A February 29 protest in Augusta against the power of corporate lobbyists exposed the fundamental division on the lefty side of Maine politics.
Twenty members of the mostly working-class group Occupy Augusta and, a few hours later, four supporters of the middle-class, Internet-organized MoveOn.org waved signs at motorists outside the Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios law and lobbying offices on the city's west-side rotary.
Preti is possibly the state's top corporate lobbying firm. One of the signs suggested it had been sullied by "dirty money."
Some bigwig Democratic lawyers at the firm didn't fully appreciate the protest.
Actually, the demonstrators had more vociferously condemned ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporation-funded, right-wing legislator-lobbyist coalition. Its state cochairwoman is Ann Robinson, a Preti lobbyist. The same day, anti-ALEC protests took place across the country.
ALEC has recently emerged in the news media as a powerful influence on state legislatures, including Maine's. (See "LePage's Koch Brothers Connection Revealed," September 9, 2011; "On the Takings," December 23, 2011; both by Colin Woodard.) Its other state cochairman is Richard Rosen, the Bucksport Republican senator who is head of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee.
One Occupy protest sign listed what another called ALEC's "evildoing": "Voter suppression, union busting, tax breaks for the rich, cuts to social programs, environmental cutbacks, safety reg cutbacks, business reg cutbacks, corporate personhood."
"Voter suppression" was an accusation because ALEC has been linked to laws making it harder for students and poor people to vote — such as Maine's Republican-Legislature-passed law to ban same-day voter registration that was defeated in last fall's referendum.
As the Bangor Daily News disclosed, the political action committee that defended the law received most of its cash — $250,000 — from a conservative group, the American Justice Partnership, an ALEC collaborator.
Both an Occupy activist, Diane Messer, of Liberty, and the MoveOn.org protest organizer, Priscilla Jenkins, a Winthrop town councilor, said Janet Mills, the Maine Democratic Party's vice chairwoman, former attorney general, and now an attorney at Preti, had phoned them to try to dissuade the two groups from protesting where they did.
"I wanted to let the organizers know that most of the people who work in the building are unconnected to the objects of the protest," Mills said in an email. The building also houses the Maine Ethics Commission and other organizations.
Harold Pachios, also a longtime Democratic Party figure and a Preti partner, emailed the Phoenix that he supports the Occupy movement. He sits on the national board of Common Cause, an ALEC critic.
Pachios, however, defended corporate lobbying: "As legal representatives we represent a variety of people, institutions, and businesses, including some whose cause is unpopular with one segment of the general population or another."
The protesters have difficulty disconnecting a lawyer's role as a highly paid lobbyist and what his or her client wants from the government. As a protest sign ungrammatically said: "Alecexposed.org Dirty Lobby Money Preti Flaherty." (Alecexposed.org is devoted to investigating ALEC.)
If Occupy Augusta is working-class and MoveOn.org middle-class, then the likes of Pachios, Mills, and Preti's most prominent partner, Severin Beliveau, embody an upper class who have great power within the Democratic Party because of their fundraising prowess. Beliveau, like Pachios, is a former party chairman.