If you think the Supreme Court overturning abortion rights in this country was radical and shocking, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There was a convention you should know about this past weekend in Denver, funded by some of the wealthiest men and foundations in America, that has received altogether too little publicity.
Imagine if most public schools in the country closed and were replaced by for-profit charter and private academies — often racially segregated and only serving families who could afford their tuition — because the Constitution required federal compulsory education laws and federal funding for education (at all levels) to end.
Imagine if the U.S. Constitution required the EPA, FDA, USDA, DOT, Department of Education, and Department of Labor to shut down. All union protections are dead, there are no more federal workplace safety standards, and even child-labor laws are struck down, along with the national minimum wage and the income tax, both individual and corporate.
Imagine that the Constitution makes it illegal for the federal government to protect you from big polluters, big banks, and even big food and pharma—all are free to rip you off or poison you all they want, and your only remedy is in state courts and legislatures, because the Constitution prevents Congress from doing anything about any of it. The federal government can no longer even enforce voting or civil rights laws.
Imagine if Citizens United and its position that political bribery is merely a First Amendment exercise of “free speech” were put into the US Constitution so it can never be overturned by Congress or a future court, meaning that whichever political candidate has the backing of the wealthiest donors pretty much wins every election for the rest of American history.
Imagine, to add injury to insult, that the federal government has shut down Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, because all of these programs (along with food stamps, Pell grants, housing supports, and any programs that help the middle class, the less fortunate, or disabled) are “beyond the reach” of what the federal government can do because they’re now unconstitutional.
A few years ago, it would have been a thought experiment; now it’s nearly reality. Billionaires and the groups they fund are working to rewrite our Constitution to provide corporations and the rich with more and more protections and benefits while chopping away at anything smelling of “socialism” like Social Security or child labor laws that could tax billionaires or reduce their profits.
This scenario was one possible outcome of the agenda of the “Academy of States” meeting held this past Sunday at the Hyatt Regency at the Denver Convention Center. Republican state legislators from across the country were invited to attend.
If their plan works, they’ll rewrite our Constitution and state governors, the US Congress, and the President will have no say whatsoever in the process. Only state legislatures are necessary, according to Article V of the Constitution, and governors can’t veto their actions.
Numerous states are now so gerrymandered that the majority of their citizens vote for Democrats, giving them Democratic governors (Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania) even though one or both of their legislative bodies are still controlled by Republicans.
The Republican-controlled legislatures of these states can join the legislatures of solidly red states to call a constitutional convention — 34 states are needed — to rip open our Constitution and change it as they want. When done, they’ll need 3/4ths of the states to replace our current Constitution and the President, Congress, and state governors will have no say in the process whatsoever.
The Constitution provides for three ways to change or amend itself. The first is that Congress can propose a constitutional amendment, pass it with a supermajority in both houses, and have three-quarters of the states ratify it. This is the way it’s been done for every one of the existing 27 amendments.
The second strategy is done by using Article V of the Constitution and driving the process up from the states. The easiest way to do this is for three-quarters of the states to legislatively approve (with simple majority votes in the legislatures of each state) an amendment, in which case Congress is unnecessary and upon ratification by the 38th state, it becomes a permanent amendment to the Constitution.
While this strategy has never been used, it’s one process many of the good government groups like Move To Amend and Public Citizen are pushing for a “Corporations are not people, and money is not speech” amendment to reverse Citizens United.
The third — and incredibly dangerous — strategy to amend the Constitution is to simply call a “Convention of the States,” again using Article V, and open the entire document itself up to rewriting and tinkering.
This third strategy is the one being used right now, as you’re reading these words, in a very well-funded effort by right-wing oligarchs. If they can pull it off in the states (where it’s cheaper to buy politicians), then Congress, the president and even the courts would have no say over it.
Their goal appears to be to put into the Constitution specific prohibitions against any programs (from Social Security to Medicare to food stamps) that they view as “unconstitutional socialism.”
They’d also permanently enshrine in the Constitution the “right” of corporations and billionaires to own politicians and spend unlimited monies to influence elections and ballot measures. It would effectively turn America into a feudal state owned by the people FDR called the “economic royalists.”
The group leading this charge is called Citizens for Self-Governance, which SourceWatch.org said back in 2017:
“[I]s a right-wing political organization tied to Mark Meckler and Eric O'Keefe that is campaigning for an Article V convention to amend the U.S. Constitution.”
“CSG director Eric O'Keefe has deep ties to Charles and David Koch and has been a founder and funder of numerous right-wing groups including Wisconsin Club for Growth,” and the CSG, “through its Convention of States project, is pushing for a constitutional convention in order to severely restrict federal power, for example by redefining the Commerce Clause to prohibit Congress from enacting child labor or anti-discrimination laws, or by adding a balanced budget requirement.”
