Why Texas Might Help End Outside Money in Politics: Wolf-PAC Texas

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Money in politics is the number one threat to our democracy. The reason we formed an American government is to represent the American people. When outside groups are allowed to donate millions of dollars to influence our elections and buy our politicians, they will of course do it. It's our fault if we allow them to skew our representatives to their interests over the good of the American people. This is a fundamental principle of representative democracy, and something the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with.

Wolf-PAC is a political organization devoted to the removal of corrupting money out politics. The organization does not distinguish between types of outside money in politics, but views all of it as fundamentally corrosive to a government “dependent on the people alone,” as James Madison foresaw. Founded in 2011, Wolf-PAC has a unique approach to achieving their goal: in adherence with Article V of the Constitution, convince 2/3 of the states to call an Article V convention to propose amendments on this issue alone. Article V conventions are solely for the purpose of proposing amendments.

The logic behind this state-based strategy is that at this point, Congress is so fundamentally corrupted with big money that they would never pass an amendment to cut ties with their overlords. Wolf-PAC intends to get around Washington's corruption by going straight to the states. Once the convention is called, if 3/4 of the states approve an amendment to the Constitution, guess what happens? That amendment becomes part of the U.S. Constitution.

Wolf-PAC's Texas arm has already succeeded in getting a call for an Article V convention introduced in the Texas House. Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) has introduced HJR-94 calling for an Article V Convention to get big outside money out of politics.

Story continues below the jump. That's right. Our own Texas has joined Minnesota and Massachusetts in taking the first legislative steps to get money out of politics. And nowhere is the universal appeal of this amendment highlighted more than in Texas. During a Texans United to Amend rally (a coalition of pro-amendment groups including Wolf-PAC Texas) at the Capitol in January, several members of the simultaneous anti-gun control Guns Across America rally came over and expressed their agreement that we need to get money out of politics.

The introduction of HJR-94 is very welcome news, and of course more work is required. I interviewed Todd Jagger, State Director of Wolf-PAC Texas, to learn more about this effort and ways to get involved.

What is Wolf­-PAC Texas's strategy?

We intend to make Texas the first state to call for an Article V Convention to propose an amendment by uniting Texans under a cross­partisan movement that cannot be ignored. Conservatives, progressives, Tea Partiers, Independents, libertarians – no matter what is important to you the corrupting influence of money in politics works against you and everyone else. This is not a left or right issue, it's an American issue.

Texas was one of the first states to call for an Article V Convention for the 17th Amendment a hundred years ago. We can and should lead again today.

How did you convince Rep. Lon Burnam to introduce HJR-94?

There was no convincing necessary. I was just the right guy in the right place at the right time with the right solution talking to the right Representative. Rep. Burnam said he and his colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, have been troubled by the effects of Citizens United. They've seen what it's done to our political process and our country­ and they have been looking for an effective way to deal with it. And this is it. This type of situation is exactly what the founders had in mind when they wrote Article V: a way for the states, which are closer to the people, to rein in an unresponsive or out of control federal government. It's a core component of the Constitution and it's clear the founders intended it to be used. Frequently used, in fact.

My favorite part of our meeting was at the end when Rep. Burnam said, “Okay, tomorrow I want you to call my Chief of Staff and tell him you are Todd from Wolf­-PAC, and no, we're not saving the wolves, we're saving the republic.”

What are the next steps for HJR-94?

Building support in the House by bringing co­-sponsors on to the bill and getting the companion resolution introduced and co­sponsored in the Senate. And of course passing both resolutions. We also support the two non­binding resolutions in the Texas Legislature, SCR­2/HCR­21, and want to see them passed as well, but we honestly don't have much confidence that Congress will act upon them and, if they do, we believe the only way they will craft an acceptable amendment, one that isn't weak or full of loopholes, will only be with the pressure brought upon them by a valid Article V Convention call. That's what happened with the 17th Amendment and it could happen in this case as well. At the same time we believe our best shot, and the safest route, is by letting the people and states propose the amendment.

Many states, including Texas, have long histories of strong campaign finance law, so we know how to do this. The federal government has severely encroached on states' rights by telling us we have to let big outside money control our politics.

