Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: February 2012 Archives

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February 25, 2012

Did ACEPAC miss a filing deadline?

Lagniappe reports: A political action committee run by Mobile City Attorney Larry Wettermark that is funded primarily by money shifted over from Mayor Sam Jones' primary campaign fund in 2010 appears to have missed the state deadline on PAC reporting this past year, according to the legal parameters described by the Alabama Secretary of State's office. ...

Alabama Citizens for the Environment, known as ACEPAC, filed its first financial report in a year at the end of January, which would have been acceptable under the old state law. But the new law that went into effect in 2011 requires monthly reporting for PACs actively spending and receiving money for use in influencing the 2012 elections, according to officials with the Alabama Secretary of State's Office.

Wettermark, for his part, says he believes there are different takes on the law and that ACEPAC is reporting properly.

"My interpretation is that we are to file an annual report. We haven?t had any activity that required reporting until the annual report," he said. ...

"They are required to file an active report if they crossed the $1,000 threshold. If they are having activity," [elections director Janice] McDonald said, speaking generally about PACs. -- Read the whole story -->Lagniappe: Something Extra For Mobile

DOJ sues Alabama over overseas absentee ballots

Justice Department Announces Lawsuit to Protect Rights of Military and Overseas Voters in Alabama: The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama and its chief election official seeking relief to help ensure that military servicemembers, their family members and U.S. citizens living overseas have the opportunity to participate fully in Alabama's March 13, 2012, federal primary election.

The lawsuit, brought under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), was filed in federal district court in Montgomery, Ala. The suit alleges that the state failed to transmit absentee ballots to many of Alabama's eligible military and overseas voters for the March 13, 2012, primary election in sufficient time for those voters to receive, cast and return their ballots in time to be counted. It also alleges that state procedures are inadequate to ensure that such voters can participate fully in the state's April 24, 2012, primary run-off election, should one be necessary. The lawsuit seeks an order requiring the state to take all steps necessary to ensure that all affected UOCAVA voters are afforded a full opportunity to participate in the upcoming federal primary elections and all future federal elections.

February 20, 2012

Bill seeks employer's name for campaign donors

WHNT reports: State lawmakers in Montgomery are studying a bill that would require many campaign donors to list their employer and line of work.

State Rep. Mike Ball (R) of Madison is sponsoring HB 259, which mandates that donors who contribute $100 or more to any state election publicly disclose who they work for.

Rep. Ball told WHNT News 19 that his bill is part of an ongoing effort to bring transparency to state elections. Ball claims it will allow voters to make more informed decisions because they would be able to see the political leanings certain companies or special interest groups have. Those giving less than $100 to a candidate or cause would be exempt from the requirement. Individuals who contribute more than $100 are already required to disclose their name and home address. -- Read the whole story (and see the video) -->Proposed Bill Seeks To ID Employers, Workplaces Of Campaign Donors - WHNT

Bill seeks employer's name for campaign donors

WHNT reports: State lawmakers in Montgomery are studying a bill that would require many campaign donors to list their employer and line of work.

State Rep. Mike Ball (R) of Madison is sponsoring HB 259, which mandates that donors who contribute $100 or more to any state election publicly disclose who they work for.

Rep. Ball told WHNT News 19 that his bill is part of an ongoing effort to bring transparency to state elections. Ball claims it will allow voters to make more informed decisions because they would be able to see the political leanings certain companies or special interest groups have. Those giving less than $100 to a candidate or cause would be exempt from the requirement. Individuals who contribute more than $100 are already required to disclose their name and home address. -- Read the whole story (and see the video) -->Proposed Bill Seeks To ID Employers, Workplaces Of Campaign Donors - WHNT

Jury can't decide where the mayor of Weaver lives

The Anniston Star reports: After several lawsuits and one trial aimed at determining whether the mayor of Weaver lives in that city, the question remains unanswered.

On Friday, Circuit Judge Malcolm Street declared a mistrial after a week-long court case. The jury, which deliberated for about nine hours over a two-day period, was unable to unanimously decide whether Mayor Garry Bearden lives in a house he owns in Weaver or in a second home he owns in Anniston. ...

Jurors told reporters that the 12-member group was split 10-2. Ten jurors believed Bearden had not violated a law that states elected municipal leaders must live in the cities they are selected to serve. According to some of those jurors, two members believed the mayor had violated the law.

The judge told the jury before deliberations began on Thursday that each member should focus on the question of legal residence, or domicile. That is the place a person "intends to return after any temporary absence," Street said. -- Read the whole story --> Anniston Star - Jury splits 10 2 most siding with Bearden on question of Weaver mayor s residency

February 19, 2012

"Fairness of face-value Tide tickets questioned"

The Tuscaloosa News reports: Tickets to University of Alabama football games -- including season ticket packages and the BCS National Championship Game -- were purchased at face value by 151 state legislators, judges, lobbyists and local officials who avoided the hurdles and extra costs most Crimson Tide fans face.

