Back in March, the Massachusetts Pirate Party chose to endorse the “We the People Act” (currently H.3127). After a series of discussions internally, and with our friends at PassMassAmendement, we’ve decided to rescind our endorsement.
The We the People Act has some very nice language, and we’re very much on board with the idea that “Corporations are not people and money is not speech”. Our objection to the bill comes from this paragraph:
Be it further Resolved that if Congress does not propose this constitutional amendment within 6 months of the passage of this bill, then this bill constitutes a petition by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, speaking through its legislature, and pursuant to Article V of the United States Constitution, to the Congress to call a Convention for the purpose of proposing Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America as soon as two-thirds of the several States have applied for a Convention;
We object to calling for an Article V convention, and that is why we’re dropping our support for the bill.
Article V allows congress to propose constitutional amendments whenever it feels the need to do so: 2/3’s of congress needs to vote in favor of the proposed amendment, and 3/4’s of the states need to ratify it. Congress gets to choose whether ratification is done by state legislatures, or by separately elected ratifying conventions. (In all but one case, ratification has been done by state legislatures. The 21st amendment — which repealed prohibition — is the exception. It was adopted through state ratifying conventions.) This is how all of our constitutional amendments have been passed; a single issue, proposed by congress, and ratified by the states.
Overall, amending the Constitution is a straightforward process. Someone makes a proposal, and it either gets the votes or it doesn’t. Either way, you always have a clear picture of what’s at stake.
Article V has never been used to propose amendments to the constitution. And the key word there is “amendments”, as in plural. The convention is not limited to a single issue; it can propose whatever amendments it wants, and it can propose however many amendments it wants. You can lobby the convention for “corporations are not people and money is not speech”, only to have them turn around and give you “corporations ARE people, and money IS speech”. Or, “Nothing in the first, fourth, and fifth amendments shall apply in matters involving national security”. Or, “the second amendment shall apply only to members of the military and law enforcement”. Of, “the federal government shall take no action that might threaten the future profits of US corporations”. By this point, you get the idea and can use your imagination. The sky’s the limit, and it’s simply a matter of what the state legislatures are willing to ratify.
Plus, given the overabundant influence of money in our elections, should we really expect an Article V convention to be any different?
Corporations have spent decades building their power and influence. We will not turn this back overnight, and we shouldn’t be tempted by a seemingly quick path to doing so. With enough pressure, congress can be forced to do the right thing.
We can also demonstrate that money does have a corrupting influence in politics, and ask the Supreme Court to reconsider their ruling in Citizen’s United. According to the dissenting opinion in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Montana, future reconsideration is not off the table.
In conclusion, this is a battle we can win. It will take time, effort, and the work of many people. We should not be tempted to treat Article V as a quick and easy solution. There’s too much at stake, and it would be too easy for a convention to backfire.