In times past, the New Jersey legislature actually listened to New Jerseyans. In 2014, they passed the grassroots-supported SCR132, calling for an Article V Convention of the States to discuss and propose an amendment to the United States Constitution addressing campaign finance reform. Such a convention has no authority to ratify an amendment to the Constitution. It can only propose an amendment, which cannot become the law of the land until ratified by 38 states.
On November 15, 2021, Senate President Sweeney introduced SCR161 to the Senate, a bill to rescind all Article V convention calls ever passed in New Jersey. That bill was passed on December 2 by the Senate, many members of which supported SCR132 in 2014. Now in the Assembly as ACR222, the State and Local Government Committee heard testimony on December 9. Chairman Mazzeo read the names of 12 groups and individuals who had registered approval of the bill. Testimony in favor was provided by bill sponsor, Assemblyman Chiaravalloti and one other. Upon seeing that many citizens had registered to testify in opposition to the bill, Chairman Mazzeo suggested that just one person should speak as a representative of all who opposed. Receiving pushback, the Chairman relented and 17 citizens testified in opposition to ACR222. The Chairman then called a vote, but one testifier reminded him that whereas he had read the names of those who registered support but did not testify, he had not done so for those opposed. After much shuffling of papers, the Chairman declared that he would not spend the time to read the list of those who registered opposition, but agreed that it was “about 100” people. The vote to pass the legislation to the floor of the Assembly was 4 yea, 2 nay, although this has been incorrectly recorded on Legiscan as 6 – 0 in favor. Readers can see the actual vote at time 1:18:13 of the recorded Committee meeting.
If 34 states call for a convention on the same issue, initiating the constitutional convention process, the New Jersey State Legislature itself would decide how delegates are selected and recalled, should they take unwarranted liberties at the convention. The same would be true of delegates from other states. If the convention proposes an unpalatable amendment, the required 38 state legislatures, Democratic or Republican dominated, would never ratify, and the proposed amendment would die.
In 2014, the NJ legislature understood perfectly well the Article V process with its built-in safeguards. It is therefore stunning that the New Jersey Senate voted to rescind all calls for such a convention out of fabricated fears that such a convention might run amok! Passing SCR161/ACR222 will do no good other than to codify the NJ Legislature’s ignorance of constitutional law, but would do great harm in erasing SCR132, breaking trust with the citizens of New Jersey and silencing our voices in what is supposed to be our representative democracy. What is democratic about fearing discussion and debate about how we are governed when we still hold the power to reject any proposals that result from it?
On November 16, 2021, the day after he introduced the bill to rescind all Article V convention calls from New Jersey, Senator Sweeney stated, “We have to focus on the things that are important to people in this state, and we have to listen to them.” Why then, on the eve of his ouster from the Senate, does he introduce a bill that turns a deaf ear to New Jerseyans? Senator Sweeney, we told you in 2014 that campaign finance reform was important to us. You voted for SCR132 to address the issue. What changed your mind?
Campaign finance reform is critically important to New Jerseyans. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides a mechanism for the States to check and balance the power of the federal government. Let’s hope the New Jersey Assembly does not abdicate its right of oversight of the federal government, and throw these precious babies out with Senator Sweeney’s bathwater.