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In “Hail Mary” Hubbard Subpoenas Governor

Bill Britt

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 By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—In what is being described as both a fit of desperation and a Hail-Mary pass, Speaker Mike Hubbard, (R-Auburn) has filed subpoenas for Governor Robert Bentley (R), Acting Attorney General W. Van Davis and the Custodian of Records for the Ethics Commission, according to a filing by the Attorney General’s Office late Monday.

Filing 1, Filing 2

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Over the last month, Speaker Hubbard, through his criminal defense attorney J. Mark White, has subpoena 17 witnesses for an evidentiary hearing that has not even been granted yet by Lee Count Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker, III.

 

Court observers speaking on background say that they believe that the Hubbard defense team wants to put the prosecution on trial prior to his felony trial in October.

 

Hubbard has been charged with 23 felony counts of public corruption.

 

One attorney familiar with the case said, “This is a ‘Hail Mary’ by White because he doesn’t have a real defense.”

 

In response to the prosecution’s motion to quash the subpoenas issued to Bentley and others, Judge Walker has ordered a hearing on April 3, 2015 at 1:45 pm in courtroom three of the Lee County Justice Center.

 

The purpose of the hearing is to further discuss issues to be heard on April 15 and 16, 2015, according to Judge Walker’s order.

 

The hearing of April 15 and 16 was to be on motions filed in the case, but Hubbard, in what is described by one attorney as a “fit of desperation,” apparently wants to turn the hearing into a media circus.

 

As for Hubbard’s request to call Gov. Bentley the state argues, “Hubbard’s subpoena… constitutes an improper attempt to obtain discovery to which he is not entitled and to conduct a baseless fishing expedition.”

 

The state contends that Hubbard’s subpoena of Bentley should be quashed because it represents an attempt to usurp this Court’s authority. Prosecutors also say that it violates executive privilege, “It is black-letter law in Alabama that testimony about the performance of a state officer’s official duties is protected from disclosure by executive privilege.”

 

The prosecution also claims that the Bentley subpoena is improper because it seeks information “protected by… deliberative-process privilege, legislative privilege, attorney-client privilege, and work product doctrine.”

Hubbard’s efforts to call Bentley and Davis is seen by legal observers as a last ditch offensive before the scheduled October criminal trial.

 

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Elections

Ethics Commission clears Luther Strange

Josh Moon

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Luther Strange is off the hook.

The executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission told APR on Wednesday that the commission determined a few sessions ago that allegations that Strange violated campaign finance laws were unfounded.

The two allegations, which were filed by Secretary of State John Merrill’s office during Strange’s special election campaign for U.S. Senate last year, were considered potential felonies and centered around Strange’s federal Senate campaign transferring funds to his state-level attorney general’s campaign account.

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Ethics Commission executive director Tom Albritton said several factors went into determining that Strange had not violated the law. Most importantly: “The statute controlling the transfer from a federal campaign account to a state campaign account requires the candidate to be a state or local candidate. Luther Strange was not,” Albritton said.

Merrill disagreed with the commission’s decision, saying his staff’s understanding of the applicable laws forbids Strange from making the campaign account transfers in question.

“We understand that the Ethics Commission can do whatever they want with the things we send them,” Merrill said. “We do not agree with their finding, but it’s not our job to rule. It’s our job to pass along the violations. We did our job.”

While the laws governing the issue are complicated, the transfers at the center of the debate are fairly easy to understand. In December of 2016, Strange’s federal campaign account, in a series of transfers, sent a little over $1,400 to his state-level campaign account. The money was being used to pay for an already-purchased website domain.

The problem was the $1,400 exceeded the $1,000 threshold allowable for the transfers and also fell outside of the 120-day window. Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was forced to resign after accepting a donation outside of the 120-day window.

But according to Albritton, that’s where the mixing of federal and state laws make things murky. Because in addition to Strange, who was running for U.S. Senate, not being a state-level candidate, the law also requires the transfer to be a campaign contribution before it can be considered illegal.

“The transfer was made in order to reimburse the state campaign for an unintentional payment by the state campaign for the domain maintenance fee for the domain that the federal campaign had already purchased,” Albritton said. “It was not intended to influence the election of a state or local candidate.

