October 19, 2014

"Lawmakers: Campaign money laws need tuning"

The Decatur Daily reports: Some north Alabama lawmakers are considering ways to better enforce state campaign finance reporting laws, with one option being to create a group similar to the ethics commission.

Rules are in place on how politicians, and those who hope to be politicians, gather and spend political contributions. And there are repercussions, including fines, for not following the rules. But no state agency is charged with ensuring compliance. ...

Late in this year's legislative session, Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Orr, that would have let the secretary of state issue fines.

It passed the Senate but didn't have the needed unanimous support, required late in the session, to be sent to the House for a vote.

Now, Orr and others are looking at legislation for 2015. -- Lawmakers: Campaign money laws need tuning - Decatur Daily: News

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October 15, 2014

"Moore Spending Campaign Cash for Legal Defense"

Alabama Political Reporter reports: Indicted lawmaker Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, is not only spending his campaign donations on his legal defense, he is also hiring "private-eyes" with other people's money.

Moores latest FCPA filing show that he raised $16,000, for the week ending October 10. All totaled, Moore had a beginning balance of $35,351.64. Of that amount he spent $27,157.31 on his legal defense. Moore is charged with two felony counts of making false statements and two felony counts of perjury, in relation to the Special Grand Jury probe into Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. If convicted, Moore could face a maximum of 60 years in State prison.

But, not only did donors pony-up for lawyers at Baxley, Dillard, Mcknight & James and Motley, Motley & Yarbrough, they paid for the services of Dothan-based M & M Investigation. -- Moore Spending Campaign Cash for Legal Defense

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A-Vote and Progress PAC contribute to legislative candidates

AL.com reports: The Alabama Education Association's political action committee has spent more than $200,000 on Democratic candidates in legislative races so far this month.

Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education, AVOTE, also gave $300,000 this month to Democrat Parker Griffith, who is running against Republican incumbent Robert Bentley for governor. That was the second $300,000 contribution from AVOTE to Griffith. ...

Meanwhile, the Business Council of Alabama's PAC, Progress PAC, has spent roughly the same amount, about $200,000, on Republican legislative candidates this month. -- AEA PAC spends more than $200,000 on Democratic candidates for Legislature | AL.com

Disclosure: I provide legal assistance to A-Vote.

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Trouble inside ALGOP

AL.com reports: With only three weeks until the General Election, Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead is charging some high ranking members of his own party with efforts to "sabotage" the GOP's efforts at the polls.

In an email sent out just before 1 a.m. Tuesday, Armistead says this to members of the GOP Executive Committee, a key leadership group of the party. ... "Several members of the ALGOP Steering Committee seem determined to sabotage ALGOP's 2014 political plan to suit their own personal preferences. They want to disregard the work that has been done, and is being done, by our political team who has worked for nearly two years developing our plan based on demographics, voting history, polling data and viability of candidate."

Armistead explains in the email that the goal of the party has been to win all seven U.S. House of Representative seats (the GOP holds six of seven) and win certain targeted legislative seats now held by Democrats and certain seats at the local level. Armistead said the underlying goal is to strengthen the GOP at the local level to establish it as the majority party at every level. -- State GOP leader charges some in party with sabotage of efforts to win in November | AL.com

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Parker Griffih raised more than Gov. Bentley so far this month

AL.com reports: Gov. Robert Bentley continues to easily outpace his Democratic challenger, Parker Griffith, in campaign fundraising.

Both candidates filed reports today that covered money raised and spent from Oct. 1-10.

Bentley raised $225,070 from a long list of donors, bringing his total amount raised to $6.4 million since the fundraising period began in June 2013.

Griffith raised only $1,370 during the first two weeks during the period, not counting a $300,000 contribution from the Alabama Education Association. -- Gov. Robert Bentley adds to huge lead over Parker Griffith in campaign cash | AL.com

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Dr. Paul Hubbert, may he rest in peace

It was my honor and pleasure to work with Dr. Hubbert over the last 3 decades.

AL.com reports:
Paul Hubbert, who built a small, struggling and apolitical Alabama Education Association into a juggernaut of political power and influence during four-plus decades at its helm, is dead.

Hubbert, 78, was born on Christmas Day, 1935.

Hubbert's death came not quite three years after he stepped down as AEA's executive secretary, a decision he said he made after concluding his health would no longer allow him to do the job.

