Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: July 2011 Archives

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July 27, 2011

Birmingham redistricting will have to move some voters

The Birmingham News reports: Some voters could find themselves in different council and school board districts once new boundary lines are completed.

The City Council this afternoon set a public hearing and announced four community involvement meetings on proposed new lines for the nine districts. The hearing is Aug. 23.

Federal law requires governments to reapportion the population after the census. City ordinance gives the council responsibility of approving new district lines. Each district must have a similar population, according to Birmingham law. School board lines follow the same boundaries as council districts. -- Read the whole story --> Birmingham redistricting could shuffle some city voters into new council, school board districts | al.com

July 26, 2011

Strange recuses himself from PAC-to-PAC case

WSFA Channel 12 reports: Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange is recusing himself from a possible investigation of a political action committee (PAC) formed by former Governor Bob Riley, following a request by the Alabama Democratic Party.

On Monday the Alabama Democratic Party asked Strange to recuse himself from the investigation. Strange said he was recusing himself for unspecified, "various reasons".

Strange requested [Montgomery DA Ellen] Brooks' deal with the issue, as it was filed in her jurisdiction. -- Read the whole story --> AG Strange recuses self from Riley PAC probe - WSFA 12 News Montgomery, AL |

Colbert County redistricting delayed

The Times Daily reports: Colbert County Commissioners will ask the Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments tweak their redistricting plan to see if they can increase the percentage of African-Americans in District 4, the county?s largest minority district.

NACOLG also will try to clean up an issue where Commissioner Troy Woodis' District 2 meets Commissioner Roger Creekmore's District 5.

The commission met in a special session Monday in hopes of approving the redistricting plan.

Instead, they sent it back to NACOLG for additional work. -- Read the whole story --> Colbert voting districts delayed | TimesDaily.com | The Times Daily | Florence, AL

Dems want Strange off the PAC-to-PAC investigation of Riley

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The Alabama Democratic Party asked Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to recuse himself from any future investigation of a PAC-to-PAC transfer involving a political action committee chaired by former Gov. Bob Riley and the Republican State Leadership Committee.

In a statement Monday, Mark Kennedy, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said the appointment of Strange's former campaign manager, Jessica Madeiros Garrison, as head of the Republican Attorneys General Association created a conflict of interest in the investigation the party is seeking.

"Given that Attorney General Luther Strange's former campaign manager has been hired to direct an association that is part of Republican State Leadership Committee, there is a plain conflict of interest with Attorney General Strange's investigating this illegal PAC-to-PAC transfer," Kennedy said in a statement. "I am asking that Attorney General Strange recuse himself from this investigation." -- Read the whole story --> Democrats want Strange to step away from PAC investigation | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

July 25, 2011

Alabama's judicial campaign-contribution law in a stalemate

The Birmingham News reports: Alabama is no closer to resolving a 16-year impasse over regulating campaign contributions to state judges after a lawsuit that might have settled the matter was tossed out by three federal judges.

But the political landscape has changed in the days since the case was dismissed, and lawyers are attempting to restart the legal debate over how Alabama's dormant law banning judges from hearing cases involving big-dollar campaign donors might ever get enforced.

Now, the law is caught in a stalemate between the Alabama Attorney General's Office and the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court says it can't write the rule implementing it until the law is approved by the Justice Department as being non-discriminatory; the AG says the law doesn't need Justice Department review but can't be enforced until the Supreme Court writes the rule.

Three federal judges mocked this standoff in a recent opinion.

"To loosely paraphrase Robert Frost, two roads diverged from the statute, and neither was taken. Indeed, no step has yet trodden either," the judges wrote. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama standoff over judicial contributions draws fire | al.com

July 23, 2011

Alabama Dems accuse Riley of PAC-to-PAC violation

The Huntsville Times reports: The chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party Friday accused former Gov. Bob Riley of violating a new campaign finance law that bans PAC-to-PAC transfers. But a Republican leader said the transfer was a mistake that was corrected.

Democratic Chairman Mark Kennedy said the violation occurred when $50,000 was transferred from the Republican State Leadership Committee Political Action Committee to the Alabama 2014 PAC on March 15.

Kennedy said that transfer violated one of several new ethics reform laws that Riley signed into law on Dec. 20, 2010, during a special legislative session on ethics.

An amended pre-election report filed with the Alabama Secretary of State's office by the Alabama 2014 PAC revealed the violation, said Kennedy. -- Read the whole story --> Riley-led PAC admits to violation of new ethics law ex-governor signed into law in December | al.com

Note: I was unable to find the campaign-finance reports of the Alabama 2014 PAC online Friday.

