AUGUSTA — Participants in the Occupy movement made their presence known again in the city, this time by briefly occupying the Memorial Circle sidewalk in front of the law and lobbying firm Preti Flaherty on Wednesday afternoon.

They denounced corporate influence in Maine state government and across the country.

More than 20 protesters, including many Occupy Augusta participants who had previously camped out in the nearby Capitol Park, spent about two hours on the circle, waving signs and sharing their views. A federal judge’s ruling in December shut down the encampment after about two months.

While no longer occupying the park, Occupy Augusta is still active, according to Lew Kingsbury, of Pittston. He said the group meets every Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Augusta.

“This is one of our first actions organized at these meetings,” Kingsbury said of Wednesday’s protest. “With the evictions (of Occupy groups from public spaces) across the country, strategies are changing about what ‘occupy’ means.”

Kingsbury anticipates the Occupy movement will have large groups of activists at, or at least outside, the conventions of both major political parties as they nominate their candidates for president.

Occupy Augusta targeted Preti Flaherty with the noon protest because participants say there are ties between firm partner and lobbyist Ann Robinson and the controversial conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Diane Messer, of Liberty, said Robinson, Preti Flaherty’s chairwoman of its Government Affairs Practice Group, is the state co-chair of ALEC. She said ALEC writes pro-corporation, anti-union and anti-environmental legislation that some state legislators then submit as their own bills.

“ALEC is writing the legislation directly. The people are getting less and less of a voice,” said Messer, who carried a sign that said, “Ask Ann Robinson where the Koch Brothers money goes.”

The Koch brothers, Charles and David, run a large, privately held company involved in oil and other industries and donate to many conservative Republican causes. Several protesters said the Koch brothers are major donors to, and have influence, over ALEC.

Chris Buchanan, of Belgrade, who carried a sign that said “People B4 Profit,” said ALEC’s influence is symbolic of a trend of public and private partnerships bringing a profit to a few, at the expense of the majority of the people.

She cited efforts to build an east-west highway and invest public money to develop a port at Sears Island as examples of public-private partnerships that would benefit a few at the expense of many.

Glenn Lewis, of Manchester, was not involved in Occupy Augusta’s Capitol Park encampment but said he was prompted to join Wednesday’s protest because “I’m just sick and tired of all the corporate greed at the expense of individuals.

“I think that’s why most people are here,” Lewis said. “We’ve just had enough of it.”

Kim Cormier, of Benton, where she is a selectwoman, said she was there to decry the growing corporate control of America.

Both Cormier and Messer were arrested Nov. 27 when Occupy participants and others protested outside the the governor’s residence, the Blaine House.

Messer said she received a call Tuesday night from Janet Mills, a former state attorney general and now an attorney with Preti Flaherty, and vice chairperson of the Maine Democratic Party, urging her to call off the protest out of concern for employees in the building who aren’t involved with ALEC.

Mills, however, said Wednesday, that while she did call Messer, whom she knows from their involvement in Democratic politics, she did not ask her to call off the protest, nor did the protesters bother her.

“I did not ask her to do or not do anything,” Mills said by email.

Mills said she did emphasize, to Messer, other organizations in the same building where the protesters staged their demonstration include the Maine Commission on Ethics, Verrill Dana law firm, and that Preti Flaherty “has about 95 lawyers who include three former Maine Democratic Party chairs, the current vice chair of the Democratic Party, and a member of the National Governing Board of Common Cause, one of the biggest critics of ALEC.”

Mills said ALEC is not a client of Preti Flaherty, and Robinson’s involvement in it occurs on her own time.

Robinson did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Robinson was nominated last year by Gov. Paul LePage, and later confirmed by the Legislature, to a four-year term on the Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. board of trustees. She also served as co-chairperson of LePage’s transition team, according to her biography on Preti Flaherty’s website.

ALEC’s website lists only state Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, as state chairman in Maine for the organization, making no mention of Robinson. However, multiple political news websites, citing reportedly leaked information from ALEC, say Robinson was selected as Maine’s co-chairperson at the organization’s annual meeting last year.

The Augusta protest was one of some 70 in cities nationwide directed against ALEC, Kingsbury said. He said ALEC should not be allowed to retain its nonprofit organization status and should, instead, register as a lobbying firm.

Members of the nationwide liberal organization MoveOn.Org also staged a protest at roughly the same Memorial Circle spot later Wednesday afternoon.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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