June 15, 2015

Tuscaloosa News editorializes against universal, automatic registration

An editorial from the Tuscaloosa News: Voter fraud is not imaginary. But labeling reasonable efforts to ensure that fraud doesn't taint elections as voter suppression is pure fantasy. Loading the voter rolls with the names of people who don't care enough about their civic duty to provide county officials with a name and correct address is an open invitation to fraud.

The incessant drumbeat, mostly from Democrats, that voter fraud doesn't exist is simply untrue. They know it and we, here in this part of Alabama, certainly know it. We've seen fraudulent absentee ballots turned in by the bundle. ...

What automatic registration would do is create exceptionally fertile ground for voter fraud. People donít neglect to vote because itís difficult to register or get to the polls. Itís not. They fail to register and vote because they donít care about the process of governing this country to make the effort. Or perhaps they just donít believe their vote makes a difference. ...

People who wonít make the minimal effort to register arenít likely to vote. Why let someone vote for them? -- EDITORIAL: Registering all is invitation to voter fraud | TuscaloosaNews.com

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June 10, 2015

The TimesDaily reports: Legislation approved in the Alabama Statehouse gives more clarity and enforcement capabilities to the state?s campaign finance reporting laws, the bill?s sponsor and drafter said.

Senate Bill 241, approved last week and sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, includes recommendations from a panel of lawmakers and other officials who met in 2013 and 2014. ...

He said the legislation does several things:

  • It amends current law to clarify when contributions are received and expenditures are made. A contribution must be reported either within 10 days after a check is received or at the time of deposit, whichever is earlier. Expenditures are made the day they are authorized.
  • It codifies several Alabama attorney general opinions, including one that says the candidates arenít limited to writing checks for their expenditures. Debit cards and money market accounts are acceptable.
  • It creates a proper process for closing a campaign account if a candidate dies or becomes incapacitated.
  • It now requires property worth more than $500 purchased by a campaign must be liquidated if the candidate doesnít win. For example, if a candidate buys a car for use during a campaign, that candidate canít keep the car when he or she loses.

  • Ethics Commission Executive Director Thomas Albritton on Tuesday said the five-member commission will issue formal opinions on campaign finance in the same manner it issues ethics opinions. -- Legislation puts more enforcement in campaign finance reporting laws - TimesDaily: State Capital

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    June 9, 2015

    "Fraudulent claims of voter fraud"

    The Anniston Star opines: In the latter half of the past century, Alabama, like most states, struck a workable balance between encouraging participation at the polls and fighting against voter fraud.

    Voters were asked to provide a form of identity, which might include a utility bill, a student ID or a simple voter registration card. It was a measure of accountability against in-person voter fraud yet not too much for something that is extremely rare and grossly ineffective in swaying most elections.

    About five years ago, things started to change in states dominated by Republicans. Despite no more than a few convictions for in-person voter fraud nationwide, these states erected fresh barriers to the ballot box. Alabama joined many others in requiring a picture ID before a registered voter could cast a ballot.

    Others, including this editorial board, wondered why stricter rules were necessary when evidence of fraud that would require tightened rules was absent. -- Editorial: Fraudulent claims of voter fraud - The Anniston Star: Opinion

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    June 2, 2015

    "SEC Primary" bill awaits Governor's signature

    Yellowhammer News reports: After Alabama passed its bill moving primaries up to March 1st last week, joining Arkansas and four other Southern states, the ďSEC Primary,Ē appears to be ready to make waves during the 2016 presidential race.

    The Yellowhammer State will join Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia to hold its presidential primary election on March 1st as soon as Governor Robert Bentley (R-AL) signs the bill into law. Electoral heavy hitter Florida will also have its primary in March, waiting until two weeks after its neighbors for March 15th. ...

