October 23, 2015
Sec of State threatens out-of-state PACs
Alabama Political Reporter reports: On Wednesday, October 21, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) issued a warning to groups who may attempt to use out of state Political Action Committees (PACs) to hide the source of their funds.
Secretary of State Merrill said, "It has been brought to the attention of the Secretary of State's Office that there may be current plans to circumvent the reporting requirements of the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act by utilizing out-of-state PACs and the reporting requirements of other states to hide the source of contributions to Alabama campaigns."
Secretary Merrill warned, "I have been and will continue to be in contact with my counterparts in other states to work to reveal the source of contributions to candidates in Alabama in order to protect and enforce the transparency mandate for political contributions in our State."
Merrill said that, "If we discover that there has been a violation of this law, we will identify the perpetrator and investigate that entity or individual. If it is warranted, we will seek indictment while working with the District Attorney's Office and Attorney General's Office to ensure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." -- Merrill Threatens Legal Actions Against Political Action Committees
"Artur Davis files lawsuit against Alabama Democrats"
AL.com reports: Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis has filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Democratic Party for its refusal to allow him to rejoin the party and run for a seat on the Montgomery County Commission.
In the suit filed on Wednesday, Davis asks the Montgomery County Circuit Court to grant an injunction and require Alabama Democrats to reverse their decision. The case was assigned to Judge Truman Hobbs.
Invoking the Radney Rule, the executive board of the party denied Davis' request to run for office as a Democrat at a hearing on Oct. 16. The rule prevents prospective candidates from switching parities if that person has supported an opposing party in the past four years.
After losing a bid for governor, Davis left the Democratic Party in May 2012 and campaigned for Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney. -- Artur Davis files lawsuit against Alabama Democrats | AL.com
October 20, 2015
"Caravan to protest Black Belt license office closings still on despite partial reopening"
AL.com reports: A caravan to protest the closing of driver's license offices in Alabama's Black Belt will proceed even though Gov. Robert Bentley announced the offices would reopen at least one day a month starting Nov. 1.
Caravan organizers announced today they would still make stops in 11 counties on Thursday and Friday, as they had planned last week.
In a news release, they called the plan to open at least one day a month a "charade."
"This will cause great hardship for the people who can least afford it and who are most impacted," the statement said.
Caravan organizers are the Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy and the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. -- Caravan to protest Black Belt license office closings still on despite partial reopening | AL.com
"Bernie Sanders: Alabama Republicans are 'cowards' trying to 'suppress' vote"
AL.com reports: Sen. Bernie Sanders called Republicans in Alabama and other states "cowards" for trying to "suppress" votes.
"Republican cowards all across the country, including Alabama, are very clearly trying to win elections by suppressing the vote and making it harder for low-income people, minorities, young people and seniors to vote. That has to change. Anyone 18 years of age or older should be automatically registered to vote," Sanders said in a statement he tweeted Sunday.
The Washington Post reported the statement came in response to remarks Hillary Clinton made during her speech in Hoover Saturday. -- Bernie Sanders: Alabama Republicans are 'cowards' trying to 'suppress' vote | AL.com
October 18, 2015
"Hillary Clinton: Alabama remains front line of voting rights battle"
Hillary Clinton writes on AL.com: Alabama is one of 17 states with no early voting. That needs to change. Alabama should make sure those who've served time have their voting rights restored. And they should eliminate the discriminatory requirement that people provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. We should be doing everything we can to get more people involved in our political process, not turning them away when they try to participate.
Alabama isn't alone. Over the past few years, many states have passed laws that make voting harder. Since the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the situation has gotten even worse. And some people --including many Republican candidates for president--would keep pushing our country in this shameful direction. -- Hillary Clinton: Alabama remains front line of voting rights battle | AL.com
October 17, 2015
Ben Carson leads in campaign cash raised in Alabama
AL.com reports: Surging in the polls since the first Republican debate, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson has now raked in the most campaign cash from Alabama of any 2016 presidential candidate, raising about $215,000 from July through September and now has raised about $272,000 from the Yellowhammer State, according to new Federal Election Commission data.
