|Formation||October 19, 2011|
|Type||Political action committee|
|Headquarters||Carthay, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
Wolf PAC is an American non-partisan political action committee formed in 2011 with the goal of "ending corporate personhood and publicly financing all elections in our country", to include the restriction of large monetary donations to political candidates, parties, and groups. It began with an announcement at an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City by The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur. On a state level Wolf PAC has received some bi-partisan support for its objectives.
Its strategy is to add a 28th amendment to the Constitution, thereby overturning multiple Supreme Court cases including Citizens United v. FEC and Buckley v. Valeo, which cumulatively have made it impossible to achieve Wolf PAC's campaign finance goals through simple legislation. Wolf PAC believes that Congress is too corrupt to pass such an amendment itself, and therefore advocates a convention of the States, which is a procedure outlined in Article V of the Constitution. As of 2017[update], five states have passed the resolution thus calling for such a convention, though not all states have used identical language in their convention call.
Formation and background
On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that it is unconstitutional to restrict independent expenditures by corporations, unions, and other associations. This ruling was followed in March by the D.C. District Court of Appeals Speechnow.org v. FEC case, in which the court explicitly allowed the creation of Super PACs, which are allowed to spend unlimited money to influence elections, as long as they do not coordinate with any candidates.
These court cases are widely viewed as having increased the influence of moneyed interests in the American political system, and convinced Cenk Uygur, the host of the online news show The Young Turks, that action was necessary. Although the paperwork to form Wolf PAC was filed with the FEC as early as June 2010, Uygur announced the creation of Wolf PAC on October 19, 2011, during the Occupy Wall Street occupation of Zucotti Park in New York City.
Progress in particular states
As a national group, Wolf PAC is working in all 50 states and reports over 20,000 volunteers. The table below shows the status of Wolf PAC's legislation for every state in America. The District of Columbia has no say in the passage of amendments, so it is not listed here. Note that it is not uncommon for an introduced resolution to be left to a committee where it dies after the legislative session of that state ends without any voting or sufficient votes to move the motion forward (a death in committee). Such resolutions can simply be reintroduced in current legislative sessions until a vote is called. Only when bill(s) have passed in both legislative chambers would the state be listed as calling a limited convention of the states.
|State||Introduced||Bill(s)||Lower house||Upper house||Status|
|Alaska||January 23, 2015||SJR 6||-||Died in prior session committee||-|
|California||December 3, 2012||AJR 1||Passed (January 30, 2014)||Passed (June 23, 2014)||Passed|
|Connecticut||May 30, 2015||HJR 64, SJ 33||Passed (May 30, 2015)||Voted down||-|
|Delaware||January 28, 2015||SCR 6||Died in prior session committee||Passed (March 25, 2015)||-|
|Hawaii||February 17, 2015, February 17, 2017||HCR 53, SCR40, HCR 50||Passed (April 6, 2017)||Pending in current session||-|
|Illinois||October 22, 2013||SJR 42||Passed (December 3, 2014)||Passed (April 9, 2014)||Passed|
|Iowa||March 31, 2016||HJR 2009||Died in prior session committee||-||-|
|Kansas||February 10, 2016||SCR 1611||-||Died in prior session committee||-|
|Louisiana||March 15, 2016||HCR 13||Died in prior session committee||-||-|
|Maine||June 9, 2015||HP 988||Voted down||-||-|
|Maryland||February 6, 2015||SJ 2||-||Died in prior session chamber||-|
|Massachusetts||January 20, 2015, January 23, 2017, January 23, 2017||H 3127, H 1926, S 379||Pending in current session||Pending in current session||-|
|Michigan||August 3, 2016, September 7, 2016||HJR 00, SJR S||Died in prior session chamber||Died in prior session committee||-|
|Mississippi||February 8, 2016||HC 37||Died in prior session committee||-||-|
|Missouri||May 13, 2016, February 10, 2015 January 19, 2017||HCR 103, SCR 19, SCR 9||Voted down||Reintroduced, Passed (April 12, 2017)||-|
|New Hampshire||March 29, 2016||SCR 3||Died in prior session chamber after deadline expired with no vote. Vote to suspend rules and pass after deadline received 171 votes with 119 voting no, but failed as it required a 2/3 supermajority.||Passed (March 24, 2016)||-|
|New Jersey||August 11, 2014||SCR 132 / ACR 149||Passed (February 23, 2015)||Passed (December 18, 2014)||Passed|
|New Mexico||January 26, 2017||SJR12||Died in committee||Passed (March 15, 2017)||-|
