A Brief History of Activism That Has Made a Big Difference in Society

ACTIVISM
History is shaped through all kinds of activism.

Photo Credit: Eric Crama / Shutterstock

When we reflect on the activists who changed the course of history, we often think of those who showed up and made their presence known: the Civil Rights activists who took to the streets, despite the very real threat of police brutality; the protesters amassing by the hundreds of thousands, signs in hand, like those who participated in the recent Women’s March; the canvassers tirelessly knocking on doors, getting out the vote to shape the future of American politics.

But history has not always been made by those who are so visible.

Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial — but many are unaware that these most famous lines were reportedly inspired by Baptist minister Prathia Hall, who used the phrase in a public prayer honoring those lost in the Mount Olive Baptist Church arson.

Similarly, “Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson, who performed the last musical act before King’s iconic speech, used her public platform from behind the podium to interrupt King partway through his oration and advise him to “tell them about the dream,” a phrase she had heard him use in previous speeches. At her request, he instantly improvised the next section, which began:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Mahalia Jackson (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

These kinds of behind-the-scenes actions are often overlooked in favor of more visible activism. But it’s both inaccurate and problematic to dismiss this brand of social justice advocacy—in part because for many, highly visible activism simply isn’t possible.

In January, my Instagram feed was filled with images of friends, family, and acquaintances participating in the Women’s March all over the country, with the highest turnout in my current city of Los Angeles. I got out of bed hopeful that we can make a difference — but I say “we” even though I slept through this monumental event. That’s because I have dealt with many health conditions, including sleep apnea, which can cause severe exhaustion.

Those with visible disabilities often need to work against obstacles and have crucial needs that are frequently overlooked. At the same time, we must also acknowledge those with invisible illnesses — like anxiety, a sleep disorder, or depression — that may hinder their ability to be present for marches, protests, canvassing, and other in-person engagements.

For inspiration and wisdom, we can glean much from examining the history of social change, which has long been shaped in part by those behind the scenes.

The Power of the Pen

As is true today, writers, editors, publishers, and everyday folk were instrumental in the success of the pre-Revolutionary War and Civil Rights Movement, even when they weren’t on the front lines of protest.

Leading up to the American Revolution, the British Stamp Act required “government-issued stamps be placed on all legal documents and newspapers, as well as playing cards and dice,” according to historian Carol Berkin in Revolutionary Mothers. In protest, a group of women in New York City made a public announcement in the newspaper, refusing to marry their fiancés if they applied for a stamped marriage license. This act of opposition was a bold feat at a time when women were discouraged from participating in print dialogue.

In another prime example, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that abolished anti-miscegenation laws. Mildred and Richard Loving, black and white respectively, were not allowed to return home to their state of Virginia after marrying against Virginia law. Mildred, though highly unassuming, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for assistance, which she then received from the ACLU. This simple letter ignited change that has altered marriage laws country-wide and was the inspiration for same-sex marriage equality in the 21st century.

Mildred Loving’s letter launched one of the most important Supreme Court cases in history. (Credit: flickr/Freedom to Marry)

In a different historic Supreme Court case, Daisy Bates, co-publisher of the black newspaper the State Presschronicled the fight for school integration following Brown v. Board of Education in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to using her pen to document civil rights issues, Bates acted behind the scenes to protect and support the first nine black students integrating Little Rock Central High School — a group commonly referred to as the “Little Rock Nine.” Bates even penned a letter to President Eisenhower, asking for reinforcements to combat the violence she and other activists experienced as a result of upholding the new legislation. She ingeniously placed “spies” on campus to report both positive and negative truths about what happened inside the school, in order to combat misinformation from both sides.

Bates has inspired me in my own efforts to contribute in part by writing words — words about Gabrielle Gorman and Jesse Williams, about black NASA trailblazers, and about the biased American captivity narrative. This, too, matters.

Boycotting Goods

The Montgomery bus boycotts and the Boston Tea Party are of course the most widely recognized boycotting efforts in the U.S. But other boycotts past and present have played significant roles in the country’s progression.

After the dissolution of the Stamp Act, the colonies began boycotting other British imports, especially luxury items. Sugar, mirrors, silk, lace, and even pickles were renounced in 1769 by the Virginia House of Burgess. It took several years for the boycotts to gain momentum, but we know how the story ends: America was able to release itself from British rule following the Revolution. This type of activism was performed by everyday men and women, all of whom relied on goods and services for their daily needs. While the boycotts themselves became a public force, individuals were able to contribute in small ways with a big impact.

