December 18, 2014

Three small parties lose appeal against 3% rule

AP reports: A federal appeals court has upheld Alabama's ballot access law that was challenged by third-party presidential candidates trying to get their names before voters in 2012.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the decision of a trial court dismissing the lawsuit.

Alabama requires third-party candidates to collect signatures equal to 3 percent of the votes cast in the last governor's election in order to be listed on the ballot with their party affiliation. Candidates had to collect 44,828 signatures in 2012. -- Alabama Libertarians, Green Party and Constitution Party suffer setback in ballot access fight | AL.com

NOTE: A copy of the opinion is here
.

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December 17, 2014

The Anniston Star reports:
An Alexandria man is at the heart of the latest power struggle over the leadership of the Alabama Republican Party.

Jon Coley, who runs a direct-mail political advertising firm from his farm on U.S. 431, was the largest single recipient of contracts from the Alabama Republican Executive Committee during the 2014 election. According to a report in The Montgomery Advertiser last week, those contracts were a topic of increasing dispute among the Republican Party's steering committee in the months leading up to party chairman Bill Armistead's decision not to seek another term. ...

Coley is the owner of Winning Edge Communications, a direct-mail marketing firm that sends mailers for candidates, all of them Republican, in political races from North Carolina to Oregon.

That includes about $239,000 in business in Alabama during the 2014 elections, according to campaign finance reports. Some of that came directly from candidates, including state school board member Mary Scott Hunter and Attorney General Luther Strange, while some is from Forest PAC, the political action committee of the Alabama Forestry Association. But his biggest Alabama customer, paying $134,000 for ads in 2014, was the Alabama Republican Executive Committee. -- Alexandria man?s political ad firm at center of GOP leadership struggle - The Anniston Star: News

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December 14, 2014

Conflict between ALGOP chair and committee members over payment to direct-mail firm

Montgomery Advertiser reports: Alabama Republican Party chairman Bill Armistead's decision to not seek another term as party chairman was preceded by an increasingly heated dispute with the GOP's treasurer and members of the party's steering committee over payments he made to a direct mail firm in the closing days of the general election.

The dispute culminated in a special meeting at the end of November where, according to emails and to four members of the steering committee, a no-confidence motion was brought up and an audit of spending over the 2014 cycle was approved. The no-confidence motion did not succeed.

Armistead declined Friday to speak in detail about the dispute, saying the motion was from a group of "disgruntled people" on the steering committee. "There's no issue here other than an issue of a treasurer not willing to sign off on invoices for various reasons," he said. -- Conflict erupts between GOP chair, committee members

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December 12, 2014

Don't steal or appear to steal: Ethics rules simplified

The TimesDaily reports: Don't do anything you wouldn't want to see reported in a newspaper. And be careful what you Tweet.

Those were a few of the takeaways from a daylong orientation for state lawmakers Wednesday. Topics included an explanation of the state's ethics law as it applies to legislators and how to deal with the media. ...

The Republican-led Legislature updated the state's ethic rules in 2010. John Caroll, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said there is one over-arching rule for lawmakers to keep in mind: Don't attempt to use your office for personal gain.

Similarly, he told lawmakers not to use office resources for personal benefit or business and don?t vote on legislation if they have a conflict of interest. -- Lawmakers receive tips, ground rules - TimesDaily: Local News

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December 6, 2014

Alabama Voter ID Successful in Vote Suppression

AL.com reports: A report today by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and two other groups today says 119 absentee ballots were not counted in Jefferson County in the Nov. 4 election because voters did not submit the required photo ID.

The report says 21 absentee ballots in Choctaw County were not counted for lack of photo ID. ...

Ross said the new law can suppress the vote because it's hard for some to get the proper ID, some don't know about the requirements and some are discouraged from trying.

While it might seem easy to the average working person to have a valid ID, Ross say it's not easy for the poor, elderly and people who don't drive. -- Report says 119 Jefferson County absentee ballots not counted because of Alabama's photo ID law | AL.com

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December 5, 2014

"State prosecutors object to Mike Hubbard's request for records of conversations with reporters"

AL.com reports: State prosecutors have objected to the request by lawyers for House Speaker Mike Hubbard for records of conversations between the attorney general's office and news reporters about the case.

