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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Sec of State decertifies Louise Alexander as House candidate

AL.com reports: Louise Alexander has been disqualified to run for the Alabama House District 56 because she did not file a required statement with the state Ethics Commission, according to the secretary of state's office.

Alexander said she filed what she was required to do and intends to fight the decision in court.

James Anderson, attorney for the state Democratic Party, told the party's state Executive Committee at a meeting today that he received a letter from Secretary of State Jim Bennett on Friday notifying the party that Alexander is disqualified. ...

The State Democratic Executive Committee passed a resolution supporting Alexander's effort to be reinstated as a candidate. If she is unsuccessful, the party will name another candidate for the seat no later than Tuesday, which is the deadline to do so, Anderson said. -- Louise Alexander disqualified in Alabama House District 56; says she will challenge decision | AL.com

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August 13, 2014

Brown wins election-contest appeal

AL.com reports: A subcommittee of the the State Democratic Executive Committee today dismissed an appeal of Sandra Little Brown's win over Shelia Smoot for a seat on the Jefferson County Commission.

Ervin P. Hill, a voter who filed the challenge, said he would appeal to the full state Democratic Executive Committee, which is scheduled to hold a regular meeting on Saturday. -- Alabama Democratic committee dismisses challenge to Brown's win over Smoot in Jefferson County Commission race | AL.com

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Deadlines - yes, but penalties - no

Alabama Political Reporter reports: The Alabama Secretary of State's Office has confirmed that under current State law, that no penalty exists when a political party fails to certify candidates before the statutory deadline, an electoral misstep that has occurred frequently this election cycle on both sides of the aisle.

According to sources including county probate judges and several party officials, certification deadlines for candidates in the November election were missed in at least two counties ? in one county by the GOP only, and in another by both major political parties. -- SOS Says No Penalty Exists for Missed Certification Deadlines

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August 12, 2014

Shelia Smoot-Sandra Little Brown election contest being heard today

AL.com reports: The state Democratic Executive Committee has set a hearing today at 2 P.M. to determine whether to dismiss an appeal in the Sheila Smoot-Sandra Little Brown Jefferson County Commission District 2 race.

The planned hearing at the AEA Headquarters in Montgomery has set off a flurry of legal filings and pitted local Democratic Party members against their counterparts at the state level.

Some Brown supporters are also worried that efforts are being made to take the election from Brown, who won the Commission District 2 primary runoff last month by 26 votes.

After the election was contested, the local Democratic Party declined to hear the challenge and the matter was appealed to the state party. -- How the Shelia Smoot-Sandra Little Brown election contest could tear apart the state Democratic Party | AL.com

Disclosure: I served as Ms. Smoot's attorney for a short time.

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August 5, 2014

August 4, 2014

Powerhouse GOP group snared in Alabama money scheme

POLITICO reports: Since the Republican State Leadership Committee burst into national politics, it's become one of the most influential outside players on the right: It spent tens of millions of dollars to flip state legislative chambers and redraw the congressional map in Republicans' favor -- and is poised to pump millions more this fall into locking down state capitals for the GOP.

But the group's swift ascent has not come without controversy -- or lingering legal hazard. At the height of its political emergence, the RSLC was implicated in a risky campaign finance scheme that an internal report warned could trigger "possible criminal penalties" and "ultimately threaten the organization's continued existence," according to a confidential document POLITICO obtained from a source.

The September 2011 report, prepared by the prominent Washington law firm BakerHostetler, was presented to an RSLC board then helmed by former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie — RSLC’s chief financial rainmaker starting in 2010 and now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Never disclosed until now, the document detailed an investigation into alleged misconduct by multiple RSLC officials during the crucial 2010 election cycle: It charged that national RSLC leaders conspired improperly with the leader of the Alabama Republican Party to use the RSLC as a pass-through for controversial Indian tribe donations, essentially laundering “toxic” money from the gaming industry by routing it out of state and then back into Alabama. -- Exclusive: Powerhouse GOP group snared in money scheme - Alexander Burns - POLITICO.com

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August 1, 2014

"PAC Fined Record Breaking $5.2 Million Sets Up Shop in Alabama"

Alabama Political Reporter reports: Several people involved in the dubious financing of nationwide school-choice campaigns have teamed up with the ALGOP's top political leadership in an effort that supported the reelection attempts of over a dozen incumbent Republicans in the June primaries to the tune of $170,000 -- all from out of state funding sources.

With former ALGOP deputy political director and Hubbard loyal Ryan Cantrell as chairman, and Lisa Lisker, a publicly disgraced Nevada politico as treasurer, a PAC called Alabama Federation for Children has set up shop in the state, aiding campaigns by funneling West Coast education money into in-kind contributions to incumbent Republican state legislators. ...

Now Lisker is providing in-kind treasury services for the Alabama Federation for Children PAC, a group that is merely a state branch of the American Federation of Children. That umbrella organization was founded and is funded by the DeVoses, a family of Michigan millionaires that have financed "school choice" campaigns since the 1990s. Their PAC ventures included the group All Children Matter, also staffed by Lisa Lisker, an entity which was assessed the largest campaign finance fine in Ohio history -- $5.2 million dollars -- in 2008 for illegal funneling money from PAC to PAC. ...

Though they lost an appeal of the fine, All Children Matter has yet to pay a penny of the penalty, arguing that they no longer have funds available with which to pay; the PAC was fined an additional $100 for another violation just this month, but it says it does not have the cash to pay that, either, a claim the Ohio Secretary of State says he is looking into. -- PAC Fined Record Breaking $5.2 Million Sets Up Shop in Alabama

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July 31, 2014

GOP chairman says Sharpton is "race-baiting"

AL.com reports: Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead today blasted the Rev. Al Sharpton's plans to operate a headquarters in Birmingham to fight back against what Sharpton calls voter suppression in Alabama and other southern states.

Armistead accused Sharpton of race-baiting and misleading the public in an effort to divide people and boost Democratic turnout in November.

"Alabama and several other states have passed Voter ID laws to ensure that the voter is who they say they are," Armistead said in a statement. "However, Sharpton claims the basis for these new voter ID laws is to 'disenfranchise black and minority voters, the elderly, the poor and young people'. Sharpton knows better, and he should be ashamed for making such absurd comments." ...

Sharpton, president of the New York-based National Action Network, today cut the ribbon on his downtown Birmingham headquarters which will focus protecting voting rights across eight southern states, he said.

"We will, out of this office, coordinate our work throughout the South against those new measures that have been designed to suppress the vote," Sharpton said. "Make no mistake about it, these are designed to suppress the vote and we are here to fight against voter suppression." -- GOP Chairman Bill Armistead says Rev. Al Sharpton is 'race-baiting' with claims of Alabama voter suppression | AL.com

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July 20, 2014

Campaign finance reports not due from local party committee candidates

AL.com reports: George Barry, a member of the executive committee for the state GOP, this week reported Huntsville GOP members of Republican Refresh to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. ...

Barry lost the recent GOP primary for the state senate held by Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison.

He contends that negative campaigning by Republican Refresh contributed to that senate result, but Republican Refresh did not file as a political action committee nor file any disclosures on where their money came from and how they spent it. ...

[Brent] Beal [of Republican Refresh] said he contacted the Secretary of State. "They said you can't file even if you want to."

Emily Marsal, deputy secretary of state, confirmed late Friday that "executive committee candidates would not have to file FCPA (Fair Campaign Practices Act) forms unless they are running for something else." She said the Attorney General's office had Barry's complaint. The Attorney General's office did not comment. -- Former candidate George Barry reports fellow Republicans to Attorney General

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