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Bill Britt

APR stands by Rogers report

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

An article published by The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) has drawn fire from campaign operatives for freshman Senator Luther Strange and his attorney at his old law firm, Bradley Arrant.

An email containing a letter from Bradley partner Joseph B. Mays, Jr., was received by APR on June 30, in which he demands, “…removal and retraction of false and libelous statements in an article on your website titled, ‘Source: State Rep. Offered Superfund Bribe with Strange Present.'”

SEE LETTER HERE

The story revolves around a Federal probe that ensnared former State Rep. Oliver Robinson, who earlier this month reached a plea agreement to Federal charges of fraud, bribery, corruption, and tax evasion. The agreement is related to Robinson allegedly accepting bribes from a powerful Birmingham law firm, Balch Bingham. According to the release, Robinson was paid to advocate against the expansion of a massive EPA Superfund site in Birmingham. Balch Bingham’s client, Drummond Coal, and its affiliate ABC Coke would have potentially had to pay millions for the cleanup. A Balch attorney and a Drummond executive are both listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the release from the US Attorney’s Office in Birmingham.

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Last year, shortly after Robinson resigned from the Alabama House of Representatives, claiming a conflict of interest (because his daughter was working for then-Governor Robert Bentley), State Rep. John Rogers began telling how the same people had approached him as Robinson, but that he turned them down.

During the beginning days of the 2017 Legislative Session, Rogers approached APR with this story. But as there was no context from which to draw a conclusion or make a printable narrative, Rogers allegations stayed mostly within the halls of the State House.

However, in June, Rogers told US Senate candidate Dr. Randy Brinson, who is running against Strange, that he told Federal investigators that Drummond Coal executives offered him a similar deal to Robinson’s. According to Brinson and others present, Rogers agreed to go public with his story at a press conference with Brinson.

After confirming the facts with Rogers and his close associates, APR’s Josh Moon published Rogers’ claims that Strange was present when Rogers received what he believed to be a bribe offer from those acting on Drummond’s behalf.

An email to Strange’s Senate and campaign spokesperson, Shana Teehan, by APR the evening before the Moon story, was to be published. Teehan, the former Shanna Kluck, was communications director for the Alabama Republican Party under Bill Armistead and has had APR’s email and cell phone contact for years. APR has received countless emails from Teehan as Strange’s Senate Communications Director and as campaign staff.

A quick check of my APR email shows 14 emails from Teehan from June 1 until June 28 with well over two dozen pages of emails from her.

In a statement, Strange’s operatives said, “As Alabama’s Attorney General, Sen. Strange led the National fight against the over-reaching Obama EPA in order to protect jobs in Alabama and across the country. The allegations in Josh Moon’s article are simply not true and smack of the same fake news that President Trump and Jeff Sessions are dealing with. As shown by the recent Veritas videos exposing CNN, too many in the media are unaccountable and have dropped all pretense of having standards, abusing and using the First Amendment as a cover for lying about their political enemies and boosting their ratings.”

Strange’s office didn’t send the statement to APR even though they regularly carpet bomb its email with press reports. A quick check of [email protected] finds 14 emails from Teehan from June 1 until June 28. Both she and Strange have my cell number, and I have theirs, but no calls were made to refute the story.

The day following our report on Rogers’ allegation, he began to backtrack by saying Strange had not been present at the meeting in which be believed he was offered a bribe.

On June 30, just 24 hours after APR’s first report, Moon revealed that Rogers had confirmed the original report but Rogers had asked that his confirmation statements not be made public until he could “tell all” on a local Birmingham radio show that Friday.

Strange’s high-powered Bradley Arrant lawyer wrote APR saying, “the fact that it was published without confirmation from the key source – Rep. Rogers – suggests on its face that your actions were malicious. These facts indicate that you intentionally published these false and defamatory statements or, at the least, that you published them with a reckless disregard for their falsity.”

The original report was confirmed with Rogers, before publication, it was checked with several individuals who Rogers had told the same story that he told APR during the 2017 Session.

Of course, none of this has stopped Strange from claiming “fake news” on Yellowhammer Radio.