Part of this process is educative, one legislator at a time. The status quo has a lot of vested interest in creating an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and doubt about the Article V process, and of course in maintaining the status quo, so sometimes we have to help legislators recall their civics classes (do they even teach that any more?). 87% of Americans know our political process has been damaged by the influence of big outside money. It's not hard to show how a convention is the most viable and safest solution.

For our State Legislators it's important to remember that this power to safeguard our representative democracy was entrusted to the States and it's not only our right but our responsibility to exercise it, for the good of our nation.

What direct action can the bill's supporters take?

Join us at www.wolf-pac.com and find us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/wolfpachq & www.facebook.com/wolfpactexas) and “you can always follow me on Tweeter” (@wolfpactx and @wolfpachq). Talk about this issue with your friends and family. Call your representative and tell them you want them to support, co­sponsor and vote yes on HJR-94. Then call another one. Call your senator and ask them to introduce the companion resolution in the Senate. Call Speaker Straus' office and let them know you want to see HJR-94 voted on the floor in the House that Texas Legislators should have the opportunity to once again lead the nation and restore our democracy. We deserve that, don't you think?

What challenges have you found in Texas?

Getting anything done legislatively in Texas is always a challenge. There are a million issues (and special interests…) all clamoring for the attention of our Legislators who have a comparatively short window to act. It's hard to rise above the noise. We have to make it clear, and understood, that until we solve this first problem of corrupting money in politics no other problems can adequately be addressed. The time is now.

We, as Texans and as Americans, have the responsibility to put our country back on course. This is how we do it ­at the state level, as intended by the framers.

Have you found Democrats resistant to the bill?

What we've mainly found, from both Republicans and Democrats, is an unfamiliarity with Article V, why it's there, why we should use it now to solve this problem, why it's our best and perhaps only real mechanism to do so, and why a convention is actually the best and most stringent way to propose an amendment. After all, Congress is the problem. We can't trust them to be the solution.

This is a historic moment and a historic opportunity. I'm not sure how many legislators really see that and it's important they do. They can literally be the ones who lead in one of the most significant issues of our lifetime and for the future of our country. The names at the first constitutional convention are some of the most famous in American history. You, good Texas State Representative and Texas State Senator, can be part of that.

You've said the Article V process is the “best” and “safest” method for proposing an amendment. Why?

Some of the most renowned constitutional scholars and lawyers, including Lawrence Lessig and UT's Sanford Levinson agree an Article V Convention is not only safe but that one is necessary and long overdue. Yet I have a couple reasons of my own apart from the legal context. First, who is more likely to work to craft a strong and acceptable amendment? Citizen-Delegates representing a broad cross ­section of Americans or a Congress with a 7% approval rating; career politicians who have risen to the highest levels of political power by working the very money­ in ­politics system we are trying to end?

Second, the convention, if we have one, will be the first one since 1787. There will be overwhelming media coverage. The weight of history in the making will be heavy on every delegates' shoulders. Every minute will be watched and analyzed world­wide. Every word in any amendment will be debated and scrutinized. That's a powerful safeguard against the backroom deals or obfuscating language we see all the time in congressional legislation. And don't forget, whether an amendment is proposed by Congress or a convention, 38 states must still ratify it to get it in the Constitution. That's a very high bar and a powerful protection against anything radical.

What is your background and why did you take your position as Texas State Director in Wolf-­PAC?

I'm a lifelong Texan, grew up in Austin, moved to Fort Davis about 20 years ago. I'm a photographer, musician and tech entrepreneur by vocation. I have photographs in the permanent collection at the Harry Ransom Center, played with several bands including a stint with the Austin Lounge Lizards and I founded the first Internet company in the Big Bend because nobody else would do it. I've been seriously concerned about money in politics for a long time. I've seen how it keeps real problems from being solved and our nation hobbled in a cycle of partisan politics, fundraising and gridlock.

I began volunteering with Wolf­-PAC when it first started in Texas and just kept going. I saw what needed to be done and did it. That's what we Texans do, isn't it?

The name of the bill in the Texas House has been changed from HCR 25 to HJR-94, now reflected in this post.


About Author

Ben Sherman

Ben Sherman has been a BOR staff writer since 2011. A graduate of the University of Texas, Ben has worked on campaigns, in political consulting, and has written for other news outlets like Think Progress. Ben considers campaign finance reform the fundamental challenge of our time because it distorts almost every other issue in American politics.

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