Today, boycotts against companies that financially back Trump and his family have also proven effective. Lyft downloads surpassed Uber for the first time after a recent boycott, resulting in Uber pledging a $3 million defense fund to help drivers with immigration issues. Additionally, following a recent boycott of Nordstrom, the clothing company decided to no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s brand, citing a significant drop in sales due to the boycott as its motivation. Other retailers, such as Neiman Marcus, T.J. Maxx, and Burlington, have followed suit.

Taking Care of Loved Ones

We each have different roles in the current fight for the preservation of our country. While my aunt and uncle (a Democratic county representative and legislative district chair, respectively) participated in the Seattle airport protests against the immigration ban, my cousin, who participated in the Women’s March with my aunt, contributed to the cause that night by watching over our ailing grandmother. My sister, who was well into her third trimester and recently had her baby, sat out the march but contributed to the ACLU.

While we must all push ourselves to do more during this horrific presidency, we should also take advantage of enacting change within our individual spheres of influence and power. Though I cannot participate in everything, I have been able to not only use my writing to speak power to truth, but also to sign petitions and send emails (though still not as much as I should).

Those with invisible illnesses, or who otherwise can’t engage in in-person actions, may fear they can’t do their part. But as essayist Michel de Montaigne so wisely put, “We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.”

ALTERNET 

Get Out: The horror of racism, and racialist politics

By Hiram Lee
28 March 2017

Written and directed by Jordan Peele

The horror film Get Out has been popular with both audiences and critics. It is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, best known for his work as one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele. With Get Out, Peele has said he wanted to make a film to “combat the lie that America had become post-racial.” The monster at the heart of this horror film is racism itself.

Get Out

Get Out tells the story of African-American photographer, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). The couple is planning to visit Rose’s parents for the first time. But when Chris discovers Rose hasn’t told her parents that he is black, he worries the visit won’t go well. Rose reassures him that her parents are anything but racist, and the trip goes ahead as planned.

Rose’s father (Bradley Whitford) turns out to be a wealthy surgeon. Her mother (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnosis therapy. They go out of their way to make Chris feel at home. Rose’s father makes awkward gestures to Chris, at one point telling him that he would have voted for Obama a third time given the chance. What seem at first like well meaning but misguided attempts to relate to Chris and put him at ease soon turn into something else. There is something even darker than such “micro aggressions” lurking beneath this white liberal family.

Most troubling to Chris are the African-American servants the family employs. They appear brainwashed, too satisfied with the family and their duties. They don’t behave as real people would. When the family later throws a party and the white guests appear to be sizing him up for something, it puts him further on edge.

Despite all the warning signs, Chris hesitates, hoping for the best until it is almost too late. The family intends to capture him and force him into a kind of servitude, though not quite the kind he was expecting. His failure to act sooner nearly gets him killed. This complacency in the face of racism is one of the main themes of the film.

Get Out accepts a number of conventions about race relations and begins from there. Racism, for Peele, simply exists—in the same way that evil does, or original sin. Everyone is infected by it. Its historical origins and the social forces which nourish and promote it are beside the point. Accepting this, the film is left to offer pseudo-psychological explanations for the beliefs and activities of its antagonists. This leads it into rather disturbing territory. At one point the film seems to suggest that the white family terrorizing Chris is jealous of the genetically endowed superior physical abilities of its African-American victims. Given Rose’s involvement in the conspiracy, one could even be forgiven for interpreting the film as a warning against interracial relationships. Like all such works based on racialist conceptions, one doesn’t have to follow the logic very far before one arrives at positions virtually identical to those of the extreme right.

Get Out

Since its release, Peele’s film has generated a great deal of media attention, including its share of hype and controversy. In recent weeks, Peele has been celebrated in the media as the first African-American writer-director to have earned more than $100 million with his debut film. He has cracked a key financial threshold and his success as an artist is thus confirmed for certain layers. There is a lot of talk about what it means for black filmmakers in Hollywood. Opportunity is on the horizon.

But does Get Out tell the truth about the world? Several interviews make clear Peele’s own outlook.