At the time of his death, Hubbert was battling ailments on several fronts -- and battling is the term to describe Hubbert's long fight to live.

In 1989, the then-54-year-old Hubbert underwent liver transplant surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The transplant saved and extended Hubbert's life. At the time of his death, he was one of the longest-surviving liver transplant patients in the world. -- Paul Hubbert, teacher lobbyist whose AEA shaped Alabama politics for decades, dead at 78 | AL.com

Some additional details from the Montgomery Advertiser: "The teachers of Alabama lost a true friend and a true champion," Reed said Tuesday night.

A cause of death was not immediately available. Hubbert had been fighting heart and kidney ailments.

The group also formed one of the first political action committees in the state, and influenced policy that went beyond classrooms and made the group a beacon to some and an enemy to others.

Survivors include Hubbert's wife, Ann; two daughters and several grandchildren. -- Paul Hubbert, longtime AEA head, dies at 78

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October 11, 2014

ALGOP sez drop in voter turnout means Voter ID is working

Alabama Political Reporter reports: Thursday, October 9, the Alabama Republican Party responded to the release of a report on Wednesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicating the voter ID laws in Tennessee and Kansas may have suppressed voter turnout and affected minorities and young people disproportionately.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said in a written statement in support of Alabama's voter ID law: "Alabama's voter ID law is designed to ensure that only legal votes are cast and counted. We believe one person should receive one vote. The state has promoted the law on television, radio, on billboards and in print ads to make sure every Alabama citizen is ready for implementation. The state even offers free IDs to those who do not have a valid photo ID." ...

The report claimed that voter ID laws have nothing to do with voter fraud and everything to do with lowering election turnout. The report compared the changes in voter turnouts from 2008 elections (before voter ID laws were in place) to 2012 elections (after voter ID laws were in place) in Kansas and Tennessee. Both states experienced a two percent drop in turnout from 2008 to 2012. Their results pointed towards the cost of getting a driver's license, in order to comply with voter ID laws, as a deterrent to citizens.

Chairman Armistead said, "If voter turnout dropped in Kansas and Tennessee after implementing a voter ID law, then that may be a good indication that the law is working and has curtailed fraudulent votes. The intended purpose of voter ID laws is to prevent fraud and hopefully that is what is happening." -- ALGOP Responds to GAO Report Questioning Photo ID Laws

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October 4, 2014

"Alabama political ad spending hits $26.8 million"

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Political campaigns in Alabama have spent at least $26.8 million on advertising this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office.

The figures jumped significantly last month, as campaigns began emptying their wallets for the fall push toward the general election. According to campaign finance reports, political ad spending reached $4.7 million in September. That was nearly four times the spending reported in August, but still well below May's peak, when candidates spent over $11 million to secure victory in hotly-contested Republican primaries.

The total spending on ads this year is larger than all but nine state agencies received in the General Fund budget in fiscal year 2014, which ended on Tuesday. The sum is also very close to the total General Fund allocations that the state's district attorneys ($27.5 million) and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles ($27.2 million) received from the budget.

To date, the largest spender has been the Alabama Education Association, which has spent over $3.8 million on advertising this year. Gov. Robert Bentley's campaign has spent $2.8 million to date this year. Bentley's campaign reported spending $1.6 million on ads last month; AEA reported spending just $30,000 on advertising, though it spent $1.1 million overall in September. -- Alabama political ad spending hits $26.8 million

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October 1, 2014

Jeeferson County fires staffer who ran for office

AL.com reports: Jefferson County today fired Richard Finley, the County Commission staffer, who had been placed on leave after questions were raised about violation of a state law.

Commissioner George Bowman said today that Finley had "forfeited" his job.

"His leave of absence has now been turned into a forfeiture of employment," Bowman said.

AL.com reported Sunday that Finley, an aide to Bowman, qualified as a Libertarian for the District 1 seat. But, after qualifying, Finley apparently failed to follow the state law that requires he take unpaid leave from his government-based job. -- Jefferson County Commission aide fired after apparent violation of state law | AL.com

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September 24, 2014

Alabama is 11th nationally in political-TV spending

AP via Opelika-Auburn Now reports: Alabama ranks 11th in the U.S. in spending on TV ads for the 2014 state-level campaigns and first on such spending in legislative races, according to a national report.

The report by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity found that Alabama campaigns for state-level offices, ranging from governor to the Legislature and state school board, had spent $6.9 million on TV ads that had aired through Sept. 8. The number will grow significantly as the general election approaches on Nov. 4. ...