“Federal law preempts state law in this circumstance. Federal campaign finance laws required the reimbursement for the state campaign. If they had not repaid it, it would have been a violation of federal campaign laws.”

Albritton said that Merrill and his office can forward their findings directly to the Alabama AG’s office if they feel a mistake has been made.

The Ethics Commission decision on the matter will likely add fuel to what is becoming a fiery feud between it and Merrill’s office. Just last week, Merrill was particularly critical of the Commission’s decision to pass on issuing fines to candidates, businesses and PACs that failed to file campaign finance reports on time.

During an interview with APR last week, Merrill was asked whether his allegations against Strange had been resolved by the Ethics Commission. At that time, he said he wasn’t sure, prompting APR to raise the question with Albritton. It doesn’t appear as if the decision on the Strange allegations has been previously reported in the media.

 

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Elections

A quick snapshot of campaign cash after primaries

Bill Britt

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Since the June 5 primary, candidates have only been required to file major contribution reports of $25,000 and over, so understanding the financial health of any campaign is difficult to ascertain.

In the Lt. Governor’s race, Rep. Will Ainsworth has loaned his campaign $500,000, while his opponent, PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh, hasn’t reported any new contributions. In their last reports, Cavanaugh had $165,439.56 on hand, and Ainsworth had $670,233.34, which includes the $500,000 loan.

The last filings in the Attorney General’s contest show Steve Marshall with $48,794.15 to Troy King’s $36,127.04. The two will face each other in the July 17 Republican Party runoff.

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Democrat attorney general contender Joe Siegelman last reported having $113,450.44 in his account. He will compete with either King or Marshall in the November general election.

The Republican runoff for Agriculture Commissioner finds BCA backed candidate Lowdnesboro Mayor Rick Pate with $4,107.44 in cash, with his challenger, State Senator Gerald Dial, reporting $107,634.45.

Gov. Kay Ivey received one major contribution of $25,000 from Cullman resident Roy Drinkard, while her Democrat rival Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox hasn’t reported any similar fundraising efforts.

These cash totals are a snapshot of fundraising, with approximately two weeks before the next FCPA reports are required.

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News

PowerSouth CEO explains why companies are leaving BCA

Bill Britt

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PowerSouth President and CEO Gary L. Smith may have made the most transparent case for why the state’s marquee corporations are in a steady exodus from the Business Council of Alabama.

“Our problem with BCA is simply Billy Canary and his leadership,” wrote Smith in the company’s withdrawal letter to BCA Chairman Perry Hand. “Billy has been effective in the past, but in our opinion, Billy is now a severe liability and must be replaced for BCA to again be effective.”

In April, Alabama Political Reporter broke the news that seven of the state’s leading companies were parting ways with BCA if Canary was not replaced by June.

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Billy Canary out at BCA, sort of 

After APR‘s story broke that the BCA Executive Committee had agreed to replace Canary, it was Hand who took to an internet newsletter to claim our story was false. However, Smith’s letter obtained by APR proves Hand lied. “You indicated the BCA Executive Committee agrees a leadership change is needed, but we have serious disagreements about the timing of the replacement,” wrote Smith.

In fact, the Executive Committee agreed it was time for Canary to go, but Hand and a few Canary loyalists invented a reason to keep Canary around until 2019. As Smith points out, not only is Canary staying in place, he is also included in selecting his replacement.

Smith states, “Billy’s continuing involvement in the search for his replacement,” as well as, “his involvement in the leadership transition,” is a severe problem.

Smith further writes, “We have no interest in participating in or supporting an organization that Billy heads, influence through his choice of successor, or can manipulate through a transitional plan. It is simply time to completely sever the relationship before further damage is done to the organization.”

To date, Alabama Power Company, PowerSouth, Regions Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield and BCA legal counsel Boots Gale have fled BCA due to Canary’s failed leadership and Hand’s obstinate refusal to see the wisdom of his immediate replacement.

 

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In “Hail Mary” Hubbard Subpoenas Governor

by Bill Britt Read Time: 2 min
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