    Sen. Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the bill in the Alabama Senate, called his bill an "economic stimulus," because it would encourage presidential candidates, and their massive cadres of campaign staff, to spend more time in the state. -- Ala. leads 'SEC Primary' to make the South a major player in the presidential race - Yellowhammer News

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    Alabama bill to require more voter-ID for absentee ballots is dead

    AL.com reports: A bill that would require voters to submit a copy of their photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot in the state of Alabama is dead, Rep. Reed Ingram said.

    Ingram, R-Montgomery, who served as the bill's sponsor, said there is too much confusion over the legislation that Republicans say is an extra measure to prevent voter fraud.

    Ingram likely had enough Republican votes to get the bill passed, but not without a fight from Democrats on the House floor.

    The bill didn't have a third reading in the House of Representatives per Ingram's request.

    Currently, Alabama is one of only three states that require a photo ID to submit an absentee ballot. The new rule would have required absentee voters to submit a copy of their photo ID on the frontend as well. -- Absentee voter ID bill dead in Alabama Legislature, lawmakers say | AL.com

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    May 24, 2015

    Will presidential candidates show up in the South's "SEC primary"?

    The Washington Post reports: Strategists say a Southern primary has the potential to buoy a more conservative candidate and be a challenge for candidates considered too moderate or too affiliated with the establishment -- such as Jeb Bush, who will not denounce the loathed Common Core education standards and has taken a more moderate stance on immigration.

    Several Southern states have high rates of poverty and could benefit from an infusion of jobs, although Republicans in the region also like to rail against social welfare programs, and Obamacare is still wildly unpopular. There are worries about terrorism and a desire for an aggressive commander in chief. Evangelical voters are also a major force and are looking for a candidate who will not back down in opposing gay marriage and abortion. ...

    But if the South builds an SEC primary, will candidates show up? Or will the attention still go to the biggest states or purplest states?

    "No one can really afford a 50-state strategy anymore," said Angie Maxwell, director of the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas. "The truth is, the strategists don't need the South. .. The Republican Party is going to get the South, no matter who the nominee is. That's not a danger. I mean, they voted for a millionaire Mormon."

    The last time there was this sort of early Southern primary was 1988, when Democrats still controlled the region. The goal was to boost a moderate Democrat, such as then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who could be more competitive in the general election. Instead, Al Gore won five of the states and Jesse Jackson took the other five. The same could happen for the Republicans in 2016, strategists caution.

    But Kemp remains hopeful: "The South is the new heartland of America. The road to the White House should run through the South." -- As ?SEC primary? takes shape, will presidential contenders show up? - The Washington Post

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    May 22, 2015

    Should Alabama adopt online voter registration?

    AL.com reports:
    Currently, if you want to register to vote in Alabama, you have to fill out a form and send it in to the Board of Registrars or go by the office in person. In more than half the states in the U.S., however, registration is as simple as going online.

    Twenty states have implemented online voter registration so far, NPR reported, with seven other states and the District of Columbia in the process of doing so now. Proponents maintain online registration is not only easier and more efficient, it's also considerably cheaper.

    In Arizona, for example, it costs only 3 cents to register someone online versus 83 cents on paper. -- It's cheap, it's easy and everybody is doing it: Another idea for Alabama | AL.com

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    Legislature moves the presidential primary date one week earlier

    AL.com reports: The Alabama Legislature passed a bill that will allow the state to enter the "SEC presidential primary" set for March 1, 2016.

    Moving the primary up a week is expected to make Alabama a bigger player in election process; it allows Alabama to join circuit of southern states to attract more visits from presidential candidates. -- Alabama to join 'SEC primary' for 2016 presidential election | AL.com

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    May 17, 2015

    Former chief justice says money is now king of Alabama judicial races

    AP reports: The phones rang. The donations flowed.

    Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb in 2006 won one of the most expensive judicial races in American history. Cobb, however, is no fan of the pricey system that got her to be the state's top jurist.

    The high-dollar races that have judicial candidates dialing for dollars are tawdry, she said, and the donations that judicial candidates must solicit from law firms and businesses that appear in their courtroom are something akin to "legalized extortion."

