Harvard — February 7, 2012 2:40 pm

Prof. Lessig on an Article V Convention

By and

The Winter 2011 issue of the Harvard Political Review took on a topic often overlooked by the mainstream media: the Constitution. Despite forming the framework for what goes on in Washington, the Constitution incites little discussion as a gateway to some of the solutions. This past Thursday, the HPR invited Professor Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics and Professor at Harvard Law, to discuss a proposal that could reduce the sway of money in elections, diminish the need for the endless fundraising cycle, and remedy the gridlock on the Hill.

Taking Back Elections

From Obama’s State of the Union to the stump speeches by Republican nominees, the discussion has focused on reforming from within the Beltway. But Prof. Lessig suggests that we look beyond Washington to fix the problems that are plaguing it. Article V permits:

[t]he application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution…

Using this method, citizens could institute changes to the way elections are funded, such that members of Congress no longer have to seek donations from wealthy individuals and corporations. Instead, using Democracy Vouchers, citizens will be reengaged with the process, and their voice will matter. This idea detailed in the Grant-Franklin Plan places no extra burden on low-income individuals with an extra tax, as he explains in a November 2011 New York Times op-ed. “So long as elections cost money, we won’t end Congress’ dependence on its funders. But we can change it. We can make ‘the funders’ ‘the people.’”

We shouldn’t be afraid to consider, vet, and even embrace reforms that supersede the way politics have traditionally been conducted. The problems we face will continue to grow at astronomical rates. The more time our politicians spend arguing and running for office for the sake of being elected and earning a title, the less time we have to address these pressing issues.

Professor Larry Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics and Professor at Harvard Law, gives his keynote address on America’s Constitutional Crisis at the HPR Winter Launch Party in Fong Auditorium on Thursday, February 2, 2012. Photo credit: Gina Kim

Harvard Political Review staff writers, editorial board members, compers, and Harvard students listen intently as Professor Lessig discusses corruption and America's evolving political process. Photo credit: Gina Kim

Professor Lessig describes the distinct characteristics of an Article V constitutional convention during the Q&A portion of his presentation. Photo credit: Gina Kim

  • foavc

    For reference. The over 700 applications from 49 states for an Article V Convention call can be read at http://www.foavc.org. The Constitution is clear. If 34 states apply, Congress must call. 

  • DMKingery

    First of all CONGRESS need not be involved at all in a Constitutional Convention.Article V. Congress MAY propose amendments to the Constitution: Mode of ratification MAY BE PROPOSED by Congress.

    Congress cannot dictate what amendments will be considered at a Convention. Congress cannot even dictate what MODE of Ratification must be taken.

    Either 2/3 of both houses of Congress, shall propose amendments –OR–  On the APPLICATION of the Legislatures of 2/3 of the States. shall call a convention for proposing amendments.

    Congress can PROPOSE, but they cannot approve the amendments –not even if 100% of both houses agreed.

    Actual ratification can only happen by EITHER the Legislatures of 3/4 of the States –OR– by Conventions in 3/4 of the States.

    It is that simple.

    If 38 or more of the States have made Application –OR– held conventions for amending the US constitution, they may do so. In order for any amendments or even AN ENTIRELY NEW CONSTITUTION, the States Legislatures of 3/4 or more of the States –OR– the Conventions of 3/4 or more of the States.

    The States do NOT need the permission from Congress to hold their Conventions or to Pass the amendments in the State Legislatures.

    This link is to a proposed NEW Constitution that works to resolve our political ills at each of the Local, State, and National levels of government (with just a little adjustments to make it most appropriate for the desired level of government). LINK —> http://www.portablepublishing.com/pb/wp_e8ef01c5/wp_e8ef01c5.html#PROPOSED: Constitution <—-  Cut and paste everything between the aroows

  • Jacob Morello

    I wonder what the solution is here; is there even one? What would be the effects of such an amendment? Would it really be effective, or would it just encourage novel methods of funding campaigns? Of course, there is also the argument that campaign donation (even by the wealthy) is protected by the first amendment, as it is a freedom of speech. The reality is that this is a problem, yes, but like many problems facing our nation, a solution may not be as simple as an amendment, and that assumes that an amendment would even have a chance at being ratified.

  • DMKingery

    Sorry for the length:

    These words appear in the above text, “Taking Back Elections”.

    Jacob, you ask several important questions:

     1)          Is there even a solution?

    Funding Campaigns.

    Campaign donation a form of speech.

    An amendment having a chance of being ratified.

    Yes, there are several solutions. Some of them are better
    than others.

    Consider the following scenario:

    Remove individual fundraising from the picture.

    Every citizen contributes $1.00 (one dollar) to
    the United States Treasury for Federal Elections, the President. Everyone in
    their respective States contribute $1.00 (one dollar) to the State Treasury for
    all of that State’s Elections, U.S. Congress, Governor, State Legislature,
    State Judges, etc. Same for the Counties. Same for each City/Town. Each person
    would contribute as much as $4.00 (four dollars) every year for election. As a
    form of speech, every person gets an equal “say” and no more.

    Each political jurisdiction maintains a central
    candidate registration office that serves to qualify candidates (age,
    citizenship, residency, etc.)

    With the total funds generated and divided among
    the offices up for election, all registered candidates participate in a series
    of run-off elections until the required number of candidates remains to fill
    the vacant seats. Each debate and election cycle drops ¼ of the candidates who
    received the least number of votes. Then in the next run-off cycle, reduce the
    number of candidates who advance by ¼ of the original number.

    Candidates who refuse to participate are
    automatically eliminated. In this manner the cost of elections are minimized;
    the people get to know ALL of the candidates officially registered in a
    particular race; the people in each political jurisdiction have the best
    opportunity to ask or have their questions and concerns addressed by the
    candidates; at the polls, the voters select the candidate who is best for the

    As part of the process, all ballots are
    processed manually from the voter who places the appropriate mark(s) on the
    ballot through the counting process. Once the ballot leaves the voter’s hands
    it remains in the clear view of the public up until 24 hours after the election
    is considered final. This eliminates corrupted computer programs and stuffing
    ballot-boxes while in transit to counting stations. This also allows the
    greatest numbers of voters to monitor and produce their own vote-count sheets
    so that they may challenge the official vote-count if necessary.

    As far as getting the process ratified into the
    appropriate constitution(s) –this is the simple part. It either has to be
    passed by the State Legislatures of ¾ or more of the States; or it has to be
    passed by the conventions within the State by ¾ of the total voters within
    those States, via their Town-Hall Meetings.

    The question is not whether it can be done. The question is
    whether We-the-People have the resolve to actually take charge of the elections
    we use to install our public servants.

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