(By Lauren Jessop, The Center Square) Calls for term limits and restrained federal spending rarely drift far from public political discourse.
In recent years, however, a growing faction of Americans want to make the longstanding proposals a reality – and they’re no longer relying on Congress alone to make it happen.
Convention of States Action, or COS, recently visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to convince lawmakers to support resolutions calling for an Article V Convention to amend the policies into the U.S. Constitution.
The group, formed by two conservative activists 10 years ago, says it amassed 5.5 million supporters across all 50 states. The purpose of their visit, said spokesman Jim O’Connor, was to dispel the “opposition’s tarradiddles” about the constitutionally-protected process.
Historically, every constitutional amendment approved in Congress over the last two centuries came as the result of a joint resolution supported by a two-thirds majority. Article V, however, gives states the power to call a convention. Congress would be required to oblige if two-thirds – or 34 of 50 states – approved resolutions to do so. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by three-fourths – or 38 states.
To date, 19 states have passed resolutions, 15 have active legislation pending, and six have passed in one legislative chamber.
Pennsylvania currently has pending resolutions in both the House and Senate, and O’Connor said more than 95,000 residents have signed the organization’s petition in support of the convention.
Article V stirs controversy both federally and in Pennsylvania. Critics argue the untested method – not invoked once since the creation of the Constitution in 1787 – sets a dangerous precedent that could dissolve the country’s most revered governing doctrine.
But on both ends of the political spectrum, accusations abound that dark money groups wish only to exploit Article V and spread misinformation to further their own radical agendas.
Common Cause, for example, said the Constitution outlines “absolutely no rules” for Article V, leaving the process vulnerable to abuse by wealthy donors and political extremists – likely in support of “the right-wing agenda.” The organization says it has attracted 1.5 million supporters in 30 states.
Common Cause did not respond to The Center Square’s requests for comment.
O’Connor said Article V indeed sets ground rules that will prevent “a runaway convention” from unfolding. He said all 34 states must agree to the scope of the convention, which must be limited to single subjects – anything else “would be gaveled out of order.”
COS and other advocacy groups say the founders adopted Article V to prevent Congress from obstructing constitutional amendments and consolidating power. He also blasted Common Cause as a “leftist organization funded by George Soros” that supports a minority coalition of donors who want to do just that.
Dark money interests worry state lawmakers, too, but for different reasons. In November, state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, said in an op-ed that Soros-backed donors support Article V so they can scrap the Constitution in favor of their own priorities.
He also said that the “majority” of the country’s problems stem from Congress’s failure to enforce constitutional rights, so new amendments are unlikely to suddenly “facilitate compliance.”
Still, other Republican senators – including Cris Dush, Kristin Phillips-Hill and Greg Rothman – believe language in their sponsored Senate Resolution 77 protect against “unauthorized delegate behavior” and “non-germane” proposals.
The bipartisan sponsors of House Resolution 106 – Republican Rep. Dawn Keefer and Democratic Rep. Frank Burns – added that the founders intended for states to invoke Article V as a “constitutional ‘check’ … to exercise control over a runaway federal government.”
O’Connor said that same motivation – to increase civic engagement – drives COS’s movement. Recent polling from the Trafalgar Group shows two-thirds of Americans support amendments that would limit congressional terms, federal spending and the government’s power.