Move to Amend protests at Tampa Federal Courthouse on anniversary of Citizens United ruling
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01/23/12 Janelle Irwin
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Northwest Hillsborough Democratic Club's John McGrath adornes a patriotic hat at an Occupy the Courts event protesting the 2010 Citizens United ruling


photo by Mike Madison

Saturday marked the two year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that gave corporations the ability to pour nearly unlimited contributions into political campaigns. As part of a nationwide movement to Occupy the Courts in protest of that ruling, about 100 protesters from several groups descended on Tampa’s Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse on Friday afternoon.

Move to Amend is a nationwide organization that began with the sole purpose of overturning the Citizens United verses FEC ruling. That outcome protects first amendment rights for corporations and opens a loophole for massive amounts of corporate dollars to be contributed to political campaigns. John McGrath protested the decision on behalf of the Northwest Hillsborough Democratic Club. He said it not only gives some candidates an unfair advantage, it is also unnecessary.

“They can spend as much money as they want. Look at this occurring primary and the amount of money being spent. Why do you spend a billion dollars on 100,000 dollar job?”

Citizens United is a conservative group that produces documentary films to advance their ideals. In the ruling two years ago in their favor, the courts affirmed corporations First Amendment rights, and thus the ability use money as speech. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont. He proposed a bill that would take that ability away by ruling that corporations do not have the same rights as individuals. But Move to Amend’s Mark Adams said the bill is not enough because it would still allow groups to control the media.

“They specifically exclude the press. So, if you’re the Koch brothers and this gets passed, what do you do? Buy a few newspapers; maybe Clear Channel radio? You know, Mitt Romney’s firm is one of the major owners of Clear Channel. So he controls right wing radio right now. That’s why all of the flip flopping is not really being exposed. Unless you’re watching the Daily Show or the Colbert Report.”

One member of Occupy Buffalo attended the protest during a visit with family members. She took a vacation from her vacation to speak out against corporate personhood.

“HSBC is not a person’s name. Corporations don’t marry, they merge. Halliburton didn’t die in Afghanistan, they didn’t die in Iraq, neither did Exxon Mobil. BP doesn’t have babies, they have bonuses. Corporations don’t die, they get bailed out. When Texas executes a corporation then maybe I’ll begin to think of corporations as people.” U.S. Senator Bill Nelson’s regional office is located inside the Tampa Federal Courthouse. Nelson was not there during the protest, but his regional director met with protesters on his behalf. Shahra Anderson gave out comment cards to be filled out and returned to the Senator for his consideration.

“Your efforts are crossed farther than just Tampa and the next courthouse and wherever else you all are today and where you continue to be. So, we do thank you for your service of democracy and that’s what we’re here for so we appreciate it.”

Protesters also brought up the National Defense Authorization Act to Nelson’s representative. The NDAA could allow United State’s citizens to be indefinitely detained by the military. Move to Amend’s Christine Wall said she would not vote for any candidate who supported it. However Wall was most disappointed in Nelson office’s lack of knowledge.

“Not really when they come out here and they don’t even know if he voted for the NDAA or not and they don’t know what the NDAA is. That’s just a human body without any information or intellect or motivation behind it that’s real. It’s just like, ‘oh, here we are, we’re representatives, let’s take your comments even though we have no idea what you’re talking about’. I mean that to me is not authentic representation. If you’re going to do something you need to be authentic about it or else it’s meaningless.”

Another item some protesters were concerned about was counting ballots. Move to Amend’s Mark Adams rallied the group by explaining how only two companies provide electronic voting devices used at polling places nationwide. He said going back to more traditional hand-written ballots counted in public would stamp out potential tampering.

“The right to vote includes not only the right to cast a ballot, but also the right to make sure it’s counted. Right now, they’re counted in secret on a computer so we can never make sure that it’s counted accurately. And actually, all those people in the supervisor of elections office, if you go to your precinct on election day, ‘hey, can you count those paper ballots to make sure that total from that computer is correct?’ They will tell you no, they cannot count it.”

Tampa protesters gathered peacefully in front of Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse without interference from security or law enforcement. However, a group in New York City was denied a permit to protest at their Federal Courthouse.





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