|New York||April 27, 2015, January 27, 2015||A 7176, S 2667||Died in prior session committee||Died in prior session committee||-|
|North Carolina||April 15, 2015||H717||Died in prior session committee||-||-|
|North Dakota||January 12, 2017||HCR 3008||-||-||-|
|Oklahoma||February 2, 2016||HJR 1048||Died in prior session committee||-||-|
|Oregon||January 9, 2017||SJM 2||-||Died in committee||-|
|Rhode Island||February 24, 2016||H7670 / S2589||Passed (June 16, 2016)||Passed (June 17, 2016)||Passed|
|Texas||March 10, 2017||HJR-120||Left pending in committee||-||-|
|Vermont||April 16, 2013||JRS 27||Passed (March 21, 2014)||Passed (May 2, 2014)||Passed|
|Washington||January 12, 2015||HJM 4000, SJM 8015||Passed (February 17, 2016)||Died in prior session chamber||-|
|West Virginia||January 21, 2016||SCR 4||-||Died in prior session chamber||-|
On March 21, 2014, the Vermont Senate passed JRS 27, a Wolf PAC-backed resolution, in a bipartisan 25 to 2 vote. On May 2, 2014, the Vermont House passed the resolution by a vote of 95–43, making Vermont the first state in the nation to call for an Article V convention concerning campaign finance reform. The language of the resolution called for a convention "for the sole purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America that would limit the corrupting influence of money in our electoral process, including, inter alia, by overturning the Citizens United decision."
Sen Dick Sears, D-Bennington, was a key figure in passing the resolution. He received a call from a constituent and became convinced that the strategy made sense. "I think it's an important resolution," Sears said. "Congress isn't going to act, and we've got to do something to get this country back under control." When the resolution reached the House, an emotional plea from South Burlington farmer Benjamin Brown brought about a sense of urgency. "What am I going to tell my children, what am I going to be able to say to them about this democracy?" Brown asked the legislators. "Vermont has an opportunity to lead right now it's not left and right, it's an issue of democracy," he said. Rep. Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte, agreed. He described the resolution as, "an opportunity to kick-start a movement that I hope will spread throughout the country and let people become aware of the real problems we have with the influence of money on elections and on our public policy." In contrast to these views, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, saw the resolution as a grave mistake. "I see it as an attack on free speech," Benning said. "I did not want to give my vote to something that clearly restricts free speech, because I think the First Amendment is one of the most important amendments we have, if not the most important."
On March 20, 2012, resolution was introduced in the California State Assembly, but was voted down in the Judiciary Committee. On January 30, 2014, the California State Assembly became the second state lower chamber to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention. On June 23, 2014, California became the second state in the nation to pass a resolution. The language of the resolution called for a convention "for the sole purpose of proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution that would limit corporate personhood for purposes of campaign finance and political speech and would further declare that money does not constitute speech and may be legislatively limited."
The state Senate voted 23–11 to support the resolution. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, the author of the resolution, remarked, "I doubt our founding fathers had the free-speech rights of multinational and foreign corporations in mind when they drafted the First Amendment." Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, recognized young people for their contribution to countering the Citizens United decision. "They have taken the lead in this effort," she observed, "because they recognize that the future of democracy, that their futures, that the future of this nation...are very much at risk as a result of this decision. Money is not speech. Corporations are not people. And up until the Supreme Court decision that flipped that on its head, that was the standard in the United States of America."
On April 9, 2014, SJR 42 passed the Illinois Senate by a 37–15 vote. State Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, was the lone Republican state Senator to vote in favor of the resolution. On December 3, 2014, the Illinois House voted 74–40 in favor of the joint resolution, making Illinois the third state to pass such a resolution. The Illinois resolution called for a convention "in order to address concerns such as those raised by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and related cases and events, including those occurring long before or afterward, or for a substantially similar purpose, and desires that the convention should be so limited."