July 19, 2011

"Shelby County community leaders push for majority-black district"

The Birmingham News reports: A public hearing on new proposed Shelby County commission districts got under way tonight in Columbiana with representatives from the county's black community asking county officials to go back to the drawing board and try to create a majority black district.

The commission is considering new districts that have been drawn based on the 2010 Census, which shows the county had a population of 195,085.

In order to get commission districts that can meet federal criteria, each of the county's nine districts ideally need to have 21,676 people, said Eric Womack, a senior planner in the county's Department of Development Services.

County officials say it is impossible to draw a majority black district without gerrymandering, which is illegal. -- Read the whole story --> Shelby County community leaders push for majority-black district | al.com

July 15, 2011

Another source of income for legislators seems to be illegal now

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The chairs of the state Legislature?s ethics committees sent a letter to their colleagues Thursday saying the acceptance of referral fees from lobbyists is ?unquestionably illegal? following the passage of an ethics reform package last December.

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville and Rep. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, said that ?while such practices may have gone on in the past,? the passage of Senate Bill 14 in last year?s special session ruled them out.

?The new Ethics Code makes it patently illegal for a public official or public employee to accept anything from a lobbyist ? or for a lobbyist to offer anything to a public official or public employee ? unless the item is expressly allowed by law,? the letter states. ?Referral fees are not allowed.?

Lobbyists pay referral fees to legislators who send potential clients to them. The practice has come up in the trial of nine people accused in a scheme to bribe legislators over gambling-related legislation. -- Read the whole story --> Legislature's ethics chairs say referral fees are 'unquestionably illegal' | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

July 14, 2011

Alabama Democrats join in FEC complaint against Romney and his PACs

The Birmingham News reports: Alabama Democrats today will join their counterparts in New Hampshire to file a complaint against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, alleging he used state political action committees to circumvent stricter federal campaign finance laws. ...

Romney's national Free and Strong America PAC -- in place before Romney was officially a candidate for president -- was limited to accepting donations from individuals of no more than $5,000. But Alabama's campaign finance laws do not limit individual contributions to PACs. The Birmingham News reported July 4 that the Alabama-based version of Romney's Free and Strong America PAC last year raised about $457,000, none of it from anyone in Alabama and much of it in large checks of more than $5,000 each. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama Democratic Party joins complaint about Mitt Romney's state PAC fundraising | al.com

The DNC sent out a press release this morning which made this statement:

The amended complaint, which has also been sent to state authorities and seeks a full inquiry into the violations of both Federal and state laws, raises two major areas of concern:

· Romney's campaign may have violated federal and state laws in Alabama, New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and Michigan by raising "soft money" contributions into State PACs and using the money to support his presidential candidacy.

· If the State PACs raised or spent soft money after Mr. Romney became a declared candidate, Mr. Romney committed an additional violation of federal law. Federal law prohibits entities "established" by federal candidates from raising or spending any "soft money." Romney clearly established these PACs and, thus, they are subject to this law. To sever ties with the PACs and escape liability for their raising and spending of "soft money," the candidate must have no material contact or involvement with the PAC for fully two years. Of course, Romney can not satisfy this two year standard. Nor has he even suggested that he could.

You can read the amended complaint filed here.

If you would like to view the campaign reports of the Romney PAC, go the Alabama Secretary of State, type "free and strong" into the Name box, and click on the Search button.

Montgomery: getting on the ballot for mayor proves difficult

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Mayoral hopeful Janet May, who was unable to qualify for mayor this time, said she intends to start cam­paigning in 2013 -- two years before the next election -- for mayor. ...

In order to qualify as a mayoral candidate, an individual must submit a $300 filing fee and a petition with sig­natures of at least 327 registered vot­ers in the city of Montgomery. Unlike a candidate for City Council, who can either submit a petition or a filing fee, candidates for mayor must do both.

The tricky part is that the voter in­formation listed on the petition must match the voter information on file with the Board of Registrars and Elec­tion Center. For May, that meant that although she submitted a petition with 404 signatures, only 266 checked out during the verification process. ...

Justin Aday, election di­rector, said that many of the signatures are tossed be­cause either the person is not registered to vote at all, they are registered but not in the city of Montgomery, or the information provided simply does not match the informa­tion on file. The latter could happen, for example, when a person moves but does not officially update their resi­dency information with the Board of Registrars.
-- Read the whole story --> Janet May plans mayoral campaign -- for 2015 | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

Montgomery election not halted by suit

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A federal judge has denied a request to immediately halt Montgomery's election process so the City Council districts can be redrawn using the 2010 U.S. Census data, but the city is still expected to respond to the assertion that the Aug. 23 elec­tion should be delayed.

