" of politicians would be to bar them from running for election, collecting campaign contributions, or even attending fundraisers while in office. Then bribing politicians would rely on them staying bribed after the money stops flowing. And even the politicians gain. Instead of perpetual fundraising, they could spend their time in office working. As those changes only impact government employees, it can be done via a law.

  • Thx mate, I sorta understand now-ish. Thanks! :D – Tirous Feb 1 '17 at 21:42
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I'm not familiar with Cenk Uygur or his claims (and no link was provided), but there is a general objection to the use of state conventions.

State Conventions are Slow and Unlikely to Succeed

One convention of states worked, one time - it's the one that gave us the Constitution. Under our current constitution, no convention of states has ever amended the Constitution. Wikipedia has a list of 375 calls for conventions, 0 of which have been successful.

State conventions aren't entirely a waste though. One notable victory was the direct election of Senators. Nebraska filed the first application for a convention in order to propose direct election of Senators. Over the next 20 years 29 states would agree to it. In the end, Congress ratified the amendment before states ever met their threshold. This highlights a second disadvantage: even when these conventions push change, they are incredibly slow. When Congress works faster than your plan, it isn't a good thing.

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I haven't heard about this specific case, but there are many organizations and people that want to see an Article V convention. And despite that, one has never happened.

From the Wikipedia article:

Even though the Article V Convention process has never been used to amend the Constitution, the number of states applying for a convention has nearly reached the required threshold several times. Congress has proposed amendments to the Constitution on several occasions, at least in part, because of the threat of an Article V Convention. Rather than risk such a convention taking control of the amendment process away from it, Congress acted pre-emptively to propose the amendments instead. At least four amendments (the Seventeenth, Twenty-First, Twenty-Second, and Twenty-Fifth Amendments) have been identified as being proposed by Congress at least partly in response to the threat of an Article V convention.

The problem is mainly that of organization: You have to convince 34 different state governments, who each have their own priorities, procedures, and politics, to call for a convention at the same time (possibly on the same subject). Even given that, there's no precedent (at least not since 1787), so there will be a lot of logistical issues: Where and when will it be? Who pays for it? Who goes? Who sets the agenda?

Even assuming all the logistics are worked out, you still need to get 3/4 of the states to ratify anything it proposes. If you had a hard time getting the 34th state to agree in the first place, it's likely to be even harder to get 38 states to ratify the proposed amendment(s) (although it may be different when presented with a specific proposed amendment rather than a general call for convention).

In other words, the theory is sound, but the practical elements make it highly unlikely to occur.

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I believe the main argument for "backfiring" is that, if you call for a Constitutional Convention (known as an Article V Convention, after the portion of the Constitution that authorizes it), you can't set limitations on it.

I may want it for the purpose of amending the Constitution to read "Corporations are not People, Money is not Speech," or to outlaw PACS and phony "educational" advertising that is purely political.

When my convention starts, if people I don't agree with are organized and motivated, many state delegations could be packed with people who want to alter so "ONLY Corporations And Fetuses are People," "Private gun ownership of any type of Firearm is an Inalienable Right" and "Citizens must Show a Positive Net Worth of at least 500,000 US Dollars in order to be allowed to vote."

Going through the more formal, restricted process of proposing a specific Amendment that must be introduced in Congress, be passed by 2/3 majorities in both houses, and then be ratified by the required number of states (3/4, which would still have to approve amendments from a convention, as well) seems doomed to fail in this current period of hyper-partisanship and gridlock, but the alternative of calling a Constitutional Convention is so broad that it can easily have unexpected results, in the opposite direction that those originally organizing had hoped for.

If you read Article V, it states that Congress can propose amendments, or 2/3 of the states can apply for "a convention for proposing amendments" - this means that the amendments that get proposed and approved will be determined at the conventions. The entire Constitution can be almost rewritten with a few limitations on areas that can't be infringed upon.

US Constitution: Article V

  • -1 - while the concept of the answer is correct, using strawman arguments to paint your political opponents as evil isn't a sound approach. – user4012 Feb 2 '17 at 1:54
  • @user4012 - Didn't trot out any strawman arguments, not painting anyone as evil. I thought conservatives accused liberals of wanting to live in a "safe space" bubble? I used caricatured "stances" only to emphasize how completely opposite the result could be once a convention takes place. Grow up. – PoloHoleSet Feb 2 '17 at 15:39
  • " "ONLY Corporations And Fetuses are People". " "Citizens must Show a Positive Net Worth of at least 500,000 US Dollars in order to be allowed to vote" - yes you did. If you wanted caricatures, why isn't your 2-d paragraph purposal an equally grotesque caricature and instead a realistic position? – user4012 Feb 2 '17 at 15:44
  • @user4012 - The stances I trotted out are very distinctly and simplified liberal positions. The stances I juxtaposed would be an anathema to all things liberal. In no way do I ever claim that anyone would realistically propose the latter, when making an exaggerated hypothetical. if I'm not claiming that anyone would actually do that, I don't see how you can claim that I'm calling anyone evil. The only way someone would make that leap is if, maybe, that's not far from the mark. If so, that's on you. Again, that's just your own hypersensitivity at play if you read into that. – PoloHoleSet Feb 2 '17 at 15:48

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