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Alabama grand jury investigates lottery campaign contributions

[Former Alabama Governor] Don Siegelman ignored warnings five years ago not to personally seek contributions for the 1999 lottery campaign.

Now those warnings could be coming back to haunt the former governor, whose failed lottery campaign appears to be the focus of a federal grand jury investigation in Montgomery. ...

Beginning in the summer months of 1999, he was told by Alabama Ethics Commission Director James Sumner not to personally solicit contributions. The problem, Sumner said, is that no one who does business with the state wants to turn a governor down when he asks for money.

"It's fine for anybody to be making those calls on his behalf, but it's much more difficult to say no to the governor," Sumner said then. "When the governor calls, you want to respond. You want to give an affirmative answer." ...

Jack Drake, one of Siegelman's defense attorneys, served on the Ethics Commission when Sumner warned Siegelman about the fund raising. Drake said he disagreed with Sumner's view then, and he disagrees with the suggestion now that a governor can't raise money from vendors who do business with the state.

"Somebody's perception is not a crime," Drake said. "The fact that Don Siegelman solicited contributions for the lottery campaign effort is not a violation of the ethics act." ...

Siegelman led an effort to raise more than $5 million for the campaign. The aggressive drive raised more than $4.2 million in individual contributions of $5,000 or more, and most of that money came from companies that did business with the state, campaign finance records show. Some companies that did little or no state work before received large contracts after contributing, records show. -- Lottery effort haunts Siegelman (Birmingham News)