Carson overtook former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who led all candidates with about $70,000 raised last quarter and now has more than $125,000 from Alabama contributors. Carson, who has wide appeal with evangelicals and conservatives, also has somewhat of a built-in advantage in Alabama. His national finance chairman, Dean Parker, is from Mobile.
Aside from Carson, Clinton was leapfrogged by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Bush raised about $165,000 from Alabama donors from July through September, an increase from the roughly $54,000 he brought in from the state from April to June. -- Feeling blue: Democrats deny Artur Davis
Alabama Democratic Party denies Artur Davis' request to switch back to Democrats
The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Davis, the former Democratic Congressman turned Republican gubernatorial candidate, went before the Executive Board of the State Democratic Executive Committee Friday to convince the 24 board members present to allow him to run for office as a Democratic candidate.
Following the show cause hearing and private discussion, former Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Redding Pitt motioned for Davis to become a Democratic candidate.
The motion was flatly denied.
Pitt may not have been the only "yes" in the room, but if there was another, it could not be heard audibly. -- Feeling blue: Democrats deny Artur Davis
October 13, 2015
Letters showing the barriers to blacks trying to register to voter
AL.com reports: Black women who went to the Jefferson County courthouse to register to vote in 1960 were routinely interrogated about whether their children were born out of wedlock.
Black men who had been arrested on misdemeanor charges as part of the Birmingham civil rights movement were turned away for "doing harm to the city."
Bad handwriting and misplaced check marks barred many from registering to vote 55-years-ago.
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, then the secretary of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, outlined those concerns in an August 1960 letter to the U.S. Attorney General. -- 1960 Fred Shuttlesworth letter shows fight blacks faced to vote in Alabama | AL.com
NOTE: this article contains a 184-page DOJ file with complaints and investigations regarding blacks trying to register to vote.
October 12, 2015
Houston Co. DA guilty of Ethics Law violation
The Dothan Eagle reports: The Alabama Ethics Commission ruled Wednesday that District Attorney Doug Valeska committed two minor violations of the Alabama Ethics Law.
Valeska could face an administrative penalty. Minor violations of the state ethics law result in an administrative penalty of no more than $1,000. Restitution could also be ordered. ...
The action resulted from an ethics complaint filed by former assistant district attorney Andy Robinson, who alleged Valeska used assistant district attorneys to perform campaign work and other personal work. The Ethics Commission investigated the matter to determine its validity, gathering evidence and conducting interviews with Robinson and others, including Valeska.
Alabama law states public interests cannot be converted to personal interests.
Alabama Code 26-25-5(c) states: "No public official or public employee shall use or cause to be used equipment, facilities, time, materials, human labor, or other public property under his or her discretion of control for the private benefit or business benefit of the public official, public employee, any other person, or principal campaign committee." -- District Attorney Doug Valeska found in violation of state ethics law - Dothan Eagle: Crime Court
September 15, 2015
"Bill would let officials solicit money for criminal defense"
AP (via the Tuscaloosa News) reports: The head of the Alabama Ethics Commission on Monday sharply criticized a bill that would let public officials solicit money from lobbyists and others for criminal defense funds.
Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, called the bill that was approved by the states House of Representatives last week a significant step backward for public ethics. ...
No laws govern the creation of criminal defense funds in Alabama. The bill by Rep. Jack Williams would allow public officials to start the criminal defense funds and solicit contributions without violating a state ban on public officials soliciting a thing of value from lobbyists and others.
The bill would require the treasurer of the fund to file public reports listing donors. -- Bill would let officials solicit money for criminal defense | TuscaloosaNews.com
September 12, 2015
Speaker Hubbard claims the Ethics Law has quit preaching and gone to meddling
John Archibald writes on AL.com: Hubbard, who has publicly praised ethics reforms Republicans used to usher themselves to power -- including those that prevented public officials from lobbying -- asked Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III to dismiss charges against him on a claim that the much ballyhooed ethics law is unconstitutional, and that he, even as a public official, has a constitutional right to lobby for money.
Even from his powerful position in the Legislature. Even as an elected representative of the people of Alabama.
Hubbard lawyer J. Mark White argues under the heading: "Hubbard's right to lobby on behalf of his or his business' clients is a fundamental right constitutionally protected by the First Amendment," that the law Hubbard is charged with breaking presents a host of constitutional issues.
