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Protesters call for amendment to limit corporate donations to political campaigns

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Rev. Ryushin Sean Malone of the Engaged Zen Foundation in Sedgwick joins other demonstrators during a rally in front of the Margaret Chase Federal Building in Bangor on Friday afternoon, Jan. 20, 2012. Occupy groups from Blue Hill, Bangor, and MDI gathered to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision that allows corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.

BANGOR, Maine — More than 50 people gathered at noon Friday outside the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building to protest a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to make unlimited contributions to the campaigns of candidates who run for president, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

Nine of them wore black robes similar to the ones worn by the U.S. Supreme Court justices and other judges. Five of the costumed protesters also wore green sashes with corporate logos pinned to them. Those wearing sashes represented justices who voted in the majority in a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to federal political campaigns.

Ann Roberts of Gouldsboro had logos from Exxon, Wal-Mart, Anthem, AIG, McDonald’s and Citibank. She represented Chief Justice John Roberts, who is no relation.

“I feel like corporations are taking over running our government and our democracy is disappearing,” she said. “I want people to take back their power. We are a democracy for the people, by the people, not for corporations by corporations.”

“Corporations can’t speak,” Sunny Hughes of Bangor said outside the federal building on Harlow Street in Bangor. “They aren’t people, but they do have money, and with enough money they can speak loudest and longest and drown out the voices of citizens.”

Hughes, who teaches journalism at the University of Maine, said corporations have spent $27 million so far in the current presidential election cycle.

The event was organized by Occupy groups in Bangor, Ellsworth and Blue Hill. A similar protest was held at the same time outside the Edward T. Gignoux Federal Courthouse in Portland. About three dozen protesters with OccupyMaine turned out to chant and hold signs, The Associated Press reported.

The Maine protests were part of a national effort in more than 130 cities, located in 46 states, to protest the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago, Starr Gilmartin of Trenton said as the Bangor protest got under way.

Move to Amend, a grass-roots coalition that helped organize the nationwide protests, said earlier this week that its purpose was to kick off petition drives to gain support for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the 2010 court ruling that allowed private groups to spend unlimited amounts on federal political campaigns with few restrictions. Although petitions weren’t circulated at the rally, information directing people to a website where they can be signed were distributed.

By a 6-2 vote Wednesday night, the Portland City Council passed a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment abolishing “corporate personhood.”

Robert Shetterly, a Brooksville artist and activist known for his portrait series “Americans Who Tell the Truth,” spoke Friday at the Bangor rally. He said the dream Americans should strive for is not the rags to riches story of Horatio Alger but the one described by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963.

“What is so important and powerful about the Occupy movement is that it demands the dream that Dr. King envisioned,” Shetterly said. “It understands what [Henry David] Thoreau meant when he said, ‘The law will never make men free, it is men who have got to make the law free.’”

“We have submitted for so long to corporate domination, to courts promulgating a system of justice appropriate for oligarchy, not democracy, that it’s almost embarrassing to have to come into the streets to insist on the basic ideals we thought we all believed in. But it’s the only way.

“There is the power of wealth, and then there is the power of people. There is the power of the Supreme Court giving unlimited anonymous, free speech to billionaires, and then there is the power of us here today.”

Shetterly spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment to strip corporations of personhood and free speech rights. He also advocated for publicly funded elections, free air time for candidates, automatic registration to vote when a citizen turns 18, and making Election Day a national holiday.

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