Prosecutors say the defense is not entitled to those records under criminal procedure rules.

Hubbard's defense lawyers filed a motion last month asking for "any written or recorded conversations between any members of media and any members of the Attorney General's office." -- State prosecutors object to Mike Hubbard's request for records of conversations with reporters | AL.com

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Probation officer fired after winning election

AL.com reports:
An Alabama legislator asked a judge Thursday to block a newly enforced state law that caused him to get fired from the state job he held for 19 years.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy held a hearing Thursday on Rep. Dexter Grimsley's legal challenge to Alabama's "double dipping" law.

The law prohibits legislators from having a second state job. It took effect the day after the legislative elections Nov. 4. Because of the law, the state court system fired Grimsley as the state's chief juvenile probation officer for Henry County.

He was the only person to lose his job immediately. -- Alabama legislator asks judge to block 'double dipping' law | AL.com

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November 28, 2014

Split precincts cause problems

Rep Craig Ford writes about the consequences of the Republican gerrymander of the Legislature: But under our new district lines, the Legislature took this a step further by "packing" the districts represented by African-American legislators with as many black voters as possible. Legislators again claimed the purpose of this was to ensure that an African-American would be elected to represent that district. But African-Americans were already representing these districts at their previous levels. There was no need to add black voters to these districts. The second argument, and the one that is most relevant to what happened in District 89, has been that these districts divide "communities of interest." Communities of interests can include counties, cities and towns. But most importantly, the new districts split voting precincts.

Splitting these communities dilutes their voice in government. For example, the more times a county is divided the less influence it will have with a particular legislator. This also causes problems when trying to get local bills passed, since local bills have to be signed off on by every member of the delegation. The more divided the county, the more legislators who have to approve of the legislation, even if that legislator only has a small portion of that county in his or her district.

In House District 89, poll workers at one of the split precincts unintentionally gave the wrong ballot to more than 200 voters. But even though it was an honest mistake, that mistake now means that those 200 voters will have to spend the next four years with a representative they did not vote for.

Making this situation even worse, the difference between the candidates in this race is less than 100 votes. Meaning, the voters who received the wrong ballot could have completely altered the outcome. -- Case shows redistricting damage

Disclosure: I am one of the plaintiffs’ counsel in the case, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, now pending in the US Supreme Court.

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November 27, 2014

Mobile license commissioner indicted for misuse of public funds

AL.com reports: Mobile County License Commissioner Kimberly Hastie is accused in a federal indictment of using public money to finance her political aspirations.

The indictment alleges Hastie illegally used the money in connection with her effort to be revenue commissioner and run a combined licence and revenue commission office. Deputy Licence Commissioner Ramona Yeager is accused in the indictment of helping Hastie misappropriate the public funds. ...

Neil Hanley, Hastie's attorney, held a news conference Wednesday afternoon outside his Mobile office. He said the allegations against Hastie are not true.

Hanley said money was spent on Hastie's effort to combine her office and the Mobile County Revenue Commission office, but it was done legally.

"Unbeknownst to the County Commission, the defendants instructed a political consulting firm to falsify their invoices and have them contain false and misleading statements," the indictment alleges. "Specifically, the defendants signed off on false invoices knowing they contained lies to trick the County Commission." -- Mobile County license commissioner accused of using public funds to finance her political aspirations | AL.com

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November 25, 2014

AL.com reports: Secretary of State Jim Bennett said today that Alabama's new photo voter ID law caused only a few inquiries to his office during the Nov. 4 election.

The general election was the biggest test yet of the law, with 1.2 million people voting. It was in effect for the first time during the primaries in June. ..

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, an outspoken opponent of the law before the election, said it was a factor in the 40 percent turnout, lowest for a general election since at least 1986. -- Alabama's photo voter ID law declared a success; not everyone agrees | AL.com

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November 20, 2014

Taking contributions may be legal under the campaign-finance law, but illegal under the Ethics Act

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: State Sen. Clyde Chambliss is facing a complaint filed with the State of Alabama Ethics Commission alleging a conflict of interest in actions he took as a Prattville city councilman.

The Prattville Republican resigned from his post on the city council on Nov. 5, the same day he was sworn in to the Legislature. Prattville resident Jon Lee Finnegan filed the complaint.