This is the same Luther Strange who as Attorney General claimed he never “said” there was an investigation into Gov. Robert Bentley just before Bentley appointed him Senator. There was an investigation and he knew it. The same man who recused himself from the Speaker Mike Hubbard investigation because he took money from Hubbard’s Political Action Committee and then within 24 spent the same amount with one of Hubbard’s business interests. Hubbard, the former Speaker of the House, who was convicted of 12 counts of public corruption. However, as Attorney General, Strange allowed his Chief Deputy Kevin Turner to collude with others on his staff to derail Hubbard’s prosecution. Turner now serves as Strange’s chief of staff.

It is not yet clear if Rogers lied to APR and to others, or if he is lying now. Rogers claimed Strange was present when he was offered what he considered a bribe. Then he changed his story to Strange not being present. By the end of last week, Rogers was denying everything, telling WSFA News, “No, he was not there and there was no bribe. I haven’t talked to Drummond Coal either. That is not true. That is not true.”

 

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Bill Britt

A move to reunify BCA is underway

Bill Britt

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Reconciliation efforts are underway to salvage the Business Council of Alabama after a very public split with some of its most influential members.

Those close to the negotiations speaking on background say recent talks have been productive, but there are still many details that must be agreed upon before a reunification occurs.

The forced exit of President and CEO Billy Canary earlier this month was the first step toward restoring BCA’s reputation and mending fences.

Individuals who are negotiating rapprochement are looking to restructure BCA’s governance to ensure that any future leader will not exercise the unchecked authority wielded by Canary. They also want to make BCA more equitable, fair and balanced in its representation of its members.

Beyond the mechanics of structure is the need for a strong leader who can restore not only confidence in the once powerful organization but also one who can navigate the state’s political landscape while enduring the inevitable discord that comes with change.

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There is a level of hope that an improved structure and new leadership might be in place by BCA’s summer conference, which begins August 10 at Point Clear. But even those involved in the process know it’s a tall order to fill given the short window of opportunity.

Perhaps the most significant challenge is identifying an individual who can articulate a vision for BCA, inspire confidence in its members and ensure elected officials that they are dealing with an honest broker.

There is much at stake in the upcoming legislative session, not only because it is the first year of the quadrennium, when hard tasks are generally achieved, but the 2019 session will also welcome many new legislators not necessarily in step with BCA due to a bruising primary season.

People may forgive, but they often do not forget, and there are many bridges to build.

Lawmakers will be wise to remember the warning of President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

For a revitalizing transition to occur, a clean sweep of BCA’s leadership team is imperative, as those who served the old guard must be replaced or else it’s a false start doomed to fail.

BCA would be wise to move away from the partisan approach taken over the last eight years and look to establish relationships that favor business-friendly legislation without bright lines of division.

In business as in life, sharp breaks are sometimes required and often are inevitable, but this doesn’t have to be one of those times.

Now is an hour for wise deliberation, difficult choices and bold resolve to strengthen the entire business community and not merely to fortify the narrow interests of a few.

Over the last year, good and honest leaders called for BCA to do what was right. That fight hopefully can be put aside to now do what is best.

 

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Bill Britt

The fix was in

Bill Britt

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Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson’s ruling to allow out-of-state political action committees to donate to in-state campaigns without disclosing its donors through PAC-to-PAC transfers may be the legal fulcrum Democrats need to target key Republican officeholders in the state.

On Wednesday, attorney general candidate Troy King filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order to prevent his opponent, appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall, and his campaign from using donations it received from the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA) which doesn’t disclose some of its mega-donors by using PAC-to-PAC transfers.

Judge Anderson ruled against King and dismissed the lawsuit in Marshall’s favor.

Marshall, unlike an ordinary plaintiff, wasn’t present at the hearing before Judge Anderson, which should have alerted the public that the fix was already in.

The State’s Ethics Commission will likely weigh-in on King’s question soon— finding that RAGA’s actions were unlawful—but Thursday’s judgment holds for now, with no consequences for Marshall, win or lose.

