Occupy Gets a Super PAC

Allison Kilkenny

Friday marks the five-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In September of last year, protesters began camping in Zuccotti Park, and were almost universally dismissed (and despised) by the establishment media as being an unserious force with a fleeting expiration date.

OWS chapters now operate in all fifty states and the movement has grown to the international level with cells in at least 82 countries. Its members have embraced a hugely diverse array of tactics including, but not limited to, occupations, strikes, teach-ins, wonky letter-writing campaigns to the SEC, and now reportedly filing for a super PAC.

A supporter of the 99 percent is one of the latest citizens (or corporations) to apply to raise unlimited sums of money for politics.

John Paul Thornton of Decatur, Alabama submitted an application to the Federal Election Commission on behalf of Occupy Wall Street to create the Occupy Wall Street Political Action Committee.

In the application, Thornton describes OWS as a cooperative,” and lists the mailing address as having none,” but also being everywhere.” He lists the primary bank to collect funds raised for the PAC as a credit union, although the second financial outlet listed is a corporate regional bank, a move that will surely anger many Occupiers.

Of course, part of Occupy’s power resides in the fact that its chapters and participants enjoy total autonomy and are not obligated to report back to a supervisor or leader. 

In that world, individuals like Thornton are permitted to act on behalf of Occupy without really being an ambassador of Occupy, which is perhaps a good thing while he pursues a tactic that seems to violate one of Occupy’s central principles, getting corporate money out of politics by embracing a mechanism for raising unlimited corporate funds.

The Atlantic asked Thornton about this apparent conflict. 

It does seem counterintuitive,” he said. I am out to get the bloated amounts of money out of politics but to do that, we need to support candidates looking to do that.”

Thornton confirmed that he didn’t reach out to other Occupy chapters during the application process.

We haven’t had a lot of input from other Occupies,” he said. In fact, I bet they’ll be as surprised as you guys when this hits the wire. But once it does, I fully expect this to really take off. At that point, we’ll get a lot of input and flesh it out a little more.”

Thornton, who describes himself as vaguely” supporting Ron Paul, but not being a raving fanatic, like some of these guys,” adds he doesn’t want the application process to be a dictatorial effort.”

I already have input from my attorney and some selected input from Occupy Huntsville. We’re going to figure out who most people think we can and should best serve with the dollars we have. For example, if a candidate is running, even if they are Occupy-related, and they have a million-dollar war chest, do they really need our piddly 10,000 or whatever? No. But the guy running down the road may very much appreciate it, so we’ll make decisions as they come about.”

However, the super PAC may never come to fruition unless Thornton cleans up his application.

Brett Kappel, counsel at the DC law firm Arent Fox, said some of the titles Thornton filled out for himself such as chief principle minister” and keeper of records” aren’t acceptable.

There are only two acceptable titles – treasurer and custodian of records,” says Kappel, who initially flagged the filing for us. The FEC will probably send him what’s called a Request for Additional Information (RFAI) letter asking him about the innovative titles.” When told that the title he created for himself in the filing wouldn’t pass muster, he said, Ah c’mon. Have a sense of humor. If they want to scratch that out and say CEO that’s fine.”

This is actually the second attempt by an Occupy activist to form a super PAC. Mississippi-based activist James C. Farrar, Jr. registered the PAC with the Federal Election Commission on Dec. 8, and the PAC’s first priority was supporting House Joint Resolution 90 by [Florida] Rep. Ted Deutch calling to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision by end[ing] corporate personhood and regulation election money,” according to the PAC’s website.

Inspired by all the signs at Occupy” rallies about regular people not being able to afford lobbyists, Farrar took the step of registering as one himself. He says his Super PAC won’t purchase broadcast or cable television ads because he does not want to feed corporate media.” But that doesn’t mean he’s unwilling to accept outside help.

Warren Buffet agrees with the millionaire tax,” he said. If Warren Buffett offered me a million dollars to help push [H.J. Resolution 90], I wouldn’t consider that blood money.”

Farrar did not receive backing from Occupy Jackson. 

Occupy Jackson does not endorse my personal fiefdom of Occupy” politics, but I’ll support them.”

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Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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