Her complaint stems from Chambliss' Senate campaign receiving contributions from AUTO PAC, a political action committee of automobile dealers in the state. According to campaign finance disclosure forms filed with the Secretary of State's office, Chambliss receive a total of $13,500 in contributions from the PAC.

While on the council, Chambliss voted for an incentives package used to keep Long Lewis Ford of the River Region's dealership in Autauga County. Long Lewis Ford of Muscle Shoals contributed $2,500 to AUTO PAC on Feb. 2, finance disclosure forms show. In August, Long Lewis Ford of Muscle Shoals purchased the former Gilmore Ford in Prattville, and the business was renamed Long Lewis Ford of the River Region. -- Chambliss faces ethics complaint

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November 19, 2014

Study argues switching to elected judges will help Alabama's economy

AL.com reports: For years, voices from the left have called for an end to partisan judicial elections in Alabama. Now, a free market think tank at Troy University has added support from the other side of the political spectrum.

The Manuel H. Johnson Center for the Political Economy on Tuesday released a study examining Alabama's judicial system and draws two main conclusions:

• Using partisan elections to select judges results in a lower-quality judiciary.

• Holding all parties in multi-defendant civil cases responsible for the entire judgment - even when some are far more responsible for the harm in question - hurts economic vitality by discouraging investment by bigger companies. -- Should Alabama switch to appointed judges? Study argues it would improve economy | AL.com

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November 12, 2014

Roundup of stories on Alabama redistricting argument

Official transcript

Reuters

Derek Muller

Washington Post

AP

Emily Bazelon

Nina Totenberg on NPR

Adam Liptak at NY Times

Rick Hasen on SCOTUSblog

Thanks to Rick Hasen for collecting these.

Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus plaintiffs.

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November 5, 2014

"Alabama Democrats take redistricting fight to the Supreme Court"

Kyle Whitmire writes a "curtain raiser" on ALcom: When state Rep. Daniel Boman ran for the legislature in 2010, it was a lot easier for him to picture Alabama House District 16 in his head. You could pretty much pull any Alabama History text book from a high school library shelf and see the boundaries - Lamar and Fayette counties - on the map on one of the first few pages.

But when running for reelection four years later, after the Alabama Legislature redrew the lines in 2012, he had to learn a different district.

Half of Lamar County has been cut from the district. In its place was added northeast Tuscaloosa County and northwest Jefferson County. Boman lives in Sulligent, about three miles from the Mississippi line, but his district now stretches half the width of the state, all the way to Gardendale.

"For me to cover that much geography is tough," Boman said Tuesday going into a an Election Day fight he would ultimately lose. "The other part is just trying to figure just what part I represented." -- Alabama Democrats take redistricting fight to the Supreme Court | AL.com

Note: the story talks generally about the ALBC v. Alabama case set for argument one week from today. I am one of the plaintiffs’ counsel in the case.

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"Two Montgomery polling places hand out wrong ballots"

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Two polling places in Montgomery handed out the wrong ballots to voters Tuesday, which may throw off the results for two Alabama House of Representative races, according to Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead.

The polling places in question, Beulah Baptist Church and Newtown Church of Christ, both have precincts in House District 77, in which incumbent Democrat John Knight is running against former Republican Rep. David Grimes, and House District 78, in which Alvin Holmes, the Democratic incumbent, is running against Tijuanna Adentunji.

Armistead said the party started getting calls Tuesday afternoon from voters who thought they'd gotten the wrong ballot.

He said after looking into the problem, the Alabama GOP found that rather than giving out the correct ballot to individuals based on their precinct, the poll workers just gave out the ballots, one stack at a time.

Poll workers didn't know there were two separate ballots, he said. -- Two Montgomery polling places hand out wrong ballots

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November 4, 2014

Gun-toter arrested at polling place in Shelby County

AL.com reports: A Shelby County Sheriff's deputy this morning arrested a founding member of the gun-rights group BamaCarry who openly wore a holstered pistol to a Pelham voting location. ...

The arrest happened as the Shelby County Sheriff's Office has taken a stance against allowing weapons at the polling sites.

"Each polling location in Shelby County will have a 'No Firearm' sign posted at the entrance of the precinct, at the requests of the private property owner or governing body of the property. This will be enforced in accordance with Alabama law," the Sheriff's Office said in a statement last week.

