WDC Opposes Convention of the States

October 3, 2019

Testimony by Matt Rothschild, Executive Director, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Regarding Senate Joint Resolution 57 before the Senate Committee on Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts

Chairman Craig and distinguished members of the committee, it’s nice to see you again.

My name is Matt Rothschild, and I’m the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that’s been around since 1995. We track and expose the problems of big money and dark money in our politics, and we advocate for clean and transparent government and a democracy where everyone has an equal voice.

We strongly oppose this joint resolution.

I came before this committee two and a half years ago to testify on a closely related effort calling for an Article V Convention of the States.

This joint resolution is even worse than that one was.

As you’ll recall, that effort, we were earnestly told, was solely for the purpose of enacting a balanced budget amendment.

This joint resolution is much vaguer and broader, and would open up the door of any Convention of the States even faster and wider for a wholesale rewrite of our founding document, thus jeopardizing our fundamental rights.

This concern for protecting our cherished rights that are enshrined in the Constitution is why one of the most conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices of the last century, Antonin Scalia, opposed the Article V route. Here’s what he said in 2014: “I certainly would not want a Constitutional Convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it? … A Constitutional Convention is a horrible idea.”

It is surprising to me that so many conservatives are ignoring the prudent advice of one of their patron saints.

The vagueness, and the broadness, of the joint resolution is obvious in the following places:

At the very top, it says “Relating to: convention of the States for one or more Constitutional amendments.” “One or more?” We don’t even know how many amendments the Convention would be considering!

Toward the end of the whereas clauses, it says, “Whereas, the federal government has ceased to live under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.” Now, that’s a sweeping claim if ever I heard one, and what exactly is the “proper interpretation”? It’s not spelled out.

And then the last whereas clause says the purpose of the Convention of the States is for “restraining these and related abuses of power.” What “these abuses” are is unclear, except for a reference to the size of the national debt and to “unfunded mandates” -- and what the “related abuses of power” are is anybody’s guess.

Then in the “Resolved” section of the Joint Resolution, it says the purpose of such a Convention of the States is to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office.”

All three of those are vague:

What would those “fiscal restraints” be?

How would it “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government”?

And what would the term limits be?

Please note that the second question really lets the horses out of the barn door. By calling a Convention of the States to “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government,” you’ve invited a top-to-bottom redrafting of our Constitution because the entire Constitution deals with the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.

So you shouldn’t pretend that somehow this Convention of the States would somehow be self-limiting.

As to the proposed purpose to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government,” let me simply point out that any fiscal handcuffing would risk imperiling our economy in times of a downturn. The only reliable medicine for bringing large economies like ours out of a recession is deficit spending. It’s like the economy has cancer and you won’t give it radiation or chemotherapy. It’s like the economy has diabetes, and you won’t give it insulin. You’ll just let the economy die.

Had “fiscal restraints” been in place in 1933, we would never have gotten out of the Great Depression or been able to win World War II. Had they been in place in 2009, we would never have gotten out of the Great Recession, which would have turned into another Great Depression, with millions more lives ruined.

At the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, let me note that we also don’t believe in term limits. We believe that the people should be able to decide for themselves who should represent them.

And please let me note that we are not categorically opposed to amending the Constitution. In fact, we strongly favor a constitutional amendment that would say, “Corporations aren’t persons, and money isn’t speech.” But we believe the Article V route for amending the Constitution is reckless. We believe the Constitution should be amended the old-fashioned way, by having Congress pass, by a two-thirds margin in the House and the Senate, any legislation to amend it, and that three-quarters of the state legislatures must approve it. This is a cleaner, safer way to go about the amendment process.

Thank you for hearing me out.