UA officials, who provided the list through a public records request, noted this is not a violation of Alabama's year-old ethics law. Legislators and others who took advantage of the deal said they don't see anything wrong with it.

But Birmingham resident Jim Metrock has been on a two-year crusade to end special access to football tickets for public officials. The majority of fans must make donations to UA's Tide Pride to obtain tickets, or purchase tickets from scalpers at higher prices.

"In the past, we had a corrupt system where legislators traded on their public office for free football tickets. Now we have a corrupt system where they still have special access to tickets unavailable to their constituents and they pay only the face value of the tickets," Metrock wrote in a news release. -- Read the whole story --> Fairness of face-value Tide tickets questioned | TuscaloosaNews.com

Query: If I offered a legislator a $10 gold coin (which is on sale from the Franklin Mint for $899), would I get to argue the "face value" interpretation? Or would I be considered to be offering an $889 "thing of value"?

February 18, 2012

Spencer Bachus starts legal defense fund

The Birmingham News reports: U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus started a legal defense fund to help cover his bills in response to an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics into allegations that he used his office for personal gain. ...

Such funds are approved by the House Ethics Committee for members to raise money to deal with legal matters arising from their official duties. Bachus is one of several members accused of using their access to nonpublic information to inform their personal investment decisions, but he's the only one known to be under investigation. ...

Members can use legal expense funds to raise money and pay their legal bills. According to the House Ethics Committee, the fund may not accept more than $5,000 in a calendar year from any individual or organization, but no contribution may be accepted from a registered lobbyist or foreign agent. Donors and expenditures also have to be disclosed every quarter. -- Read the whole story --> Rep. Spencer Bachus starts legal defense fund | al.com

February 16, 2012

Bill for term limits on Birmingham mayor proposed

The Birmingham News reports: The mayor of Birmingham could serve no more than two full four-year terms in a row, under a bill proposed by state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham.

The bill, if approved by the Legislature, would take effect starting with the municipal election in 2013.

No law now imposes term limits on the Birmingham mayor.

Current Birmingham Mayor William Bell won a two-year term in August. Elections for the mayor of Birmingham starting in 2013 will be for four-year terms. -- Read the whole story --> Bill proposed in Alabama Legislature would limit Birmingham mayor to two terms | al.com

"Is this Alabama?"

The Birmingham News reports: Hollywood entered the debate over Alabama's immigration law Wednesday with the debut of four short videos that the director said are meant to be an emotional gut-punch about the law's ill effects and to motivate people to demand it be repealed.

Chris Weitz, who also directed "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," said the series is not a documentary telling both sides of the debate, but a brief and purely human portrait of how HB56 is hurting families.

"I want to make them curious and have an effect on a visceral, emotional level," Weitz said in an interview after the videos were premiered at the Center for American Progress in downtown Washington, D.C. "These are choice bits of emotional content that could drive people to want to know more."

The videos are available at isthisalabama.org, but there are no plans for formal distribution. Each video is less than 2½ minutes, and they are clips from interviews done in Alabama. Collectively, they show Alabama as a place with a bitter past and lingering bigotry, colliding with attitudes of compassion, sympathy and religiosity. -- Read the whole story --> Debate over Alabama's immigration law gets a taste of Hollywood politics (video) | al.com

"Kimberly mayor loaned more than $5,000 to himself with city money"

The Birmingham News reports: A complaint has been filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission concerning more than $5,000 in loans that Kimberly Mayor Craig Harris made to himself with city money, Councilman Brad Stark said Wednesday.

The Kimberly City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night calling for Harris to resign. They also passed a no-confidence vote on his conduct and passed a resolution asking Harris to immediately repay the outstanding balance of those loans, $1,175.

Harris said the money was not loans, but a series of advances on his $250 monthly salary. He said he cleared the advances with the city auditor, starting in June 2010, and the money is scheduled to be completely repaid in July. -- Read the whole story --> Kimberly mayor loaned more than $5,000 to himself with city money | al.com

February 15, 2012

Bill to lower 3rd party and independent ballot requirements passes Senate committee

Ballot Access News reports that SB 15 has been approved by an Alabama Senate Committee. The bill would lower the number of petition signatures and change the petition's due date.


First sighting of a SuperPAC in Alabama

The Birmingham News reports:
A Texas-based political action committee with $1.6 million cash on hand will be spending some of that money to help defeat U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, a 10-term veteran who PAC organizers have targeted because of his longevity and ethics investigation.

"Incumbents like Mr. Bachus ... are longtime passengers on the inside-the-beltway gravy train," said Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

The entrance of a Super PAC -- which can spend unlimited amounts of money in a race as long as it doesn't coordinate with one of the candidates -- into the 6th Congressional District could be significant. None of Bachus' challengers have reported raising enough money yet to afford running campaign commercials on television.