In an interview with the New York Times, Peele affirmed his intention to target the “liberal elite” with the film. “The liberal elite,” said Peele, “who communicates that we’re not racist in any way is as much of the problem as anything else. This movie is about the lack of acknowledgement that racism exists. In the Trump era, it’s way more obvious extreme racism exists. But there are still a lot of people who think: We don’t have a racist bone in our bodies. We have to face the racism in ourselves.”

In another interview with GQ magazine, Peele seeks to explain why there haven’t been more horror films dealing with race:

“Black creators have not been given a platform, and the African-American experience can only be dealt with by an African-American. That might be problematic to say. And now that I think about it, [The Stepford Wives author] Ira Levin is a man, and he and Roman Polanski wrote Rosemary’s Baby. Let’s say it would be scary for a white writer and director to do something that includes the victimization of black people in this way. Of course, we have this trope where the black guy is the first to die in every horror movie—that’s a way for [white filmmakers] to have their cake and eat it, too.”

The division of the world along such racial lines has the most reactionary implications. Indeed, we saw only last week how “scary” it could be when a white artist, Dana Schutz, dared to depict the victimization of a black person, Emmett Till, in her work.

Interestingly, the reactionary notion that only an African-American can deal with the so-called “African-American experience” (a racialist term that throws class and history out the window) has also been used to attack Peele’s film. In a recent radio interview, actor Samuel L. Jackson complained that the film’s star, Daniel Kaluuya, was British, saying that an African American actor would have been better suited to the role. He went on to lament the prevalence of black British actors currently employed in Hollywood. “They’re cheaper than us,” he said. In these bitter, career-motivated comments, Jackson united racialism with its perfect complement, nationalism.

WSWS

 

 

The bad art of the non sequitur: Gibberish is the White House’s new normal

We’re expected to live in a universe which is not only post-truth but altogether post-language and post-meaning

The bad art of the non sequitur: Gibberish is the White House's new normal
(Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

Once upon a time, there were presidents for whom English seemed their native language. Barack Obama most recently. He deliberated. At a press conference or in an interview — just about whenever he wasn’t speaking from a text — his pauses were as common as other people’s “uh’s.” He was not pausing because his vocabulary was impoverished. He was pausing to put words into sequence. He was putting phrases together with care, word by word, trying out words before uttering them, checking to feel out what they would sound like once uttered. It was important to him because he did not want to be misunderstood. President Obama valued precision, in no small part because he knew he lived in a world where every last presidential word was a speech act, a declaration with consequence, so that the very statement that the sky was blue, say, would be scoured for evidence that the president was declaring a policy on the nature of nature.

That was then. Now we have a president who, when he speaks, spatters the air with unfinished chunks, many of which do not qualify as sentences, and which do not follow from previous chunks. He does not release words into a stream of consciousness but into a heap. He heaps words on top of words, to overwhelm meaning with vague gestures. He does not think, he lurches.

Here are some examples from TIME’s transcript of their cover story made out of their phone interview with the president of the United States. I have italicized the non sequiturs, incomplete propositions, indefinite pronouns and other obscurities that amount to verbal mud.

Scherer: So you don’t feel like Comey’s testimony in any way takes away from the credibility of the tweets you put out, even with the quotes?

Trump: No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened. But you have to take a look at what they, they just went out at a news conference.

Scherer: Mitch McConnell has said he’d rather you stop tweeting, that he sees it as a distraction.

Trump: Mitch will speak for himself. Mitch is a wonderful man. Mitch should speak for himself.

Trump: Now the problem, the thing is, I’m not sure they are watching anything other than that, let’s see members of Donald Trump transition team, possibly, oh this just came out.

Trump: I took a lot of heat when I said Brexit was going to pass. Don’t forget, Obama said that UK will go to the back of the line, and I talked about Sweden, and may have been somewhat different, but the following day, two days later, they had a massive riot in Sweden, exactly what I was talking about, I was right about that.

Trump: And then TIME magazine, which treats me horribly, but obviously I sell, I assume this is going to be a cover too, have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers, nobody’s had more covers.

Trump: But the real story here is, who released Gen. Flynn’s name? Who released, who released my conversations with Australia, and who released my conversation with Mexico? To me, Michael, that’s the story, these leakers, they are disgusting. These are horrible people.

Scherer: And apparently there is an investigation into that as well.