    "To fully achieve the goal of having fair courts, there must be reform in how judges are selected," Cobb said in an interview with The Associated Press. -- Sue Bell Cobb: Money now king of Alabama judicial races | AL.com

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    May 6, 2015

    Bill introduced to ban political contributions from gambling interests

    AL.com reports: Shortly after Alabama House of Representatives Republican Caucus released its budget plan that includes a deal with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, other lawmakers today announced a bill to make it illegal for gambling interests to make contributions to a political candidate's campaign.

    "I am not for legalizing gambling in Alabama," bill sponsor, Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said. "However, with the recent discussions about possible legislation to expand gambling in the state, I believe it is important to prevent gambling lobbyists from influencing legislators through political contributions,"

    Garrett's bill would make it illegal for a gambling interest, or a person or agent acting on behalf of a gambling interest, to make contributions to a politician's campaign or to a Political Action Committee.

    Those contributions are currently allowed under current Alabama law, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are known to provide large contributions to political campaigns. Recent contributions weren't immediately available. -- Bill introduced to ban casinos from making contributions to Alabama politicians | AL.com

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    May 2, 2015

    Bill seeks a photo ID just to ask for an absentee ballot plus one when casting the ballot

    AL.com reports: The Alabama Secretary of State's Office is attempting to take its contentious voter ID law -- enacted in 2011 -- one step further by requiring a photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot.

    Why? Republicans, by and large, say it's an extra measure to prevent voter fraud -- something that is hard to track and very hard to prove.

    Democrats, however, aren't convinced. Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma, said continuing to file bills to combat voter fraud is "playing to the politics of fear." He filed a bill to let any registered voter cast an absentee ballot for any reason.

    Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Montgomery, sponsored the absentee voter ID legislation on behalf of the Secretary of State. The bill, which exempts senior citizens, the disabled and military personnel, has about 20 Republican co-sponsors. -- Divisive absentee voter legislation set to come before Alabama House | AL.com

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    April 2, 2015

    "Bill seeks Alabama entry into 'SEC primary' for 2016 presidential election

    AL.com reports: The state of Alabama would enter the "SEC presidential primary" set for March 1, 2016, if a bill in the Senate is successful.

    Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring the bill in the Senate that would move the U.S. presidential primary from the second Tuesday of March to the first Tuesday.

    Senate bill 240 received a favorable report from the Senate Constitution, Ethics and Elections Committee today. It will now move on to the full Senate for consideration.

    Ross called his piece of legislation "an economic stimulus bill" because it would help the state attract more visits from presidential candidates by allowing Alabama to join a circuit with other southern states. -- Alabama bill seeks state entry into 'SEC primary' for 2016 presidential election | AL.com

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    March 28, 2015

    Congressmen Lewis, Hoyer, Clyburn, Conyers and Brady Reintroduce Voter Empowerment Act

    From the website of Cong. John Lewis: Today, lead sponsors Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5), Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC-6), Rep. John Conyers (MI-13), Rep. Robert Brady (PA-1) and more than 170 Democrats reintroduced the Voter Empowerment Act in the House of Representatives. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York will introduce a companion version in the Senate. The Voter Empowerment Act will help ensure equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, will modernize our voter registration system to help more Americans participate, and takes steps to eliminate deceptive practices and voter fraud that deter voters from casting their ballots.

    On March 21, 1965, thousands of protestors left Selma, Alabama and marched all the way to Montgomery to underscore the need for voting rights legislation which assured access to the ballot box for millions of Americans. Sponsors offer the VEA today as a continuation of the on-going effort to ensure that every American has an equal and fair opportunity to make their voices heard through the electoral process. At a time when some states have implemented or are planning to implement new barriers for voters who may be seniors, students, low-income Americans, members of our Armed Services, disabled, or speak English as a second language, Democrats see the need to certify their efforts to protect voting access for all Americans.