The PAC is supporting state Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, the most well-known of Bachus' challengers, and Ellis said it expects to start spending money on his behalf soon. -- Read the whole story --> Texas-based Super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability targets US Rep. Spencer Bachus, backs challenger Scott Beason | al.com

February 14, 2012

"Slavery by Another Name"

"Slavery by Another Name" was on last night on PBS. I highly recommend it. You can watch the whole program or various clips from it on the PBS website.

February 13, 2012

"Party bosses who control the ballot"

Dr. Jess Brown writes in the Huntsville Times: Given the GOP's recently emerged dominance of Alabama's political landscape, prudence suggests that Republican leaders study the lessons gleaned from history. Alabamians and Americans generally do not expect intense partisan loyalty or philosophical consistency from their government officials.

They do not want party leaders to select nominees for based on such expectations or to exercise final de facto control over who can appear on the ballots of taxpayer-funded primary elections.

Based on customs developed during the last century, voters now expect rank-and-file voters on primary election day to make the choice about who will express the party's voice in a general election campaign. Voters will ultimately reject paternalistic or condescending views of contemporary party bosses who argue that they know best about who should represent the party during the general election campaign.

Party bosses who focus excessively on keeping the party's nominees loyal and pure start to disrespect the collective judgment of the electorate, make the party smaller, produce nominees less electable, and over time reduce the party's influence inside the hallways of government. America is a place of more pragmatists than partisans on general election day. -- Read the whole op-ed --> Party bosses who control the ballot (Op-ed by Dr. Jess Brown) | al.com

"Is it bribery or just politics?"

George Will writes in the Washington Post: All elected officials, and those who help finance elections in the expectation that certain promises will be kept -- and everyone who cares about the rule of law -- should hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear Don Siegelman's appeal of his conviction. Until the court clarifies what constitutes quid pro quo political corruption, Americans engage in politics at their peril because prosecutors have dangerous discretion to criminalize politics. ...

But if bribery can be discerned in a somehow implicit connection between a contribution and an official action, prosecutorial discretion will be vast. And there will be the political temptation to ascribe unspoken but criminal mental states to elected officials. The Supreme Court can circumscribe this dangerous discretion by affirming the principle that the quid pro quo standard for bribery requires proof, not a mere inference, of an actual communication. In the law’s current, contradictory condition, the line is blurry between the exercise of constitutional rights and the commission of a crime.

Politics in a democracy is transactional. Candidates routinely solicit the support of interest groups, from unions to business organizations to environmental and other advocacy factions. (“If you vote for me, I will do X for you.”) And many such groups solicit the solicitousness of candidates. (“If we support you, will you do Y for us?”)

It is not uncommon for wealthy individuals to support presidential candidates lavishly, if not for the purpose of becoming ambassadors, then with the hope that the president-elect will show gratitude for their generosity. The Washington Post of Jan. 19, 2011, reported (“Embassy openings for open wallets”) that President Obama’s political appointees, as opposed to career diplomats, had received 30.05 percent of ambassadorial posts, just below the 30.47 average of the previous five presidents. -- Read the whole column--> Is it bribery or just politics? - The Washington Post

February 11, 2012

Alabama UOCAVA ballot deadline extended

The Secretary of State has psted this notice on her site: NOTICE TO UOCAVA VOTERS

The Secretary of State has received information indicating that transmission of some UOCAVA ballots for the March 13, 2012 primary election has been delayed. Your ballot may be one of these. As a remedial action, the Secretary of State has extended the statewide deadline for receiving all UOCAVA ballots by eight (8) days to March 21, 2012, to ensure that all military and overseas voters have a full and fair opportunity to have their votes counted. Although the deadline has been extended, you are urged to return your voted ballot to your county absentee election manager as soon as possible to ensure its timely receipt. State law now allows UOCAVA ballots to be returned by U.S. mail, hand delivery, or commercial ground or air carrier. -- Secretary of State

February 10, 2012

"I welcome this opportunity to present the facts"

The Birmingham News reports: U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus said Thursday night that he is cooperating with an investigation into his financial dealings by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The office, Bachus said in a prepared statement, "has requested information and I welcome this opportunity to present the facts and set the record straight."

Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, is one of several members of Congress recently accused of using nonpublic information gained through their official duties on Capitol Hill to guide their personal investments, often at a profit.

The allegations in a recent book, "Throw Them All Out," and a corresponding "60 Minutes" report in November prompted quick work on legislation that more expressly bans insider trading by members of Congress and strengthens the rules for disclosing their personal financial information. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus says he welcomes ethics investigation | al.com

February 8, 2012

Decatur redistricts 5 districts, even though referendum adopted 3-district plan

The Decatur Daily editorializes: The Decatur City Council stepped into perilous territory Monday when it approved a redistricting plan that voters rejected in a 2010 referendum.