"Lobbying -- the right of the people to inform their representatives in government of their desires with respect to the passage or enforcement of laws -- is 'core' political speech, prototypical of the kind of speech protected by the First Amendment," White argued. -- Documents revealed: No wonder Mike Hubbard wanted them sealed | AL.com
September 7, 2015
"Olivia Reynolds found guilty of 24 counts of voter fraud"
The Dothan Eagle reports: A Houston County jury found Olivia Reynolds guilty Wednesday afternoon for her role in a voter fraud case.
Assistant District Attorney Banks Smith said the jury found 66-year-old Olivia Reynolds guilty of 24 felony counts of absentee ballot fraud. Smith said the jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning with the guilty verdicts.
Houston County Sheriff?s investigators arrested Reynolds in May 2014. She was one of three women charged who worked on the 2013 campaign for District 2 City Commissioner Amos Newsome.
In the August election, Newsome beat challenger Lamesa Danzey by 14 votes. Newsome received 119 of the 124 absentee votes that were cast. Danzey received more votes than Newsome at the polls. ...
Smith said some of the voters testified at trial how they never wanted to vote for Newsome yet their ballot was cast for Newsome anyway. -- Olivia Reynolds found guilty of 24 counts of voter fraud - Dothan Eagle: Crime Court
"Alabama voter convicted for openly carrying gun to poll"
AL.com reports: A Pelham man was convicted Friday on misdemeanor charges he illegally wore, in open view, a holstered pistol at a polling site during last year's Nov. 4 general election.
Robert Kennedy Jr., 59, was convicted in a bench trial before Shelby County District Court Judge Daniel A. Crowson Jr. on charges of voting obstruction and possession of firearms at certain places.
Crowson sentenced Kennedy to 30 days in jail, but suspended it 24 months and placed him on unsupervised probation for each conviction, with both sentences running concurrent. -- Alabama voter convicted for openly carrying gun to poll | AL.com
September 5, 2015
"A sure scandal in Gov. Robert Bentley's Administration"
John Archibald writes on AL.com: Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a chief adviser to the governor of the state of Alabama, is paid by unknown entities with money funneled through an opaque non-profit. And that shadowy operation ? it doesn't have to reveal its donors -- is set up by people connected to the state's most powerful and politically aggressive institutions. ...
Mason is paid through the lovely sounding Alabama Council for Excellent Government, formed of folks tied to both the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and Alabama Power. And she is not the only one on the lease-an-advisor program. Bentley's chief of staff, Seth Hammett, continues to be paid by Power South Energy Cooperative in Andalusia.
And yes, that has somehow been approved by that enabling outfit that calls itself the Alabama Ethics Commission – a group that ought to be renamed the Politicians' Apologist League, or PAL.
So in the end we have the two top advisers to the governor of the state of Alabama bought and paid for – with the blessing of the state's adjudicators of what is good and proper – by the most powerful people and aggressive lobbyists in the state. -- A sure scandal in Gov. Robert Bentley's Administration | AL.com
August 28, 2015
"Ten Alabama counties have more voters than eligible people"
AL.com reports: An organization called the Public Interest Legal Foundation has notified 10 counties in Alabama that they have more registered voters than voting age population.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he checked the numbers in the counties listed by the foundation and confirmed that all 10 had more registered voters than people 18 and older.
The counties are Lowndes, Perry, Greene, Macon, Wilcox, Marengo, Hale, Washington, Conecuh and Choctaw.
Merrill said all 10 counties have lost population since 2010 and believes some people who have left the counties remain on the voting rolls. -- Ten Alabama counties have more voters than eligible people | AL.com
August 26, 2015
"Federal court asks plaintiffs to draw Alabama legislative district plan"
AL.com reports: A three-judge federal court today asked plaintiffs who claim Alabama's legislative districts are racially gerrymandered if they could draw a new plan that would strike the delicate balance of protecting majority black districts while not using race as the main factor. ...
The case concerns Alabama's 140 legislative districts, redrawn by a Republican-led Legislature in 2012, as is done after after 10-year census. The plan was used in last year's elections.