    Click for a section by section description, quotes in support, or full bill text of the Voter Empowerment Act. -- Lewis, Hoyer, Clyburn, Conyers and Brady Reintroduce Voter Empowerment Act | The Website of Congressman John Lewis, Serving the 5th Congressional District of Georgia

    Comment: I recommend you start with the 9-page section-by-section summary rather than the 167-page bill.

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    "State auditor asks for grand jury probe of Baldwin's use of taxpayer funds on election"

    AL.com reports: Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler on Friday asked the Attorney General's Office to launch a criminal investigation into the Baldwin County school system's use of taxpayer funds to promote next week's property tax referendum.

    The school system has spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants, campaign materials and other expenses related to persuading people to renew property taxes totaling 7 mills and approve new levies equaling 8 mills. The last figure provided by the school system is $156,989.

    In a letter to Attorney General Luther Strange, Zeigler indicated that he was acting on behalf of four Baldwin County residents in requesting that prosecutors convene a grand jury to investigate the use of taxpayer funds. If Strange agrees, it could result misdemeanor charges punishable by a maximum of a year in jail upon conviction.

    "This needs to be stopped," Zeigler said in an interview. "Regardless of the outcome of the vote March 31, this needs to be stopped." -- State auditor asks for grand jury probe of Baldwin's use of taxpayer funds on election | AL.com

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    March 26, 2015

    US Supreme Court vacates Alabama's win on redistricting plan, remands for new proceedings

    The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with black and Democratic lawmakers in Alabama who said the State Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts.

    The vote was 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court?s four more liberal members to form a majority.

    Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the majority, said a lower court had erred in considering the case on a statewide basis rather than district by district. He added that the lower court had placed too much emphasis on making sure that districts had equal populations and had been "too mechanical" in maintaining existing percentages of black voters.

    The Supreme Court vacated the lower court's ruling and sent the two consolidated cases -- Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, No. 13-895, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, No. 13-1138 -- back to it for reconsideration.

    Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law at the University of California, Irvine, said Wednesday's decision might represent only a short-term victory for the plaintiffs.

    "It seems likely on remand that at least some of Alabama's districts will be found to be racial gerrymanders," he wrote in a blog post. "This means that some of these districts will have to be redrawn to 'unpack' some minority voters from these districts."

    "But do not be surprised," he continued, "if Alabama pre-empts the lawsuit by drawing new districts which are less racially conscious but still constitute a partisan gerrymander which helps the Republicans have greater control over the Alabama legislative districts." --Supreme Court Rules Against Alabama in Redistricting Case - NYTimes.com

    Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the prevailing Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in one of the two consolidated cases. James U. Blacksher (of Birmingham) is lead counsel, Eric Schnapper (U of Washington Law School) argued in the Supreme Court, and UW Clemon (of Birmingham) is also on the team.

    Prof. Rick Hasen's analysis of the case is here.

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    March 25, 2015

    Riley's PAC made independent expenditures, but asks candidates to report in-kind contributions

    Alabama Political Reporter reports: Former Governor's Political Action Committee asked candidates to declare "in-kind" contributions they never requested or received.

    According to the letters exchanged between then Senate candidate Clyde Chambliss and Jeremiah Mosley, Treasurer of former Gov. Bob Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC, the PAC gave Chambliss over $40,000 in in-kind contributions, which the candidate says he never authorized.

    Not only did Chambliss say the expenditures were not authorized, but the content of the mailers sent on his behalf violated his campaign promises.

    In his letter dated July 30, 2014, Chambliss wrote, "These mail pieces were attacks on my opponent which arrived in the mail addressed to voters in my district at the same time that I was running campaign advertising and making public statements and speeches in which I pledged to run a clean and positive campaign. As a result of the mail pieces sent out by Alabama 2014 PAC, many voters in my district believe that I lied to them. I have had many of these voters contact me and advise me that they planned to vote for me but did not vote because of the negative mailers."

