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Spin Control: Moves afoot to change the Constitution

OLYMPIA – For all the love directed at the U.S. Constitution and the Founding Fathers by politicians, there’s rarely a time when several groups aren’t proposing several changes to the document in search of “a more perfect union.”

As mass shootings continue, don’t be surprised to see several gun control amendments emerge.

People opposed to abortion would like to outlaw that through a “Human Life Amendment.”

People opposed to deficit spending would like to stop that through a “Balanced Budget Amendment.”

A group in Washington is nearing its goal for signatures to push reforms on campaign finance. Initiative 735 wants to overturn Supreme Court rulings that equate corporations with people and regard campaign contributions as constitutionally protected free speech. It’s called the “Government of, by and for the People Act.”

This proposal envisions a change through the standard route: An amendment is passed by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress, goes to the states and is added to the Constitution if three-fourths say yes. It’s a process that usually winnows out ideas impractical or faddish, although Prohibition managed to sneak through for Amendment XVIII, only to be repealed by Amendment XXI.

Constitutional articles and amendments are so important that they are enumerated in the Roman style, making them roughly equal in importance to another American institution, the Super Bowl. The NFL has apparently abandoned the practice, at least for Super Bowl 50, perhaps for fear of jokes being made about an L of a Super Bowl.

If I-735 gets enough signatures, the Legislature will be asked to pass a law supporting the change and urging the congressional delegation to propose an amendment. If the Legislature balks, Washington voters would get a chance to weigh in next November.

None of that guarantees the amendment would get through Congress and back to the states. A national group, known as the Wolf PAC, wants to force campaign finance change through the other mechanism to amend the constitution: A convention.

This liberal populist group shares very little in common with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative group that wants a balanced budget amendment. But they both want a constitutional convention for something they suspect Congress won’t do on its own.

Such a convention can only happen if two-thirds of the states call for one on a particular issue. ALEC is far ahead in the quest to get the necessary 34 states; 27 Legislatures have already passed a resolution calling for a convention to enact the balanced budget amendment, while only four have approved a proposal on campaign finance changes.

Washington is among 13 states being targeted next year in an effort to get a convention for the balanced budget amendment. Nothing has been introduced to the Legislature yet, but both chambers have lawmakers who are members of ALEC and could be sympathetic.

If seven of those states jump in, Article V of the Constitution kicks in and there would be a convention.

If five or six states send the request, Congress might take up the amendment on its own. That happened in the early 1900s when the states wanted the people to elect their U.S. senators but members of the Senate, in what can only be described as unenlightened self-interest, refused until the nation approached the two-thirds threshold and they were forced to read the writing on the wall.

The prospect of a constitutional convention worries people of various political leanings. Common Cause supports campaign finance reform and opposes the balanced budget amendment on principle, but is very much against a constitutional convention to enact either. Senior writer/Editor Dale Eisman says nobody can predict how such a convention would be established, who could attend or what would come out of it.

“Once you get started, it’s Katie bar the door,” Eisman said.

There’s no real precedent. Except of course back in 1787, when the nation called a convention to tweak the Articles of Confederation, and wound up scrapping them entirely for the Constitution.

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