"Our goal is to allow every registered voter in Shelby County the right to vote in an influence-free environment," Sheriff Chris Curry said in the statement last week. "Voting is a constitutional right and it is our job to facilitate the process effectively and efficiently." -- Pelham voter wearing holstered pistol arrested at church polling site this morning | AL.com

Disclosure: The article notes that I issued a statement on behalf of the Joe Hubbard for Attorney General Campaign concerning the arrest.

Update to the story above: Burchfield a few minutes later emailed the voting violation code for Kennedy's charge, which is listed as Section 17-17-33, titled "Obstruction, intimidation, etc., of voting rights of others."

"It shall be unlawful for any person to obstruct, intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he or she may choose, or for the purpose of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for state or local office or any other proposition at any election. Any person who violates this section shall be guilty, upon conviction, of a Class A misdemeanor."

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"In Last Minute Decision, Alabama Says Voters Can't Use Public Housing ID At The Polls"

ThinkProgress reports: Alabama, which is testing out its new voter ID law for the first time this year, will not accept public housing ID at the polls.

Bernard Simelton of the Alabama NAACP State Conference told ThinkProgress that he learned Friday that voters will not be able to use their public housing ID under the Attorney General’s interpretation of the new law. -- In Last Minute Decision, Alabama Says Voters Can't Use Public Housing ID At The Polls » ThinkProgress

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Vote or "land may be given to honor ... klansmen."

ALcom reports: A flier distributed by a Montgomery civil rights group warns Alabama voters that if they do not vote Tuesday, "land may be given to honor extremist groups to honor klansmen."

The reference to the Ku Klux Klan is part of the flier titled "18 reasons why you should vote if you're 18 years or older." The flier also warns of cuts to food stamps and unemployment insurance. ...

The flier features the logo of the Alabama New South Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group founded in 1986. Its purpose is "to promote the general welfare of all people through independent focused organizations dedicated to progressive ideals of freedom, justice and democracy," according to its website. -- Alabama land will be used to honor 'klansmen' if people do not vote, flier from New South Coalition warns | AL.com

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November 1, 2014

Mike Hubbard "Collides With Ethics Law He Espoused"

The New York Times reports: For a time, it seemed that Michael G. Hubbard and the prosecutors were waging parallel wars.

Both aimed their fire at the state's political establishment: Mr. Hubbard, as a state representative and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, by focusing intently on defeating the Democrats who controlled the State House until 2010, and federal anticorruption prosecutors by launching a fusillade of investigations.

But this year, on his way to another easy re-election as the most powerful politician in Alabama, Mr. Hubbard and the law collided.

On Oct. 20, Mr. Hubbard, 52, was arrested after a grand jury returned a 23-count indictment, partly on the basis of an ethics law he had championed, accusing him of using his positions as party chairman and speaker of the House to steer thousands of dollars' worth of business to companies in which he had a financial interest. Mr. Hubbard has vehemently denied the charges. -- Firebrand Alabama Republican Collides With Ethics Law He Espoused - NYTimes.com

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October 30, 2014

Rick Hasen's preview of Alabama redistricting cases in Supreme Court

Rick Hasen writes on SCOTUSblog: The Supreme Court has long ignored Justice Felix Frankfurter's warning to stay out of the political thicket. It regularly hears challenges to redistricting cases (not to mention lots of other types of election cases), raising issues from the one-person, one-vote rule to vote dilution under the Voting Rights Act, to racial and partisan gerrymandering claims. The Court's decision to hear a part of a challenge to Alabama's state legislative redistricting plan enacted after the 2010 census (in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, set for argument on November 12) brings all of these issues together in a seemingly technical but high-stakes case, showing the artificiality of separating issues of race and party in redistricting, featuring a bold role reversal in political parties' use of racial gerrymandering claims, and offering a surprising new threat to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. - Argument preview: Racial gerrymandering, partisan politics, and the future of the Voting Rights Act : SCOTUSblog

Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for ALBC.

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October 29, 2014

A campaign-finance tidbit from the 3rd day of Barry Moore's perjury trial

AL.com reports: Prosecutors sought to introduce evidence that Hubbard was helping to pay for Moore's legal defense through campaign contributions.