    According to a letter dated July 11, 2014, Riley's PAC said it had provided Chambliss with $8,500.00 for survey and $35,916.76 for mailers. "These amounts need to be reported to the Secretary of State in your next financial report," wrote Mosley. -- Candidates Deny In-Kind Contributions from Riley PAC

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    March 21, 2015

    Mobile license commission gave office email list to candidate for mayor

    AL.com reports: In the days leading up to election night of a hotly contested mayoral race, Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie allegedly leaked thousands of private taxpayer email addresses from a county database to the mayoral campaign of Sandy Stimpson.

    Now that Hastie is facing a federal criminal charge on the matter, the architects of Stimpson's winning campaign maintain that their actions were by the book. ...

    Five days before the April 2013 mayoral election, Hastie and Yeager met with License Commission employees in August 2013 and Hastie instructed one of them to email "everyone within Mobile's city limits" a statement from her endorsing Stimpson, court records show.

    The employee warned Hastie that sending out an email would be "improper" and cautioned her against it, according to court records. Hastie then directed the employee to retrieve and download email addresses of Mobile County residents onto a flash drive. -- 'The list came to the campaign': Stimpson electioneers talk Kim Hastie's alleged last-minute email scheme | AL.com

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    March 17, 2015

    "Alabama Secretary of State announces partnership to investigate, prosecute voter fraud"

    AL.com reports: The Alabama Secretary of State's Office has partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Attorney General's Office to investigate and prosecute allegations of voter fraud or campaign finance irregularities.

    Secretary of State John Merrill said authorities will accept complaints about elections or Fair Campaign Practice Act irregularities starting from the June 2014 primary election, July 2014 runoff and the November 2014 general election. Campaign financing the year prior to those elections will also be investigated.

    Merrill announced the launch of the Alabama Election Fairness Project today at a press conference held at the Attorney General's Office.

    A hotline and an email address have been set up to accept complaints.

    The Secretary of State's office can be notified at www.sos.alabama.gov or www.alabamavotes.gov. Complaints can be made at voterfraud@sos.alabama.gov or 1-800-274-VOTE (8683). -- Alabama Secretary of State announces partnership to investigate, prosecute voter fraud | AL.com

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    February 28, 2015

    Prosecutors lay out some evidence against Hubbard

    AL.com reports: A filing today by special prosecutors cites evidence and emails that portray Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard as a man who, despite wearing the fine cloth of one of the state's most powerful men, teetered on the brink of financial collapse and desperately pleaded with friends, lobbyists and principals for money and jobs in a way that put him on the wrong side of the law.

    Hubbard was indicted last year on 23 felony counts of using his office for personal gain. The revelations today come in response to a motion by Hubbard's defense team to more specifically describe the charges against the Speaker.

    The filing and the cited evidence indicate Hubbard was facing tremendous financial pressure. After being elected Speaker in 2010, he was laid off by his primary employer, Auburn's IMG Sports Network. His own company, Craftmaster, failed to pay employee withholding taxes to the federal government in 2011, which led to the company defaulting on a $600,000 loan from Regions Bank personally guaranteed by Hubbard. -- Stunning emails paint Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard as desperate for money, favors | AL.com

    Comment: Lots of emails, checks, business documents, etc. are attached to the story.

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    February 11, 2015

    "Is Hubbard Breaking The Law With Criminal Defense Payments?"

    Alabama Political Reporter has this analysis: Over the last year, Hubbard has used around $300,000 in campaign contributions from his personal account to pay his criminal defense team. Hubbard has never publicly addressed this issue, however, several news outlets around the State have noted that he was using the funds in accordance with former Attorney General Bill Pryor's opinion issued in 2000.

    In the opinion, Pryor drew the conclusion that, "Excess campaign funds may be used by an incumbent office holder to pay legal fees incurred pursuant to the defense of a criminal indictment if the indictment is related to the performance of the duties of the office held."