The plan did not reduce the number of majority black districts from the previous maps -- 27 in the House and eight in the Senate.
But the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, the Alabama Democratic Conference and others sued to challenge the plan, saying it packed too many blacks into those majority black districts, reducing their influence in other districts. They also claimed the plan unnecessarily split counties.
Today, in response to Pryor's questions, lawyers for the plaintiffs said they could come up with a district plan that protects minority districts without making race predominant over other redistricting principles, such as keeping counties and precincts intact and keeping incumbents in separate districts. -- Federal court asks plaintiffs to draw Alabama legislative district plan | AL.com
Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the plaintiffs, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.
August 24, 2015
Alabama redistricting case set for argument on Tuesday
The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Three federal judges will hear arguments Tuesday over this question: Did the Alabama Legislature try to reduce the voice of minority voters with a new district map?
Attorneys for black legislators say yes and want to have the districts thrown out completely.
"We're hoping that the court will declare all of the majority black districts to be unconstitutional," said James Blacksher, an attorney for the plaintiffs, in a phone interview Friday. "And then give the legislature a deadline for producing new plans. We hope in time for elections to be held under new plans in 2016."
The state says the plaintiffs have no proof that race was the predominant factor in the maps' creation. -- Alabama redistricting battle back in federal court
Disclosure: I am one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
August 19, 2015
State Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker begins raising money for 2016 election
The Anniston Star reports: The next general election is more than a year away, but one of the men on the state's highest court has raised $47,000 for his re-election campaign.
Justice Tom Parker, one of three justices up for re-election in 2016, picked up donations from seven law firms and one individual lawyer in July and August. Parker, a Republican who does not yet have any opponents for the Supreme Court seat, is the first statewide candidate to report any fundraising for next year?s elections. ...
Parker's top donors include Birmingham lawyer David Marsh and the law firm Hare, Wynn Newell and Newton; each gave $10,000 to Parker's campaign. All of Parker's donors to date are lawyers or law firms, and most state on their websites that they've argued cases before the Alabama Supreme Court. Attempts to reach spokespeople willing to comment on the donations at all of the firms were unsuccessful Tuesday. -- State Supreme Court justice begins raising money for 2016 election - The Anniston Star: News
August 16, 2015
R.I.P.: Julian Bond
The New York Times reports: Julian Bond, a former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a charismatic figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, a lightning rod of the anti-Vietnam War campaign and a lifelong champion of equal rights for minorities, died on Saturday night, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was 75.
Mr. Bond died in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., after a brief illness, the center said in a statement Sunday morning.
He was one of the original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
He moved from the militancy of the student group to the top leadership of the establishmentarian N.A.A.C.P. Along the way, he was a writer, poet, television commentator, lecturer, college teacher, and persistent opponent of the stubborn remnants of white supremacy.
He also served for 20 years in the Georgia Legislature, mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser. -- Julian Bond, Former N.A.A.C.P. Chairman and Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 75 - The New York Times
August 14, 2015
"People flock from across U.S. to honor Jonathan Daniels"
The Montgomery Advertiser reported: Religious leaders and civil rights activists from across America begin arriving in Alabama today to remember an Episcopal seminary student who sacrificed his life to save a teenage girl 50 years ago.
Jonathan Daniels was one of several activists who took part in voting rights protests in 1965 during a violent year that claimed several lives.
Daniels, 26, died instantly when struck in the chest at point blank range by a shotgun blast as he stood outside a small convenience store on Aug. 20, 1965, shielding Ruby Sales who was not struck. ...
Events are scheduled throughout the weekend with the center of attention again in Hayneville where Daniels, a white New Hampshire native, was fatally shot on a hot August day not far from the Lowndes County Courthouse. Sales, who turned 17 a few weeks before the shooting, is black. -- People flock from across U.S. to honor Jonathan Daniels
August 10, 2015
Thomas Gilmore, former sheriff of Greene County and long-time pastor, has died
AL.com reports: Thomas Gilmore, Greene County's first black sheriff and the second black sheriff elected in Alabama, died Sunday in Birmingham, according to WVTM-TV.