Trump: Well should be, because that’s where the whole, who would think that you are speaking to the head of Mexico, the head of Australia, or Gen. Flynn, who was, they are not supposed to release that. That is the most confidential stuff. Classified. That’s classified. You go to prison when you release stuff like that. And who would release that? The real story is, they have to work, intelligence has to work on finding out who are the leakers. Because you know what? When things get involved with North Korea and all the problems we have there, in the Middle East, I mean, that information cannot be leaked out, and it will be by this, this same, and these people were here in the Obama years, because he had plenty of leakers also.

Trump: I inherited a mess in the Middle East, and a mess with North Korea, I inherited a mess with jobs, despite the statistics, you know, my statistics are even better, but they are not the real statistics because you have millions of people that can’t get a job, OK. And I inherited a mess on trade. I mean we have many, you can go up and down the ladder. But that’s the story. Hey look, in the meantime, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not. You know. Say hello to everybody, OK?

So it goes.

Now, TIME’s cover headline for this mishmash is pointed as well as clever: “Is Truth Dead?” — clever, at any rate, in the eyes of readers old enough to remember the 1966 prototype: “Is God Dead?” A still more pointed treatment is that of Ellie Shechet at Jezebel — a redaction, or what be called reporting by subtraction. In the words of headline, “We Redacted Everything That’s Not a Verifiably True Statement From Trump’s Time Interview About Truth.” Unsurprisingly, Jezebel ended up having to edit the transcript so that the passages blacked out were lengthier than the words left in.

But the problem is not just that Trump lies, or that he lies about having lied. The problem is not just that he distracts — for example, changing the subject from his entanglements with Russians to the leakers who leak stories about his entanglements with Russians. The problem is that he insinuates more than he argues. He disdains not only evidence but logic. He asserts by indirection. This is bubble-think. It makes a sort of sense only if you’re trapped in the bubble with him.

What explains this? Is Donald Trump the heir of generations of avant-garde poetry?

Probably not. What’s more likely is that he is deranged. It is a peculiar sort of derangement. It is the derangement of a man who is used to getting what he wants, and arranging his mental universe so as to convince himself that what he has gotten is what he wanted. His operating theory is that he makes things so because he is powerful. His power is such that he is not subject to laws of ordinary grammar.

These bursts of speech are like the announcements that shriek “TRUMP” from the walls of many of his hotels. They do not signify ownership. They signify…something. Whatever. They add up to a haze of indefinite implication. They constitute, in our contemporary discourse, a brand. They signify that Trump has something to do with this building. Something. If you’re privy to the code, you know that there’s a licensing arrangement. Trump has been paid to grant the use of his name. If you think it’s a good thing to be associated with his name, then he has some water, some steaks, some vodka — even a “university” — to offer you.

Trump has moved the sign system of modern capitalism toward a whole new capitalist art form — the free-floating name that describes nothing. Trump has peeled language away from meaning.

He has brought to fruition the title of the 1984 Talking Heads album: “Stop Making Sense.” His regime is a nonstop exercise of “Let’s Pretend.”

His con game requires the bending of millions of knees. Americans are invited to willingly suspend disbelief, play dumb and collude in his cynicism. We agree not to notice the nonstop gibberish that spreads from the Oval Office outward. We agree to brag about our democracy when the president of the United States is responsible neither to logic, nor to evidence, nor to the American people, nor to the English language. We are expected to live in an alternative universe which is not only post-truth but altogether post-language and post-meaning. Any journalist, any talking head, any pundit, any commentator, any politician who pretends that Donald Trump makes sense has volunteered to go to work in the tailor shop where his invisible clothes are weaved.

Todd Gitlin teaches at Columbia University, writes regularly for BillMoyers.com and Tablet, and is the author, most recently, of Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

Kochs Bankroll Movement to Rewrite the Constitution

NEWS & POLITICs
Austerity advocates claim that they need only to convince five of seven targeted states to get on board.

Photo Credit: GongTo / Shutterstock

A constitutional convention, something thought impossible not long ago, is looking increasingly likely. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, if 34 state legislatures “issue a call” for a constitutional convention, Congress must convene one. By some counts, the right-wing only needs six more states. Once called, delegates can propose and vote on changes and new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which, if approved, are currently required to be ratified by 38 states.

There are two major legislative pushes for a convention at the state level. One would attempt to engineer a convention for a balanced budget amendment only, and the other tries to secure an open convention for the purpose of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. But once a convention is underway, all bets are off. The convention can write its own rules, resulting in a wide-open or “runaway” convention that can make major changes to the constitution and even change the number of states required to ratify those changes.