Two plaintiffs, Gregory Graves, a resident of District 1, and Darryl Sinkfield, a resident of District 8, filed the motions and a complaint in federal court Monday. The Alabama Democratic Conference, which is championing the case, ar­gues that holding the election before reapportioning the dis­tricts leaves minority residents underrepresented and their votes diluted.

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said Wednesday that the city is merely following an ordinance, Act 6-18, that guides the city's general governance. -- Read the whole story --> Judge denies first motion in lawsuit to halt Montgomery municipal election | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

July 13, 2011

Suit filed against Montgomery's lack of redistricting

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A statewide political organization wants a federal judge to delay the Montgomery municipal election so city officials can redraw the Montgomery City Council districts to reflect the 2010 U.S. Census data.

Voters are slated to elect a mayor and members of the City Council on Aug. 23. Some months after the election, the mayor and City Council will officially reapportion the districts, meaning some residents will ultimately be represented by a councilperson who they did not have the option of voting for on election day.

The plaintiffs for the lawsuit are Gregory Graves, a resident of District 1, and Darryl Sinkfield, a resident of District 8, but the two men appear to be agents of the Alabama Democratic Conference. The mayor, the city clerk and all the City Council members are listed as defendants.

By not redrawing the lines before the election, the ADC contends the minority votes in some council districts are diluted and the minority residents are left underrepresented. And, as ADC Chairman Joe Reed said, "the evil goes on." -- Read the whole story --> Alabama Democratic Conference wants Montgomery municipal elections delayed | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

The complaint:
Complaint Graves v. Montgomery

July 12, 2011

GOP attacks ADC's suit against PAC-to-PAC ban

The Birmingham News reports: Republican leaders today denounced a federal lawsuit filed by the Alabama Democratic Conference challenging last year's ban on transferring campaign money between political action committees.

Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mike Hubbard and Alabama Senate President Del Marsh issued the joint statement stating that the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban was a critical component of a series of anti-corruption reforms passed in special session and signed into law by then-Gov. Bob Riley in December.

The statement notes that the bill passed without opposition in both houses of the Legislature. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama GOP leaders denounce lawsuit filed by ADC over PAC-to-PAC transfer ban | al.com

July 6, 2011

Suit filed against Alabama campaign finance law

My co-counsel and I filed a new suit against the provision of Alabama's campaign finance law forbidding PAC-to-PAC transfers. The law basically prohibits any transfer between political actors except personal contributions to any group, PAC contributions to principal campaign committees, and limited payments from principal campaign committees to political parties.

Our organizational client uses its funds to run GOTV drives.

The complaint is linked below.

1 Complaint and Appx A

July 4, 2011

Happy 9th Birthday to Votelaw

Chocolate birthday cake

Yes, it was on this day in 2002 that I started Votelaw.

[Picture credit: By Simply south (talk).Simply south at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons]

Alabama's wide-open PAC laws allow national candidates to park money here

The Birmingham News reports: Getting ready to run for president and feeling boxed in by strict federal campaign finance laws that cap donations to your political action committee? Welcome to Alabama, home of the end-run on such pesky limits.

As in years past, presidential hopefuls again can find friendly territory in Montgomery to open chapters of their national political action committees. They then are free to route donations through the state to pay the bills of the political operation leading up to the official campaign kickoff.

The only remaining contender for the Republican presidential nomination who has taken full advantage of Alabama's permissive campaign finance laws is Mitt Romney. He started the practice before his failed run in 2008 and, records show, never really stopped.

According to filings with the Alabama Secretary of State's Office, the Alabama version of Romney's PAC last year raised nearly half-a-million dollars, none of it from anyone in Alabama. -- Read the whole story --> National candidates can take advantage of Alabama's campaign finance laws | al.com

July 2, 2011

Huntsville mayor's revised redistricting plan gets better reception in council

The Huntsville News reports: Huntsville City Council redistricting version 2.0 is off to a smoother start than the original.

On Thursday, Mayor Tommy Battle's modified plan for changing municipal election lines didn't generate a single negative comment from the council.

It was a sharp contrast to a June 16 meeting that saw council members Will Culver, Mark Russell and Richard Showers object to Battle's first redistricting map.

The latest proposal satisfies most of their concerns. -- Read the whole article --> Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, City Council 'getting much closer' on redistricting debate | al.com