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In 2010, the state’s newly minted Republican supermajority outlawed PAC-to-PAC transfers as part of its effort to show voters that there was a new day in Montgomery politics.

Since 2010, both Republicans and Democrats have found ways to circumvent FPCA restrictions, but until Thursday, there wasn’t a court ruling that opened a flooded-gate to renew PAC-to-PAC campaigns using outside interest groups.

Republican conservatives who believe that undisclosed donors shouldn’t control the state’s election process through hidden contributions should worry.

Is it now legal for pro-abortion groups to finance judicial races with stealth campaign donations to defeat pro-life candidates like Supreme Court Justices like Tom Parker?

What about Gov. Kay Ivey? Is it now legal for The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) to upend her campaign with hidden contributions to her rival, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox?

Ethic Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has all but definitively stated that RAGA’s contributions are illegal, but it’s too little too late for this election.

Perhaps none of this matters because it seems that many of the Republicans who passed these bans in 2010, don’t seem to honestly believe in them or any of the ethics reforms that they once championed.

So once again, it’s winning, not the law, that matters, or as a prominent Montgomery attorney said, “When you have a Democrat judge, a Democrat lawyer and a Democrat attorney general what else did you expect?”

More, I guess.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | BCA takes out the trash, finally

Bill Britt

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In a last-ditch effort to save the Business Council of Alabama from the dung heap of political obscurity, President and CEO Billy Canary was pushed out of the business association late last Friday after he waged an ugly and protracted battle to remain in power.

Canary’s fight to keep his job has left the once powerful business interests a hollow and factored alliance with an uncertain future. He didn’t care if he destroyed BCA; it was all about his ambitions.

For years, Canary, along with now-convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley, reigned over an unparalleled orgy of greed and corruption.

Canary, Hubbard and Riley’s perverse domination of the state’s political landscape was supreme, and even now, the tentacles of their profiteering are evident from the Capitol to the State House and beyond.

Even during this election cycle, Canary has used BCA’s political arm, Progress PAC, to back disreputable candidates who seek to overturn the state ethics laws that convicted Hubbard, advocate for so-called education reform that profits Riley’s business interests and to stall efforts to create a statewide lottery in favor of gambling concessions for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

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During Hubbard’s last years in office, PCI Vice Chair Robbie McGhee joined forces with Hubbard, in hopes of exercising more sway over Republican legislators. Over the previous year, he coupled the tribe to Canary with the same end in mind. McGhee, who faces a reelection challenge in August, casts himself as a Hubbard-Canary protege. Even now, he tells candidates who come calling for campaign contributions, “We are BCA,” meaning the tribe, under Canary, is controlling many decisions being made at the business association.

McGee, like Hubbard and Canary, is viewed by many as a pariah in the state capital where he still hopes to further the Tribe’s gambling operations by lavishing money and entertainment on Republican lawmakers. Twice now, McGhee has chosen poorly and tarnished the Tribe’s reputation in the bargain. With McGhee’s backing, Canary gave at least $250,000.00 to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall so that he will continue Riley’s bingo wars.

Hubbard stands convicted on 12 felony counts of using his office for personal gain and other criminal violations of the state’s Ethics Act, yet he remains free because of the corrupting influence of Canary and others of his ilk.

During Hubbard’s trial, Canary said, “I love Mike Hubbard like a brother.” He even waxed poetic, saying his friendship with Hubbard, “Blossomed like any blessing in life.”

So infectious are the remnants of their power that even after two years Hubbard remains free because Court of Criminal Appeals Justices Samuel Henry Welch, J. Elizabeth Kellum, Liles C. Burke and J. Michael Joiner will not rule on his conviction.

Canary, in a face-saving announcement, says he is taking a position as a, “senior fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” which is a nothing job.

Canary, like Hubbard and Riley, pimped the state like a cheap whore, and now he’s busted for the user he is. He left BCA in shambles, and don’t think for a minute that the coalition that left BCA isn’t coming back just because the executive committee finally took out the trash.

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APR stands by Rogers report

by Bill Britt Read Time: 5 min
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