The modern project to turn control of the US government over to the morbidly rich started with Lewis Powell’s infamous Memo in 1971 and gained serious traction through the late 70s and into the 80s of the Reagan Revolution.
Rightwing billionaires and foundations funded and created hundreds of think tanks, policy groups, publications, and radio/TV programs to move the Overton Window toward the far right. Their ultimate goal was to completely reinvent America in their own image with greed as our central cultural and political organizing principle.
At first, they were viewed as the fringe. When David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, his platform included a whole series of positions that were then merely considered rightwing fever dreams:
- “We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”
- “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
- “We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”
- “We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”
- “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”
- “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service.”
- “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”
- “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”
- “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”
- “We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”
- “We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
- “We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”
- “We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”
- “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
- “We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”
- “We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”
- “We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”
- “We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”
- “We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
- “We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”
- “We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”
- “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”
- “We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”
- “We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
- “We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
- “We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”
Koch’s ticket drew only a bit more than a million votes, but that era was just the kickoff for the billionaire and corporate campaign to seize control of the Republican Party and, ultimately, America herself.
In the years since then they’ve built a formidable political infrastructure that has a larger budget, more employees, and more offices and locations around the nation than the GOP itself. If the Republican Party is the puppet, these networks of billionaires and the corporations that made them rich are the puppet masters.
And now, like with their 50-year project to overturn Roe v Wade, they’re getting closer by the day to pulling it off. As Wikipedia noted in 2017:
“In December 2013, nearly 100 legislators from 32 states met at Mount Vernon to talk about how to call a convention of states. … In February 2014, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn announced that after his retirement from Congress, he would focus on promoting the Convention of States to state legislatures.
“In December 2015, Marco Rubio endorsed CSG's efforts to a call an Article V Convention. In January 2016, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for a Convention of States to restrict the power of the federal government.
“As of 2016, CSG's application for a Convention of States has been passed in eight states: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Alaska, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.”
Now that they have mobilized thousands of enthusiastic billionaire-supporting conservatives across the nation, with help from one of America’s most widely heard right-wing talk-radio hosts, Wikipedia noted:
“In September 2016, CSG held a simulated convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution in Williamsburg, Virginia. An assembly of 137 delegates representing every state gathered to conduct a simulated convention.
“The simulated convention passed amendments relating to six topics, including requiring the states to approve any increase in the national debt, imposing term limits, limiting the Commerce Clause to its original meaning [ending minimum wage, federal right-to-unionize, and child-labor laws], limiting the power of federal regulations [aka consumer protections], requiring a supermajority to impose federal taxes and repealing the 16th Amendment [which legalized federal income tax], and giving the states the power to abrogate any federal law, regulation, or executive order.”
Since 2017, when I first wrote about this threat to American democracy with the above citations, the movement has only grown.
Plug “convention of states” into a search engine and the first half-dozen pages that come up exclusively talk in glowing terms about the project. Few are sounding the alarm about this effort to reinvent America from the top down (the Constitution) and the bottom up (state legislatures).
Since then they’ve been rehearsing the project every year, training Republican state legislators, and funding PR efforts and talk radio hosts to bring their new far-right Constitution into being.
This isn’t the first time the billionaire class has tried to seize control of America, although the last time they made a serious effort they were stopped in their tracks by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Vice President Henry Wallace.
On April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against fascist Germany and Japan, the New York Times published an op-ed by Vice President Henry Wallace discussing explicitly this issue of very wealthy people setting out to take over our government.
Wallace spoke directly to the danger of multimillionaire and corporate power, defining right-wing industrialists as people “who in case of conflict put money and power ahead of human beings.”
He added, “in their search for money and power [they] are ruthless and deceitful. ... They... follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.”
In his strongest indictment of that day’s equivalent of today’s billionaire class, Wallace wrote:
“They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
As Wallace’s president, Franklin D. Roosevelt said when accepting his party’s re-nomination in 1936 in Philadelphia:
“[O]ut of this modern civilization, economic royalists [have] carved new dynasties.... It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction.”
We stand at a time similar to what Roosevelt and Wallace confronted in their battles with the morbidly rich during the Great Depression and World War II.
This time, however, the Supreme Court (Citizens United) has given American billionaires the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to own politicians and demand behavior from them so outrageous that they'd even lie on live TV and deny science itself.
The billionaire right’s behavior today eerily parallels the day in 1936 when Roosevelt said, “In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.”
President Roosevelt and Vice President Wallace’s warnings have come full circle. It’s critical that we call out these economic royalists for what they’re doing, and not let them and their minions rewrite our Constitution.