Congratulations are in order for Jim DeMint: Saying that his move signals a “new mission” for the Tea Party, the former senator has gone from presiding over one of the most well-funded institutions in the dark-money ecosystem to advising one of the most radical. DeMint, the Republican who retired from the Senate in 2013 to run the Heritage Foundation has been named a “senior advisor” to the Convention of States Project—a nationwide effort backed by billionaires like the Kochs and the Mercers to revise the United States Constitution without the approval of Congress.
A hero to Tea Party Republicans, DeMint was already perceived to have led Heritage away from its policy-oriented beginnings, and according to Politico, his continued support for Trump drove a wedge between him and the Heritage Foundation’s board of directors. They voted early last month to remove DeMint as president of the organization amid a broader debate in the conservative establishment over what posture to take towards an increasingly volatile Trump administration.
“The Tea Party needs a new mission,” DeMint told USA Today, of his new role. “They realize that all the work they did in 2010 has not resulted in all the things they hoped for. Many of them are turning to Article V,” a legal loophole that would (theoretically) allow state legislators to bypass Congress. At the Convention of States Project, DeMint will join another former senator, Tom Coburn, who now travels to state legislatures across the country lobbying lawmakers to pass resolutions demanding that Congress hold a convention to amend the constitution. It’s not clear whether DeMint will be working as a lobbyist like Coburn. The Convention of States Project did not immediately respond to Fusion’s request for comment.
Various activist groups have sought to amend the constitution on specific points through an Article V convention before, but few have been as well-funded or as ideologically driven as the Convention of States Project, steeped in evangelical Christianity and backed by millions of dollars in dark money. Between 2011 and 2015, the group’s budget more than tripled to $5.7 million—buoyed by donations from the Mercer Family Foundation and various donor-advised funds linked to the Koch brothers. (Eric O’Keefe, a longtime Koch operative, co-founded the Convention of States Project’s parent organization, Citizens for Self Governance, and serves as chairman of its board of directors.) Two thirds of state legislatures (so, 34) must pass resolutions petitioning Congress to hold an Article V convention in order to make it happen; so far, 12 have passed the Convention of States application.
“Convention of States is a much more radical approach to a constitutional convention” than earlier efforts, Arn Pearson, General Counsel at the Center for Media and Democracy, told Fusion. “Their budget has increased dramatically. This is their effort to push the state agenda as far as they can while they hold peak power.”
One Convention of States lobbyist (a member of the Utah legislature in his spare time) lauded Texas governor and Article V proponent Greg Abbott’s plan for several proposed amendments, including one that would prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within a single state—a proposal that would effectively negate what little remains of progress made during the New Deal and the Civil Rights eras. “I see these guys as the new Confederacy,” Pearson said. “They want to have it so that states are no longer bound by federal law. They want the ability to opt out.”
“People are disgusted with Washington,” DeMint told USA Today. “They are ready to move power back closer to home.” A fitting cause for the gentleman from South Carolina—although, actually, the preferred terminology these days isn’t “states’ rights” but “local control.”