The 74-year-old, a longtime pastor at First Baptist Church of Ensley, was born in Forkland and briefly lived in Los Angeles before returning home to Greene County in 1963. ...
Inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gilmore tried to be non-violent, even while working in law enforcement, and was known as "The Sheriff Without A Gun."
"When I arrest someone, I believe my approach is more important than my authority," he told a reporter in 1978. "I never insult a suspect. I never threaten him....Usually, I have no trouble."
After retiring as sheriff, Gilmore went on to serve as a pastor in Ensley for more than three decades. -- Greene County's first black sheriff has died: Thomas Gilmore was the 'sheriff without a gun' | AL.com
Note: I had the honor of working with Tom Gilmore while he was sheriff. May he rest in peace.
August 6, 2015
"Panic Over Campaign Cash for Legal Defense"
The Alabama Political Reporter says: Word around the State House is Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) is in a panic to find sponsors for a bill that would exempt campaign contributions used for legal fees as being considered a "thing of value."
Even before Hubbard was indicted on 23 felony counts of pubic corruption, he was using campaign contributions to pay attorneys. ...
However, during the 2015 Regular Session, the Republican Supermajority codified that opinion into law and expanded it allowing public office holders to use campaign contributions for, "Legal fees and costs associated with any civil action, criminal prosecution, or investigation related to conduct reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held."
What has not been addressed is whether this new law conflicts with the ethics laws passed in 2010.
State ethics law -- Section 36-25-6 passed by the Republican Supermajority in 2010 states: "Contributions to an office holder, a candidate, or to a public official's inaugural or transitional fund shall not be converted to personal use." -- Panic Over Campaign Cash for Legal Defense
July 28, 2015
"Civil rights martyr killed in Alabama gets stone carving at National Cathedral"
AL.com reports: Civil rights activist Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal seminary student who died in Alabama in 1965 when he stepped in front of a shotgun blast aimed at black teenager Ruby Sales, has been remembered with a stone monument in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Daniels is the third person memorialized with a bust in the Human Rights Porch of the National Cathedral. The other two are Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. ...
The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama will celebrate Daniels the weekend of Aug. 14-16. The weekend activities will begin Friday evening in Montgomery with a program at St. John's Episcopal Church and will wrap up Sunday morning with a service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Selma.
Morris Dees, Jr., co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, will be guest speaker at St. John's at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14.
The annual pilgrimage honoring Daniels begins at the Courthouse Square in Hayneville on Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. The procession will go to the old county jail where Daniels and others were detained, then will move to the former site of Varners Cash Grocery Store where the shooting took place. The current owner of the store, which had become an insurance agency office, demolished the building. During this year's pilgrimage a historical marker will be dedicated at the site. -- Civil rights martyr killed in Alabama gets stone carving at National Cathedral | AL.com
"Aderholt opponent Phil Norris doesn't live in district, but he doesn't have to"
AL.com reports: Phil Norris wants to represent the people of Alabama's 4th Congressional District, but he won't be able to count on his own vote in a Republican primary election, should he qualify for the ballot.
Norris, a 54-year-old military veteran and a nuclear health physics technologist, lives in Dothan, some 200 miles away from the southernmost point of the 4th CD, which stretches from the Mississippi border to the Georgia state line and includes part of Tuscaloosa and all of Gadsden. He has no plans to move into the district by the March primary, but he doesn't need too.
Residency requirements for Congress only say that a candidate has to "inhabit" the state of the district they want to represent. There's a history of candidates -- and even House members -- who don't live in their districts, but they usually live adjacent to the district's boundaries.
Norris, who filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on May 26 to run as a Republican, told AL.com that he has "emotional family ties to the district." He grew up in Hamilton, attended local schools and still has family in the area. -- Aderholt opponent Phil Norris doesn't live in district, but he doesn't have to | AL.com
July 22, 2015
Hubbard to attack constitutionality of Ethics Act
AL.com reports: Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard plans to claim that parts of the state ethics law are unconstitutional, according to a request filed in court by his lawyers on Monday. ...
"Hubbard anticipates filing a motion challenging the constitutionality of various portions of the Alabama Ethics Act," and other issues, the motion says. -- Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard to claim parts of ethics law unconstitutional | AL.com