In some states, political groups running ads independent of the candidates have played a major role in TV spending. But in Alabama, candidates accounted for $6.5 million of the total and groups only $433,800. The biggest spending groups were the political action committee of the state teachers' organization, the Alabama Education Association, with $307,300 in ads and former Gov. Bob Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC with $125,000. Riley's group spent money to try to maintain the Republican majority in the Legislature, while AEA spent money to challenge some incumbent Republican legislators. ...

These figures represent only part of the money spend on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online, in direct mail, or on local cable systems, or the cost of producing the messages. That means the total cost of spending on political ads can be significantly higher. -- OANow.com | AP News

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September 18, 2014

"Why did feds sue Texas over voter ID law but not Alabama?"

AL.com reports: The U.S. Justice Department last year pounced on a Texas law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, but the agency chose not to challenge a similar statute in Alabama,

Why?

Holly Wiseman, the civil rights enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Mobile, told the local League of Women Voters chapter at a Wednesday luncheon that she is not privy to those decisions. But she contrasted the two laws.

She said Texas has stricter requirements for the types of identification that a voter can produce, and when documentation is needed to obtain an ID, the state charges for it. In addition, she said, residents in some cases have to drive hundreds of miles to get to the registrar's office to obtain an ID.

Wiseman said Alabama's law, on the other hand, provides a photo ID for free to voters who do not have one. The state also issues copies of documents like marriage and birth certificates to voters who need them to obtain IDs. -- Why did feds sue Texas over voter ID law but not Alabama? Government lawyer explains | AL.com

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September 7, 2014

Editorial: "Campaign funds should fund campaigns, not lawyers"

The Dothan Eagle editorializes: Alabamians should be troubled by the news this week that Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard has spent about $230,000 in campaign funds on legal fees since December 2013.

An attorney general's opinion issued in 2000 states that an incumbent can use excess campaign funds to defend criminal charges brought in relation to the public office they hold, and that opinion was taken at face value by some lawmakers tried in the federal government's futile case against a clutch of lawmakers and lobbyists in an alleged vote-buying scheme over electronic bingo in recent years. ...

Campaign funds are meant to fund campaigns, not to pay lawyers for undetermined legal work.

This matter deserves more than an opinion from the attorney general. It should be weighed by the state Supreme Court, where rulings carry a measure of legal weight. -- Our view: Campaign funds should fund campaigns, not lawyers - Dothan Eagle: Editorials

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"Campaign finances can make for daunting record-keeping"

The Jacksonville News reports: Candidates for Jacksonville's school board election Aug. 26 didn't have access to six-figure checks from wealthy political action committees, yet they were subject to the same campaign finance laws as higher-office candidates who do enjoy such access.

Local party officials say candidates for local offices didn't use to worry much about filing campaign finance reports. But that has changed over the years, and in 2011 state law was amended to make it easier to track where campaign funding comes from and how it is spent.

Party executives and officials with the Alabama Secretary of State's office have worked to teach candidates the rules, but as the five school board candidates recently learned, it can still be tough to track down details about the new requirements. They wound up filing their campaign finance reports in a variety of ways. -- Campaign finances can make for daunting record-keeping - The Jacksonville News

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September 5, 2014

Ala. Supreme Court denies Barry Moore's appeal

Al.com reports: The Alabama Supreme Court today ruled against state Rep. Barry Moore in his effort to have his perjury case dismissed.

The decision was 8-0. The court did not release an opinion to accompany the decision.

Moore, a Republican from Enterprise, is accused of giving false testimony to a special grand jury in Lee County in January. ...

Moore sought dismissal of the case by claiming the prosecutors were not appointed legally and the indictment was improperly written. -- Alabama Supreme Court rules 8-0 against Rep. Barry Moore's move to dismiss case | AL.com


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Campaign cash is buying influence in Alabama courtrooms

Cameron Smith opines on AL.com: Imagine for a minute that a corporation with an effective monopoly in the State of Alabama became the target of litigation initiated by a state prosecutor. Not only does the corporation use their cash to fight the litigation in court and by lobbying legislators, but they also go after the prosecutor politically in the middle of the legal proceedings.

In an attempt to find a more favorable prosecutor, the corporation funnels $1 million to the prosecutor's political opponent through a series of vaguely named political action committees (PACS) managed by a former felon.

