WDC Testimony on Proposed Article V Constitutional Convention

Delivered at the Joint Public Hearing held by The Senate Committee on Financial Services, Constitution, and Federalism And the Assembly Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations

March 28, 2017

Chairman Craig and Chairman Vorpagel and distinguished members of the committees, I appreciate the opportunity to testify on the bills concerning an Article V Constitutional Convention.

My name is Matt Rothschild, and I’m the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics and advocates for clean and transparent government, where everyone has an equal voice and an equal say.

We strongly oppose these bills for the following three reasons:

1. A balanced budget amendment would lead to economic catastrophe.

By requiring a balanced budget, the amendment that is being proposed would tie the hands of the federal government in times of an economic downturn. This is economic foolishness. 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 this balanced budget amendment been in place in 1933, we may never have gotten out of the Great Depression. Had it been in place in 2009, we may never have gotten out of the Great Recession, which would have turned into another Great Depression. If this amendment actually were to pass, millions and millions of Americans would needlessly face unemployment and immense hardship the next time the economy took a turn for the worse, and their suffering would be on your hands and your conscience.

2. An Article V Constitutional Convention imperils our fundamental rights.

I know you’re trying to limit the scope of the Constitutional Convention to just this one balanced budget amendment, but it may not be that easy. The last time we had a Constitutional Convention in 1787-1789, delegates ended up rewriting our governing document top to bottom. This could result in the erasure of some of our most cherished and fundamental rights, which are enshrined in the Constitution. That’s why, for instance, the National Association of Gun Rights and the Gun Owners of America oppose an Article V Constitutional Convention. And that’s why the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia opposed it, too, saying 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.”

3. The way you are proposing to choose delegates to such a Convention is highly partisan and unrepresentative.

Under AB165/SB107, Wisconsin would get seven delegates to such a convention, and here’s how they’d be chosen:

“The speaker of the assembly shall appoint 3 members of the assembly.” The speaker, as you know, is Republican Robin Vos.

“The president of the senate shall appoint 3 members of the senate.” As you know, that is Republican Senator Roger Roth.

“The governor shall appoint 1 member of either the assembly or the senate.” Of course, that’s Republican Governor Scott Walker.

So, if my math’s correct, Republican leaders would get to choose all seven of Wisconsin’s delegates!

This is a naked and shameful way to stack the deck in a partisan fashion. It is grossly unrepresentative, since Wisconsin is a state that splits narrowly between Democrats and Republicans, so you would be leaving essentially half of the citizens of Wisconsin totally unrepresented at a Constitutional Convention!

And this proposed method breaks with the tradition of bipartisanship of this body when choosing members to important boards and commissions. For instance, for the Elections Commission and Ethics Commissions, the minority leaders of both parties get to choose the same number of members as the majority leaders. Why be fair about the method of choosing members for these commissions, and then be so unfair about the method of choosing delegates at a Constitutional Convention?

For these reasons, we oppose these bills.

Thank you for considering our views on this crucial matter.