Prior to the House vote, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig testified before a House committee, saying: "My ideal amendment is one that secures Congress the power to guarantee free and fair elections by making sure that we don't have a Congress that's dependent on raising millions...There are two things that have to change: the way we fund elections and the ability to eliminate entities like Super PACs from dominating the political arena.” John McGinnis, a Northwestern University professor of constitutional law, disagreed with his assessment. "I think it's a very bad idea," he opined. "I think we should have more speech at the time of elections. This seems to me to make the United States system a less participatory system...I see this as an attempt by people like Professor Lessig and what I call the 'new class,' the media and academics, to restrict people who don't have opinions for a living from participating. If you look at the media and academics, they look a lot less diverse in their ideological views than rich people. Rich people are pretty divided between Republicans and Democrats."
A resolution to call for a constitutional convention to overturn Citizens United was introduced on August 11, 2014.
Testimony before the New Jersey Senate included speeches from Wolf Pac volunteers as well as an appearance from Americans for Prosperity. Wolf PAC saw the attendance by the latter group as a sign of concern from moneyed interests at the progress that has been made to counter the Citizens United decision.
On February 23, 2015, the New Jersey Assembly passed the resolution by a vote of 44-25, and New Jersey's became the fourth state legislature to adopt Wolf PAC's amendment resolution. The resolution called for a convention for the purpose of "proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that would limit the corrupting influence of money in our political system including overturning the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and related cases."
The resolution had previously been passed by the state Senate. "A constitutional convention is clearly needed to correct the disastrous impact of recent court decisions on the integrity of elections in New Jersey and throughout the nation," declared Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Hamilton Township. "Citizens United opened the door to unlimited spending by shadowy, well-funded groups with no transparency or accountability – spending that drowns out the voice of the American voter and threatens the fundamental fairness of our democracy." Benson found some agreement across the aisle as Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, R-Little Silver, supported certain campaign funding restrictions. "We restrict corporations but not unions. Perhaps a convention like this would come up with solutions," O'Scanlon said. However, Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris Township, disagreed with the resolution. "America boosts a long and salutary tradition of robust forceful unrestrained political expression," Carroll said. "The influence of money is grossly understated. It profoundly insults the American people to imply or insert that they are so stupid that they can't make informed political decision that they cannot assess the merits of political arguments before them."
Rhode Island adopted their resolution on June 17, 2016, the fifth state to do so. The language of the Rhode Island resolution called for a convention "in order to address concerns such as those raised by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and related cases and events, including those occurring long before or afterward, or for a substantially similar purpose, and desires that the convention should be so limited."
"Runaway convention" theory, ongoing conflict with DNC and Common Cause
Because an Article V convention has never occurred (since historically, Congress has pre-emptively proposed the amendment itself on several occasions when the states have come close to calling for one), it is unclear how such a convention would function in practice. While the convention called for by Wolf PAC is one that is limited in scope to the topic of campaign finance reform, there is disagreement over whether delegates to the convention are legally bound from going beyond the established topic. This ambiguity has led to concerns that an Article V convention could lead to a "runaway convention". A runaway convention is a theory that delegates at an Article V convention could potentially make proposals outside the permissible scope of topic for which the convention was called. Wolf PAC has argued that even if an unintended runaway convention were to occur, it would not pose a threat to the Constitution because any amendment proposed by an Article V convention would still need to be ratified by a super-high majority (three-fourths) of the states. Other groups that have called for similar Article V conventions, such as U.S. Term Limits, are often faced with the idea of a runaway convention, and respond with the same argument.
Cenk Uygur published a video on The Young Turk's YouTube channel on April 4, 2017, discussing Washington D.C.-based lobbying group Common Cause's efforts to lobby New Mexico's House of Representatives to not bring to a vote SJR12, which was passed in their upper chamber. In the video, Uygur outlines issues Wolf PAC has with Common Cause, such as using paid lobbyists to thwart efforts of Wolf PAC volunteers, using an appearance as a progressive organization despite having centrist goals, opposing the use of a Article V convention to create an amendment, and their lobbyists' attempts to rescind the bill Wolf PAC helped to pass in Vermont.
Uygur later published videos in May 2017 detailing how Democratic strategists at the national level have begun whisper campaigns in Hawaii and Maryland with lobbying groups such as Common Cause, which caused resolutions Wolf PAC supported in those states to be denied a vote, despite initially having heavy support.
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