For those of you unfamiliar with ALEC, it is the American Legislative Exchange Council. Although it bills itself as a nonpartisan entity on its web site, don’t be fooled. Not only is ALEC conservative, but it is dangerously so.
Its members include state legislators and industrialists. Its primary mission is to draft model legislation that can be introduced in the states and that will advance a particular ideology. Not surprisingly, that ideology tends to favor corporate interests.
Founded in 1973, it became a federal nonprofit agency two years later. That means donations can be deducted, at least at the moment, from one’s taxes and unlimited in amount. Among its founders is Paul Weyrich, who also helped establish the Heritage Foundation. Our very own Jesse Helms was among its early supporters. Today its major funders are the Koch Brothers. Art Pope, architect of the GOP revision of North Carolina politics, is a close friend of the Kochs and a past member of ALEC. Thom Tillis was ALEC’s 2011 Legislator of the Year and is a past Board member as was local Representative Tim Moffitt of Asheville.
ALEC drafts model legislation on things like tax policies, which then turn up in GOP dominated states across the union, often verbatim. One initiative, however, differs. It is ALEC’s desire to hold a national convention to draft a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
For those of you who have forgotten the fifth article of the United States Constitution, there are two routes to getting it amended. The one we have always used is the first alternative. Congress members propose amendments, which must be passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses, and then accepted by three-fourths of the states. The one no one has attempted before is alternative two: a constitutional convention can be called by two-thirds of the states. ALEC wants to amend the constitution using that process.
Well, so what? There are really a lot of “so what’s,” but a history lesson might prove useful here. The first government of the United States was the Articles of Confederation, a state-centric system that resulted, within a decade, in dysfunction so severe that the Revolution’s victory was in doubt. Luminaries like George Washington and John Adams, men who put their lives on the line in 1776, called for a convention to address specific problems.
However, once they convened in Philadelphia, our 1787 representatives closed the doors, sealed the windows, swore everyone to secrecy, and totally rewrote the entire constitution. Rather than amend the Articles, they chucked it out. They also rewrote the rules for ratification, so states like Rhode Island, which sent no delegates, couldn’t hold them to the unanimity that the Article’s ratification process demanded.
Given that precedent, what’s to prevent delegates, once a convention is called, from extending its mandate? And to change the rules for ratification? Even to change the rules in such a way that a small minority of the population could dictate terms to the majority? If, for example, the convention adopted the rule that each state would have one vote, automatically Wyoming’s voice would be the equal of California’s – hardly fair. But fair is not what this game is about. It’s about power and corporate wellbeing; it’s about getting rich in the land of the free.
And the leaders of making the rules would be the states. In case no one has been paying attention, there has been a lot of effort put into ensuring that most state governors and legislatures are Republican. The Koch Brothers, for example, have put a ton of money into that bucket. ALEC has drafted model legislation on voting regulations, many of which suppress the Democratic vote. The Redmap Project, sponsored by the Republican State Leadership Committee, effectively used big data and gerrymandering to ensure GOP majorities, even in some states where more citizens voted for Democrats. Its efforts were funded by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, which played the role of informal dark money banker in the redistricting efforts that followed the 2010 census.
So, let’s say ALEC convinces 34 states to call for a convention. Do you think it would limit itself, given that its delegates would be majority GOP and majority ALEC/Koch Brothers/Tea Party/Americans for Prosperity/American Crossroads types, to a single amendment? If you do, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Already 28 states have called for such a convention to support one or more amendments. That means we only need six more states to do so and a convention is on – Congress can’t refuse. The Executive and Judicial Branches are exempt from this game. There is no check there. What’s the danger? Note Warren Burger, a good old-fashioned conservative Republican, on the prospect:
[T]here is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of
a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules
and set its own agenda … After a Convention is convened, it will be too
late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.
A fetus has all the rights of a two-year old? Sure. Gay marriage is illegal? Yep. English is the official and only language of the United States? Right you are. The states do not have to obey the rulings of the Supreme Court? About time. Laws that contradict God’s law as put forth in the King James Bible are void? Works for me. No Muslims need apply? God’s will.
What we would be doing is putting some crazy people in charge of the world’s future, funded by corporate owners who would let them play with a social agenda as long as they enshrined a pro-business, non-regulation, McDonald’s and fracking throughout the Grand Canyon set of laws favoring their bottom lines.
Twenty-eight states have resolutions on the books calling for a convention; we are only six shy. Think about it. ALEC, every meeting, has sessions on calling for a convention. ALEC has model legislation of resolutions for such a convention. ALEC would really like this to happen.
Well, there is some good news. A few states are now rescinding their resolutions out of fear of the chaos a general convention might bring. Not all those resolutions for a convention are the same and we’d have to resolve the constitutional issue of resolution similarity before we get a meeting. That might be a crisis in itself. And some pundits are now awakening to the energy ALEC is putting into the endeavor, so we might get some public education working against such an eventuality. But the money, historical precedent, and righteous anger seems to be on the other side.
To give you an idea how dangerous this project might be, consider the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, never mistaken as a progressive in his lifetime: “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what might come out of it?”
By the way: Yes, North Carolina has called for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution via a Constitutional Convention. In 2017 a bill to do that was killed in the House, but a majority also voted to bring the issue back up – perhaps in 2018. The resolution has already passed in the NC Senate.