Why not make it even more interesting? What if the transfers and the amount of money were legal under state law and the manager received a pardon a few months after his conviction?

While the hypothetical might seem like the latest legal fiction thriller, it happens to be reality in Alabama politics. The state prosecutor is none other than Attorney General Luther Strange, the business is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that operates casinos in Alabama, and the A, T, and Speed PACs the tribe funds are managed by former state senator John Teague. -- It doesn't take much to imagine that campaign cash is buying influence in the courtroom: opinion | AL.com

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August 28, 2014

"Tracking" comes to Alabama

AL.com reports: An advisory to Democratic county chairs has been sent, warning them of Republican-leaning videographers who are recording candidates at events, according to Herbert Kuntz, chairman St. Clair County Democrats and the author of the letter.

Kuntz told AL.com on Wednesday that he sent the letter after an incident on Aug.14 at the Pell City recreation center. ...

Kuntz had organized the meeting to let state Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, speak about his candidacy for Alabama attorney general.

But a videographer, known as a "tracker" in political circles, showed up to record Hubbard speak. Hubbard's campaign took pictures of the videographer, and identified him as Chris Cato from South Carolina. Cato works for America Rising LLC, which disseminates its videos through its political action committee, America Rising PAC.

The PAC is a Republican-leaning organization that seeks to research and record Democrats during this election season. -- Warning sent to Alabama's Democratic county chairmen: You are being tracked | AL.com

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"What if Alabama elected multiple congressmen per district? A radical reform proposal"

Al.com reports: No one would dispute that Alabama is a Republican-leaning state, but an electoral reform group contends the current voting system distorts GOP dominance.

Presently, six of seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Republican. But the state is not 85 percent Republican. The Maryland-based Center for Voting and Democracy, in an analysis of the upcoming 2014 election issued last month, puts the Republican percentage at 63 percent. ...

The center recommends combining ranked choice voting with multi-member "super districts." For Alabama, that would mean folding the current seven districts into two. One would combine the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts, covering Mobile and Baldwin, the Wiregrass and east Alabama. The other district would combine the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th districts, covering Huntsville, Birmingham and west Alabama.

Both super districts would be between 62 percent and 65 percent Republican. But because of the nature of ranked voting, it is unlikely they would elect all Republicans. -- What if Alabama elected multiple congressmen per district? A radical reform proposal | AL.com

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August 26, 2014

"Did Alabama state candidates violate law by taking money from Congressman Bonner's campaign?"

AL.com reports: The Democratic candidate for Alabama attorney general on Monday accused his Republican opponent of breaking state law by accepting a campaign donation from the campaign account of former U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile.

Attorney General Luther Strange disputes the interpretation offered by challenger Joe Hubbard, and has the backing of the Alabama Secretary of State's Office on the matter.

If Hubbard is correct, then nine other state and local candidates in Alabama made the same mistake.

Hubbard, a state representative from Montgomery, said the law clearly counts campaign committees as political action committees. The Legislature in 2010 banned PACs from transferring funds to other PACs as part of a series of ethics reforms that Republicans enacted when they wrested control of the House and Senate from Democrats that year. The intent was to stop what had been a common practice of donors hiding the source of political money by routing it through a series of PACS so that it would be difficult or impossible to trace. -- Did Alabama state candidates violate law by taking money from Congressman Bonner's campaign? | AL.com

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State drops prosecution of Barron and Johnson

AL.com reports: The prosecution of former state Sen. Lowell Barron is over.

The Alabama Attorney General's office, which brought a six-count indictment against Barron in 2013, filed a motion Monday in DeKalb County Circuit Court to dismiss the charges.

Trial judge Randall Cole hasn't ruled on the motion filed late Monday afternoon yet but his approval is considered a formality.

Dropping the charges was not unexpected after the Alabama Supreme Court on Friday denied an appeal by the AG's office, upholding ruling by two lower courts on evidence that could be admitted at trial. Based on court documents filed by prosecutors, that decision left the state without a case against Barron. -- Alabama Attorney General's office drops criminal charges against Lowell Barron | AL.com

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August 23, 2014

Circuit Court puts Alexander back on the ballot (2)

AL.com reports: As expected, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price issued an order today in favor of Louise Alexander in her effort to remain on the ballot in the race for District 56 in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Price had announced on Monday he would rule in Alexander's favor.

The judge found the state Democratic Party was at fault for not forwarding a form to the Ethics Commission.