If America gets saddled with a runaway convention, the Koch coterie of funders will be to blame. Most of the groups pushing the convention idea are being underwritten by one or more institutions tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

Attempts to Limit Topic of the Convention Likely to Fail

On Feb. 24, Wyoming became the 29th state to pass a resolution requesting a convention specifically to add a single balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Many of these legislative resolutions also attempt to set the rules for the convention and limit who can attend it to a select list of largely GOP state leaders.

Austerity advocates claim that they need only to convince five of seven targeted states—Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin—to get on board, and they will have enough states to convene a convention. As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, three linked measures were just introduced in Wisconsin and were placed on a fast track to approval.

Another faction representing a broader “Convention of States” initiative is advocating an open constitutional convention to limit “the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.” Because this open convention format would be called on a particular subject rather than a particular amendment, representatives would likely vote on any number of measures.

Legislatures in nine states—Arizona, Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana—have signed on to the Convention of States resolution,. Texas appears likely to join in, as the state Senate approved a Convention of States bill in February. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is fiercely campaigning for a convention and has deemed it an “emergency issue.” In 2016, he published a 70-page plan that includes nine proposed amendments aimed at severely limiting federal authority, even allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a Supreme Court ruling or a federal law.

Groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Common Cause, and the Center for Media and Democracy have raised the alarm about these efforts. No convention has been called since 1787 in Philadelphia where George Washington presided.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why any convention call, no matter how narrowly written, is likely to result in a “runaway” convention. A convention is empowered to write its own rules, including how delegates are chosen, how many delegates attend and whether a supermajority is required to approve amendments.

Nothing in the Constitution prevents a convention, once convened, from setting its own agenda, influenced by powerful special interests like the Koch groups. A convention could even choose an entirely new ratification process. “The 1787 convention ignored the ratification process under which it was established and created a new one, reducing the number of states needed to approve the new Constitution and removing Congress from the approval process,” writes CBPP.

Legal uncertainly surrounds the entire effort, which is sure to be litigated if successful. For instance, are states bound by resolutions passed many years ago? Will states withdraw their approval? Some states, like Delaware and New Mexico, have already moved to do so.

The Koch Connection to the Push for a Constitutional Convention

Libertarian billionaires Charles and Dav id Koch have long opposed federal power and federal spending. Koch Industries is one of the nation’s biggest polluters and has been sanctioned and fined over and over again by both federal and state authorities. In response, the Kochs have launched a host of “limited government” advocacy organizations and have created a massive $400 million campaign finance network, fueled by their fortunes and those of their wealthy, right-wing allies, that rivals the two major political parties.

The Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity says it favors a balanced budget convention. Such an austerity amendment would drastically cut the size of the federal government, threatening critical programs like Social Security and Medicare and eviscerating the government’s ability to respond to economic downturns, major disasters and the climate crisis.

AFP has opposed an open convention, calling it “problematic.” But whatever qualms the Kochs might have, they continue to be a bedrock funder of the entire convention “movement.”

Running the “Convention of States initiative” is an Austin, Texas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG). CSG reported revenue of $5.7 million in 2015, more than double its haul from two years earlier, when it launched its Convention of States Project, according to Dallas News. It now boasts 115,000 “volunteers,” although that figure may represent the number of addresses on its email list.

The group is not required to disclose its donors, but research into other organizations’ tax records by the Center for Media and Democracy, Conservative Transparency and this author show a web of Koch-linked groups having provided nearly $5.4 million to CSG from the group’s founding in 2011 through 2015:

  • Donors Trust, a preferred secret money conduit for individuals and foundations in the Koch network of funders, has given CSG at least $790,000 since 2011.
  • The Greater Houston Community Foundation, which is funded by Donors Capital Fund (linked to Donors Trust) and the Kochs’ Knowledge and Progress Fund, has donated over $2 million since 2011.
  • The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Donors Capital Fund, gave $2.5 million from 2012-2013.

Citizens for Self-Governance also has two Koch-connected board members. Eric O’Keefe is a director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group which has taken in considerable funding from Koch-linked groups like the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and was at the center of the long-running “John Doe” criminal investigation of Scott Walker’s campaign coordination with dark money groups.