    There are two parts to this statement by the former Attorney General. First, the funds must be "excess campaign funds." The second, is that the indictment must be "related to the performance of the duties of the office held."

    Hubbard is the Representative of District 79, he is also the Speaker of the House; which of the 23 felonies charges against him are related to the performance of the duties of the office? -- Is Hubbard Breaking The Law With Criminal Defense Payments?

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    February 3, 2015

    Hubbard spending campaign funds on criminal defense

    AP reports: Indicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has used campaign funds to pay nearly $300,000 in legal fees over the last year as he fights felony ethics charges of using his public offices for personal gain.

    Campaign records filed in January show that the Auburn Republican spent about $291,000 in legal fees since December 2013. Most of it, $221,475 was spent on the firm of his lead attorney, Birmingham lawyer Mark White. Hubbard also spent $65,135 with the Pell City law firm of Trussell, Funderburg, Rea and Bell.

    White said the payments are in compliance with Alabama law and advisory opinions from the attorney general's office.

    A 2000 opinion by the attorney general's office advised that elected officials can pay criminal defense costs out of excess campaign finance funds if the accusations are related to how the person performed in office. Most of the charges against Hubbard relate to his position in the House of Representatives. However, others relate to his time as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. -- Indicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard spent $300,000 in campaign funds on legal fees | AL.com

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    January 16, 2015

    "Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman"

    Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker: Since the midterm elections, President Barack Obama has been acting as if he feels liberated from parochial political concerns. After taking action on immigration, Cuba, and climate change, he should take on another risky, if less well-known, challenge by commuting the prison sentence of Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama. ...

    Through six years in office, President Obama has been especially stingy in granting pardons and commutations. But the power to grant clemency is an important one; it should be wielded with care, but it should be used. Our prisons are nearly full. Not everyone who is there belongs there. Don Seigelman is one person who should not be incarcerated anymore, and the President can and should make sure that he is freed. -- Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman - The New Yorker

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    January 12, 2015

    The slow drip to one less Congressperson

    AL.com reports: Alabama currently has seven Congressional districts, each represented by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It's had seven seats since 1973 after they were carved out based on data following the 1970 census. The number remain the same following the 2010 Census, but a new study by Election Data Services shows a possible change could be coming in 2020.

    If Alabama's rate of population growth remains the same through 2010, EDS projects it would lose a House seat after the next census, dropping from seven to six. -- Alabama could have one less Congress member after 2020: Sunday's Wake Up Call | AL.com

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    January 8, 2015

    "AP's Alabama political reporter Phillip Rawls retiring"

    The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Associated Press reporter Phillip Rawls, the longest-serving member of Alabama's Capitol press corps and a recognized expert on state politics, is retiring after more than 35 years with the news cooperative.

    Rawls, 63, developed a reputation for fairness and accuracy during a 40-year career in journalism, nearly all of it spent with the AP covering politics and government in Montgomery.

    Rawls' tenure spanned seven Alabama governors, from George Wallace to Robert Bentley, and 35 regular sessions of the Legislature. His retirement takes effect later this month. -- AP's Alabama political reporter Phillip Rawls retiring

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    January 4, 2015

    2014 Election is over, but fundraising goes on

    The Decatur Daily reports: Alabama's 2014 elections are in the books, but fundraising is not over for some elected officials and those who had hoped to be elected.

    State law gives candidates 120 days after elections to collect money from individuals and political action committees to cover debts, including repayment of loans to their campaigns. ...

    Candidates can loan themselves money regardless of their account balances. Stewart said a confident candidate could use a loan ó knowing they're going to get the money back ó to get a jumpstart on fundraising in four years.

    "Once one election is over, candidates are immediately thinking about the next one," Stewart said. "(Having additional money) would be the most desirable situation from the candidate's point of view." -- Fundraising for ?14 politicians ongoing - Decatur Daily: News

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