The council approved a five-district plan that retains a full-time mayor and five district council members. The referendum mandated a three-district plan and a switch to a council-manager form of government.

The city fluctuates between two theories to justify ignoring the referendum.
One, city officials say the U.S. Department of Justice basically rejected the three-district plan in a letter dated Dec. 19. Two, they argue that even if the Justice Department has not already rejected the three-district plan as violative of the Voting Rights Act, it would have eventually.

The Dec. 19 letter came in response to the city's initial application -- submitted in accordance with the referendum -- to change to three districts, none of which had a black majority. The letter from the Justice Department included the phrase, "the information sent is insufficient to enable us to determine that the proposed changes" comply with the Voting Rights Act. -- Read the whole editorial --> City rebuffs its voters - Decaturdaily.com

February 4, 2012

Private Sector Job Creation

Move your mouse pointer across the graphic to get additional information.

February 3, 2012

Shelby County challenge to Section 5 might be closer to Supreme Court

The Birmingham News reports: The chances that Shelby County's challenge to the Voting Rights Act will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court have improved since the Justice Department announced it is rethinking its position in a similar North Carolina case.

In a Jan. 30 letter to a lawyer for Kinston, NC., the assistant attorney general for civil rights said the agency has new information and will reconsider its 2009 objection to the city's switch to nonpartisan elections. Assuming the Justice Department formally withdraws that objection, Kinston's related lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act goes away.

Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California Irvine's School of Law, said in an email that he believes the move would clear a path for the Shelby County, Ala., case to be the one that puts the Section 5 issue before the Supreme Court. Another possible appeal involving the voter identification law in South Carolina is also a contender. -- Read the whole story --> Justice Department move might propel Shelby County, Ala., voting case to U.S. Supreme Court | al.com

Elected officials can raise campaign money to pay off debts

The Birmingham News reports: Newly elected public officials can hit up donors for thousands of dollars in campaign funds during their first weeks in office, under a decade-old interpretation of Alabama campaign finance law.

State law allows candidates to raise money for 120 days after an election to retire any campaign debt they might have. However, candidates are not limited to raising just enough to cover their net campaign debt, and in some cases they raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra funds.

Candidates and campaign workers say that allows them to pay off late-arriving bills. But others say the system is ripe for abuse and is a way to stretch the fundraising window. ...

The practice is common in Montgomery. A 1999 attorney general's opinion stated that candidates can raise money to cover whatever debt is listed on their campaign finance form during that 120-day window, and it doesn't matter whether they already had enough cash in their coffers to pay off the debt. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama's newly elected officials can raise money after taking office | al.com

There are two AG opinions from 1998-99 that allow this post-election fundraising to pay off debt:

99-00061

99-00090

February 2, 2012

Siegelman files petition in US Supreme Court (with court docs)

The Birmingham News reports: Former Gov. Don Siegelman today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his 2006 conviction in a government corruption case arguing that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of bribery.

The petition was filed with the high court today, according to Siegelman lawyer Sam Heldman.

"By granting review, this court would have the opportunity to right an injustice, to exonerate a man who has committed no crime, and to clarify the law in a manner that will be important to all candidates, elected officials, and politically engaged citizens," Siegelman's lawyers wrote in the petition.

A federal jury in 2006 convicted Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy of federal funds bribery on accusations that Siegelman sold a seat on a hospital regulatory board to Scrushy for $500,000 in donations to Siegelman's 1999 lottery campaign.

A key question before the court, Siegelman's lawyers wrote is what is the legal line between campaign contribution and bribe. -- Read the whole story -->Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman asks Supreme Court to review conviction | al.com

Update - The petition was docketed Feb 3 as No. 11-955.

A copy of the certiorari petition is available below:
Siegelman v. USA Cert Pet

February 1, 2012

Two GOP Congressional candidates promise to impeach Obama

The Mobile Press Register reports: Riehm and Young were asked if they would commit to introducing articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama. Both gave a resounding 'yes,' drawing vigorous approval from the crowd. ...

Young qualified his answer, saying he would first put the president 'on notice' before attempting impeachment.

'It's a serious step, and I wouldn't take it lightly,' said Young. "First, I would cut off his funding. If that didn't work, I would introduce a resolution describing what he's done wrong. The last resort, which I am willing to take, would be to impeach him. We simply cannot allow him to continue to operate the way he has."

Riehm provided a detailed description of the president's duties as defined by the Constitution, and a list of his alleged violations -- including the failure to enforce federal laws on immigration, elections and the Defense of Marriage Act. -- Read the whole article --> Alabama candidates vow: 'Impeach Obama' (George Talbot column) | al.com