They said campaign finance reports would show that.

The defense lawyers objected to introducing information about Hubbard's campaign funds paying Moore's legal fees. They said it would be prejudicial to the jury, which was not in the courtroom during the discussion.

Prosecutors dropped their request to introduce the information about legal fees. -- Rep. Barry Moore takes the stand in perjury trial, says Speaker Mike Hubbard never threatened to withhold project funds | AL.com

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Commercial use of the Alabama Great Seal is illegal

Just in case you were thinking of sending out letters with the Great Seal of Alabama on them, it's illegal (Ala. Code § 13A-10-13 makes it a Class C felony). And state officials seem not to like that bit of impersonation:

California state officials are now looking into whether any state laws were violated when researchers from Stanford University and Dartmouth College sent to some of the state's voters a mailer similar to the one that has stirred significant controversy in Montana and in political science circles nationwide, TPM has learned. -- California Is Now Looking Into That Controversial Poli Sci Election Mailer

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October 26, 2014

"3 local campaigns received funds from Speaker Hubbard, paid thousands to companies he owns"

The Decatur Daily reports: The campaigns of several area legislative candidates received thousands of dollars in campaign funds from entities controlled by recently indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard and paid thousands to companies he owned.

State Reps. Dan Williams, R-Athens; Terri Collins, R-Decatur; and Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, all entered office in 2010, and all received support from Hubbard. During the same election cycle, each of their campaigns paid money to Hubbard's printing and media companies. Hubbard, R-Auburn, was then chairman of the state Republican Party and House Minority Leader. After the November 2010 election, he became House Speaker.

The lawmakers said they did not know at the time that Hubbard had an ownership in the companies.

"At a minimum, it creates an appearance that this is all just money being laundered through a candidate and back to enrich the originator of the funds," said Meredith McGehee, policy director of The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign-finance organization based in Washington, D.C. "These transactions sound so incestuous. The candidates should have been aware of the appearance this would create, even if there was not an understanding that, ‘I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine.' " -- Financial ties that bind - Decatur Daily: News

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"Hubbard indictment hinges on one particular ethical question"

Cameron Smith's op-ed says: During a recent press conference responding to his corruption indictment, Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard asked a critical question "Why does the Attorney General's Office....think it's a crime to do business with anyone you didn't know before you were elected to office?" ...

Outside employment for citizen legislators is not inherently problematic and may actually provide a benefit. For instance, legislators that actively participate in the business community will likely have a better perspective on economic challenges facing the state and the issues impacting their respective industries.

The ethical problem arises when legislators secure business and financial opportunities because of their public office or in exchange for specific favors. Most people are familiar with the "quid pro quo" type of corruption, but the more general use of a public office for personal gain is equally problematic. In that situation, politicians can ask for favors, compensation, or other benefits without agreeing to do anything in return. The implied agreement is that those providing the value to the politician can expect his or her help on their priorities in the future. -- Hubbard indictment hinges on one particular ethical question: opinion | AL.com

Contrast that with Kyle Whitmire's column: For instance, Hubbard faces 11 counts of soliciting a thing of value from a lobbyist or principal. (A principal is defined in the law as anyone who employs a lobbyist.) The elements the prosecution must prove are fairly straight forward. Is Hubbard a member of the Alabama Legislature? (Yes.) Did he ask for or receive anything of value from a lobbyist or principal? (If yes, then he's guilty.) -- Is Mike Hubbard going to jail in a gift basket? The consequences of legislate now, litigate later: opinion | AL.com

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October 25, 2014

Hubbard may have been hoist on his own petard

Kyle Whitmire writes on AL.com: When the Alabama Legislature passed the state ethics law in 2010, the newly elected Republican majority boasted that the state now had the toughest ethics laws in the nation. ...

Sometimes the consequences can land folks behind bars. Lawmakers rarely have to deal with those consequences themselves, and if some poor sap gets thrown in the pokey? Well, then they can brag they're tough on crime.

But this week it was one of the Legislature's own who fell in the gap.

Fifteen of the 23 counts against Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard are built on new ethics laws passed since 2010. -- Is Mike Hubbard going to jail in a gift basket? The consequences of legislate now, litigate later: opinion | AL.com

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