Attorney General opens “dark money” group

July 17, 2017

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Republican State’s Attorney General Steve Marshall launched a non-profit organization in May as part of his campaign plan to win the seat he now occupies, thanks to disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley, who appointed him. Bentley has the State’s most famous non-profit group, ACEGOV.

Under current law, candidates like Marshall can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money with limited restrictions using groups that operate in gray areas of the law, as noted by The Center for Public Integrity.

Political non-profits are often disparaged as “dark money,” these organization can be used in like manner to the PAC-to-PAC-transfers. “Financial restrictions on 527s are very few: there are no upper limits on contributions to these committees, and no spending limits, either. Any type of donor may contribute, from individuals to unions to corporations, even other non-profits. There is no specific prohibition on foreign contributions,” states The Center for Public Integrity.

During the 2013 Legislative Session, the Republican supermajority cast aside all pretense of living under the campaign finance reforms they enacted in 2010. Legislation sponsored by then Sen. Bryan Taylor deleted sections of the code that referred to “private foundations” in the PAC-to-PAC ban, opening the floodgates to create dark money foundations. Taylor now serves as “chief” legal counsel to Governor Kay Ivey, who promised to make transparency a hallmark of her administration.

Taylor’s bill (SB244) allows so-called advocacy non-profit organizations to play directly in State elections. These 501(c)(4) organizations and 527s have been used by various public officials and outside special interests to influence elections and legislation while keeping their donor list secret.

SEE BILL HERE

In the last week of May, “Steve Marshall for Alabama,” a non-profit organization, regulated under IRS code 527 was registered with the Secretary of State. Its purpose according to the filing is, “To support the election of Steve Marshall to Alabama Public Office.” The director of the dark money group is Steven T. Marshall. Using his non-profit Marshall can fund his campaign for the State’s highest law enforcement job with unlimited fundraising and spending without tax liabilities. Because these groups report to the IRS and not the Federal Election Commission or the State political reporting, donations can be masked for a longer period of time before reporting as required under a Principal Campaign Committee which gives the public immediate access to who is funding the group.

Recently, The Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon discovered that Marshall received campaign contributions which link to powerful groups and individuals who may want to influence the outcome of several matters currently before the Attorney General’s office. Marshall’s campaign consultant, David Ferguson, denied the contributions were tainted saying they were vetted “by the Chief Investigator.” Ferguson, a former operative for former Gov. Bentley, could not identify the name of the Chief Investigator, presumedly referring to Jim Lambert who is the Attorney General’s Chief Investigator.

However, Ferguson contacted APR to say he had misspoke and the contribution were vetted by Marshall’s Chief Deputy Clay Crenshaw.  In an email received this morning Ferguson wrote, “The Chief Deputy, not Chief Investigator, is actually making sure no contributions have action associated with the Attorney General’s office.”

Marshall’s filings show the registering agent is “J.A. Newman,” a.k.a. Ashley Newman, and J. Ash Newman, according to various Secretary of State filings.

Better known in Montgomery as Ashley Newman, she is the Principal at Newman and Associates, LLC., which, according to her LinkedIn profile, is a “Montgomery, Alabama Area Nonprofit Organization Management” company.

Newman has registered several well-known nonprofits, including “Strange for Senate,” owned by Sen. Luther Strange, and the Foundation for Accountability in Education, Inc. Their directors are State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Kate Anderson, a fundraiser with strong ties to former Gov. Bob Riley and convicted felon former Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard.

In 2013, Conservatives for Alabama’s Future, another dark money group that claimed it was “a community of citizens who believe in less government, lower taxes, and traditional family values to make our great State better,” was in fact funded by the Foundation for Accountability in Education.

Newman, in the last few months, has gathered attention from the Secretary of State’s Office, which referred Strange’s FCPA reports to the Ethics Commission. As reported by APR during Strange’s 2014 Attorney General’s race, Newman served as Treasurer of his campaign. In 2016, her company Newman and Associates was paid $20,688.83 categorized as “administrative” by Alabamians for Strange in varying amounts. Payments for work on Strange’s State campaign and his Federal one intersected with Newman and Associates receiving $10,657 since January from Strange for Senate for “accounting services,” and received payments from both campaign accounts simultaneously in December 2016.

A call to the Secretary of State’s Office confirms the matter has been sent to the Ethics Commission.

When announcing his bid to become Attorney General by election, Marshall said, “Our top priority will be to maintain an effective working relationship with our local Law Enforcement. Sheriffs, District Attorneys, Police, and Investigators are the front lines of public safety, and we will support them in every way possible,” according to a report in al.com.

Marshall inherited an Attorney General’s office that distinguished itself by prosecuting public corruption taking on the powerful and elites who illegally used government to enrich themselves. Marshall has listed fighting public corruption as a fourth tier item on his stated priorities.

Alabama ranks high in legal and illegal public corruption.

Marshall was a Democrat until he switched parties in 2011. He was first  appointed District Attorney of Marshall County by then Gov. Don Siegelman, who was convicted on Federal public corruption charges. He gained his current office from Bentley.

Marshall group is a 527 not a 501(c)(4) according to campaign consultant David Ferguson.

 

© Copyright 2017 Alabama Political Reporter