Occupy Tampa protests super PACs at Tampa accounting office listen12/12/11 Janelle Irwin
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A Tampa accounting firm services over 40 Political Action Committees. Some opponents of these PACs and super PACs say it is just a way to legally launder money for campaign contributions. About 30 Occupy Tampa protesters took their message to Robert Watkins and Company this morning in the form of some really big checks.
Becky Rubright was one of the organizers of the protest at 610 South Boulevard in Tampa. She is worried that the voices of voters will matter less if PACs allow corporate interests to bank roll candidates who will support their causes.
“Especially now after Citizens United, people can make super PACs which can receive unlimited amounts of corporate money to then be used for any part of the campaign, campaign ads primarily. When you talk about corporate power being able to put that kind of money behind their voices, their voices are the loudest.”
Rubright, along with another half dozen of the protesters entered the business and handed a Robert Watkins and Company employee several oversized checks. Jeremy West said the company is representing the one percent, so he and the others dressed as if they were wealthy.
“And we’re going to go ahead and present this office with huge checks from some fake special interest, some real special interests, demanding privileges that normal citizens couldn’t ask for such as possible religious hypocrites donating money for lifers, excuse me, pro-lifers who believe in the death penalty or a military industrial complex looking to further America’s imperialistic strategies.”
Another organizer, Bill Livsey, took particular exception to just how many funds were serviced using the same Tampa billing address.
“Legally there’s not supposed to be a cooperation between political action committees, but when 14 of them are housed in one building it’s hard to believe that there’s not a little bit of cooperation going on between them to build collective influence as well. So, what they will probably say in their defense is that it’s some sort of mail drop for them and they just cut checks there. But it seems to me there must be cooperation going on if they’re all housed under one roof.”
Livsey said the names for the PACs some have deemed political slush funds are misleading people into thinking they are meant to finance things that will benefit everyone.
“And they’re all named such obscene things like the We Love the USA PAC and the Working Families PAC which is really the sugar, it’s all ridiculous. And it’s all a rouse to buy and sell influence in Washington. And it’s really an egregious example of what’s wrong in Florida politics.”
But Nancy Watkins, the CPA who manages many of the PACs and super PACs, said she makes sure contributions are as transparent as the law requires. Protesters claim these funds give corporations an upper hand over people in the political process, but Watkins said PACs were created in the wake of the Watergate scandal in order to give regular people a voice.
“As a fallout of that, as reform, political action committees were developed. They were designed to allow lots of small donors to get together and to collectively have a larger say and a bigger impact in the political arena. Labor unions, the realtors PACs, those are the largest in the country. Their average contributions from their members are about 11 or 12 dollars. But those 11 or 12 dollars are aggregated, publicly reported where they came from if they meet the disclosure level and those people get to have their voice heard.”
The Occupy movement has been criticized in the media for not having a specific goal. Jason Kluitman follows Occupy Tampa events online, but is seldom able to participate. He said he made this direct action a priority because it gives the movement a direction.
“This is the most tangible action I thought that could really reflect what the Occupy movement is about. I mean this is something we can point towards and say, ‘this is what we’re about, this is what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re trying to raise awareness’ and hopefully change the course that we’re going on as far as corporations taking over our democracy.”
The protesters marched along the sidewalk in front of the office with brooms and buckets symbolizing what they call the money laundering occurring inside Robert Watkins and Company. At least five Tampa Police Department officers monitored the protest but no one was arrested.
More photos here