O’Keefe was thenational field coordinator for the Libertarian Party when David Koch ran for Vice President in 1979 on the Libertarian Party ticket. The party’s platform called for the end of campaign finance law, the minimum wage, “oppressive Social Security,” Medicaid, Medicare and federal deficit spending.

The Koch agenda has not changed much since.

Another board member is Tim Dunn, an oilman from Midland, Texas who is vice chairman of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a right-wing think tank that’s raked in over $1 million from Koch family foundations, $160,000 from Koch Industries in 2012 alone and at least $1.8 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

Dunn runs another political group, Empower Texans, which supports Republican candidates and has taken in funds from Donors Trust and “Americans for Job Security,” a Koch-tied dark money group that was slapped with a severe fine by the FEC for its involvement in a dark money shell game intended to disguise the origin of its funds.

Both TPPF and Empower Texans back the constitutional convention idea.

What’s more, a 501(c)4 nonprofit connected to CSG, the Alliance for Self-Governance (which does business as Convention of States Action), received $270,000 in 2012 from Americans for Limited Government, which has received funding not only by Donors Capital Fund but by two Koch-funded political groups, the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Job Security.

Those two groups exchanged millions of dollars in 2010 and 2012, illegally hiding the source of funding for political expenditures, lying to the Internal Revenue Service and making unlawful contributions to pass-through groups, prompting investigations and historic fines by the both the State of California and the Federal Elections Commission. Eric O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth also funneled $450,000 to Alliance for Self-Governance in 2012, at a time when WCFG was battling the Walker recall.

Any time any organization is named “self-governance” or “limited government” you can be sure that Wisconsin’s Eric O’Keefe is either a founder or on the board, and indeed O’Keefe is tied to all three organizations: CSG, the Alliance for Self-Governance and Americans for Limited Government.

If the Kochs and their friends don’t want an open constitutional convention, they’ve sure done a lot to aid the effort.

American Legislative Exchange Council

CSG also has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that unites conservative politicians with big-business lobbyists who develop cookie-cutter “model” legislation behind closed doors at ALEC meetings.

ALEC has long been funded by Koch Industries and a representative of Koch Industries sits on its executive board, while representatives from the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity groups fund and sit on various committees. ALEC has also received funding from Koch family foundations. CMD estimates this funding to be over $1 million, though the actual total could be much higher. In addition, ALEC gets funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

According to Common Cause, “no group has been more influential” in promoting an Article V convention than ALEC. In 2011, ALEC commissioned a handbook for state legislators on how to push for a constitutional convention. The group has produced at least three model balanced budget amendment bills and has endorsed several model bills calling for a convention to vote on constitutional amendments, such as requiring Congress to get approval by two-thirds of the states before imposing new taxes or increasing the federal debt or federal spending.

CSG has sponsored ALEC conferences and led sessions focused on a constitutional convention. In 2015, ALEC’s board of directors officially endorsed CSG’s open convention plan as a “model” bill. The group had previously endorsed a balanced-budget-only plan. ALEC’s Jeffersonian Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit formed in 2013, has been lobbying state legislators to propose such a convention, CMD reports.

More Koch Money Pushing Austerity Amendment

Another group, the Florida-based Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, is backing a balanced budget convention bill that 29 states have approved. In its effort, the group has lobbied for the bill and attended ALEC conferences and other similar events. On its website, the task force lists ALEC and the Heartland Institute as partner organizations.

“ALEC has been instrumental in providing us a forum within which to present our campaign, recruit sponsors, and approve model legislation that legislators can be confident in,” claims the site.

Another big backer of the balanced budget amendment approach is the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which is also tied to the Koch brothers. A member of ALEC, it has received $5.6 million from the Donors Capital Fund since 2011 and tens of thousands of dollars each from the Charles Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Heartland publishes posts praising or defending the Kochs and even put out an annual environmental report from Koch Industries.

“The Heartland Institute has put the full weight of its influence behind the BBA Task Force as well as other campaigns in order to encourage the states to use their power to amend the U.S. Constitution,” reads the site.

Compact for America, formed by a former counsel with the conservative Goldwater Institute and staffed by more Goldwater alumni, has its own balanced budget convention proposal, which only four states have signed on to. The institute, which promotes many of ALEC’s model bills, has taken in big donations from Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund and the Charles Koch Foundation.

If America faces the madness of a runaway convention, voters of both parties will know whom to blame.

Mary Bottari contributed to this article.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.