Secretary of State Jim Bennett said the case highlighted the need to strengthen the state law on the requirement that candidates file statements of economic interests with the Ethics Commission.

Price's ruling overturns Bennett's decision to disqualify Alexander from the race. -- Jim Bennett says he'll seek clearer ethics law after Louise Alexander prevails in ballot dispute | AL.com


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AG loses on critical evidence rulings in case against Lowell Barron

Alabama Supreme Court rules in favor of Lowell Barron: 'This case should now be concluded,' Barron says | AL.com
AL.com reports: The Alabama Supreme Court ruled today against an appeal made by prosecutors in the case against former state Sen. Lowell Barron.

The ruling could be a prelude to the charges against Barron and co-defendant Rhonda Jill Johnson of Scottsboro being dismissed. ...

The court unanimously upheld two lower court rulings on evidence that could be presented at the trial of Barron and Johnson that prosecutors from the state attorney general's office said was critical to their case. ...

The AGs office focused on three aspects of a ruling by DeKalb County Circuit Judge Randall Cole, the trial judge, for its appeal:

  • Cole said comments Johnson regarding a romantic relationship with Barron to a reporter of a Montgomery-based blog could not be introduced at trial, which is an element of motive.
  • Cole said prosecutors cannot introduce evidence of a romantic relationship between Barron and Johnson, which the state said would be a demonstration of motive and intent.
  • Cole said Barron can provide testimony and evidence from other politicians to discuss how campaign funds are spent, ruling against a motion filed by the state.

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August 20, 2014

Filing an ethics statement appears to be hard to remember ... for candidates

AL.com reports: Louise Alexander's Republican opponent in Alabama House District 56, Darius Foster, was late this year filing an ethics statement, the same document that led to Alexander's temporary disqualification.

Foster had a current statement of economic interests on file when he qualified as a candidate, as required.

But he later failed to file a new statement for 2013 until more than three months after a deadline in the ethics law. -- Louise Alexander's Republican opponent, Darius Foster, filed ethics form late | AL.com

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August 19, 2014

Circuit Court puts Alexander back on the ballot

AL.com reports: Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price announced today he would issue an injunction that will keep Louise Alexander on the ballot in Alabama House District 56, Alexander's lawyer, U.W. Clemon, said this evening.

That will overturn a decision by Secretary of State Jim Bennett to disqualify Alexander from the race.

Bennett issued a statement opposing the ruling, and his office is considering an appeal. -- Judge Charles Price rules secretary of state must put Louise Alexander on the ballot | AL.com

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August 17, 2014

GOP tracker following Dem's AG candidate

AL.com reports: The attorney general's race heated up last week as a national Republican political action committee made clear they would continue tracking Democratic candidates around Alabama. ...

Hubbard's campaign took advantage of the opportunity to "track the tracker." The Hubbard campaign even got pictures of the tracker's ID, which lists him as a photographer for "America Rising LLC."

The America Rising PAC is a GOP opposition-research firm that employs trackers to follow Democrats and report back with any potentially embarrassing statements.

Politico reported the PAC was founded by former Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades and former Republican National Committee research director Joe Pounder. The group operates like a news website, posting videos and hoping they go viral on their own. It appears some of the videos are also shared from other sites -- anything that achieves the PAC's goals to embarrass Democrats. -- Democrats, attorney general candidate Joe Hubbard get their party crashed by video tracker sent by Republican PAC | AL.com

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"Relators' mount unusual legal challenge to authority of Sen. Del Marsh"

The Anniston Star reports: On a Thursday morning in a dimly-lit courtroom in downtown Montgomery, Donald Curtis Casey, a retired Birmingham steel company employee, is telling a judge why he wants to remove the president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate from office.

He's also trying to explain why he doesn't consider himself a plaintiff, nor does he consider Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, a defendant.

"This is a situation where we have filed a quo warranto, and it's not a justiciable controversy," Casey said. He pronounces it "jus-TICK-able."

"Jus-TISH-able," Circuit Court Judge William Shashy replies. "Let me tell you something. When you say it's not a justiciable controversy, you're talking against your own case." -- 'Relators' mount unusual legal challenge to authority of Sen. Del Marsh - The Anniston Star: News

Comment: No excerpt can do justice to this bizarre attack on Sen. Marsh because he was the sponsor of a bill to create a Constitutional Revision Commission.

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