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Bill Britt

A curious case of Canarys

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

It has become common to hear lawmakers say “BCA is the new AEA.” This statement refers to the fact that, under the leadership of convicted felon, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, the Business Council of Alabama has risen to control the State’s Legislative agenda, much like the Alabama Education Association did in years past.

So egregious is BCA’s CEO Billy Canary’s latest behavior that he is receiving widespread criticism not only in Montgomery but in Washington DC, as well. High-level operatives and agents say Canary is no longer welcome in some Senate and Congressional offices. Lawmaker’s in the Nation’s Capital, as well as Montgomery, are set on isolating him until the BCA Board sees the light.

Even with Hubbard awaiting prison for 12 felony counts of public corruption, Canary still struts the halls of the State House like a little Napoleon. From Common Core to Second Amendment rights, Canary manipulates lawmakers by threat or promise to kill or enact Legislation he favors. But, Canary’s actions are now under the microscope as law enforcement agencies scrutinizing his actions. Also, efforts by his wife, Leura, who serves as General Legal Council to the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), have garnered attention from law enforcement. Officials are keen to understand the circumstances that resulted in over $90 million dollars in retirees’ money being loaned to a company that once employed Hubbard as a lobbyist.

During the last Legislative Session, Canary met resistance from lawmakers who have grown tired of his bullying leaving BCA with little success on its Legislative agenda. Canary further infuriated friend and foe with his “bare knuckle fight” against providing insurance to families with Autistic children. So petty was Canary’s response to defeat on the Autism bill, that he uninvited its sponsor to BCA’s lavish soiree in Point Clear.

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The Canarys have grown wealthy off of retirees and business interests. On top of the hundreds of thousands BCA pays Billy, his wife Leura makes over $225,000 at RSA, placing her in the upper echelon of management pay.

But for all of their accumulated power and wealth, the couple remains politically unpopular among many in government, as well as rank and file Republicans.

Hubbard’s trial revealed that BCA’s Canary was a member of Hubbard’s so-called “kitchen cabinet,” an exclusive club of lobbyists who decided which bills should pass and which should fail. Canary has lost that power, but continues to caress and cajole House and Senate leadership.

In March, State Senator J. T. “Jabo” Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) testified before a Federal Grand Jury in Birmingham concerning the 35th Avenue Superfund site. The inquiry focused primarily on a joint resolution condemning EPA actions in Jefferson County according to those with knowledge of events surrounding his testimony. Perhaps, not strikingly, the conversations among investigators have turned to BCA’s possible involvement and Canary’s role in the matter.

In an Op-Ed written in June 2015, Canary once again may have linked the reputation of BCA to the growing public corruption scandal as he did in the Hubbard trial. In his opinion piece, Canary attacked the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts in Jefferson County. Former State lawmaker Rep. Oliver Robinson accepted a plea bargain to Federal charges of fraud, bribery, corruption, and tax evasion. Robinson allegedly took over $300,000 in bribes from the Balch Bingham law firm to persuade Birmingham residents to resist the EPA’s inspection of their property.

In racist tinged code-speak, Canary accused the EPA’s project to remove tons of toxic soil from a predominately African-American community as, “a social engineering experiment.”

Canary also praises efforts to halt any clean-ups saying, “With the combined efforts of the Governor, the Attorney General, the Legislature, and the State’s Congressional delegation, Alabama can be successful in beating back the attempted usurpation of authority and force the EPA to operate within the established rules and guidelines that govern it.”

At the time of Canary’s comments, Robert Bentley was Governor, Luther Strange was Attorney General and Mike Hubbard was Speaker of the House. Bentley and Hubbard have left office in disgrace and Strange’s perceived corrupt bargain to become US Senator has tainted his career.

Canary cites the “combined efforts” of these men along with the legislature and Congressional delegation as a joint force to stop initiatives to ensure that citizens are not poisoned by the businesses that pay his salary or fill their campaign coffers.

Canary’s statement in his opinion piece published in various news outlets across the State speaks to “coordination,” which is a subject of interest to both Federal and State Grand Juries currently impaneled in the Magic City.

As for the Leura Canary, an investment by RSA into SiO2 has been questioned by pubic corruption investigators.

SiO2 is owned by Robert Abrams. Hubbard was convicted on several charges related to his association with Abrams. It was not publicly known before Hubbard’s indictments that he was working as a consultant for Robert Abrams d/b/a CV Holdings, LLC. It was known that Abrams had contributed liberally to Hubbard’s and former Gov. Bob Riley’s 2014PAC and that he also had business before the State, as well as RSA.

Around 2010, Abrams began to seek investments in SiO2, which develops and manufactures “silicon-oxide coated containers” utilizing “plasma glass coating technology” for medical products.

CV Holdings, LLC., needed $90 million to build the SiO2 research and manufacturing facility in Auburn. In 2012, they received $78 million in a loan from RSA to realize that plan.

In March 2012, Bentley, Hubbard, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, RSA Chief Dr. Bronner and others announced the development of the SiO2 facility and a reported 300 jobs that would be created as a result of the project.

According to RSA records, the SiO2 loan was secured by “37 patents and other intellectual property, covering the company’s developments, a pledge of stock, and all other assets of the company at an interest rate of 8 percent.” The loan according to the last meeting of the RSA board meeting has ballooned to $90 million. Abrams spoke to the board at its most recent gathering. When asked if SiO2 was profitable he answered, “No.”

It is believed by those inside RSA and state government that hiring Leura Canary was the price Bronner needed to pay to keep Hubbard from ousting him at RSA. Over the years, Br

onner has fended off many attacks, but Hubbard and his cronies were committed to his overthrow until Canary was hired as General Council. Was SiO2 part of the bargain as well?

Hubbard was convicted over his dealings with Abram’s companies, and the Grand Jury in Lee County is still active.

What is now coming into focus is that Canary’s leadership style at BCA is becoming a noose around BCA’s neck.

It is presently unclear how much longer the Canarys can hold on to power, but many are now reciting an old Southern expression, “They’ve worn out their welcome.”

 

Update: After publication APR received a letter from Dr. Bronner by email in which he expressed his confidence in his General Counsel Leura Canary and the future of SiO2. He also said that while Hubbard had dealings with Bobby Abrams as revealed in his trial and conviction that RSA dealt with a different company owned by Abrams. 

Dr. Bronner said that RSA investment was sound and has been joined by, three other major investors, “including the #1 investor in the world of drug start-ups.” He further states SiO2 will be, “a major winner over the next 3-5 years, [and if not] “blame me and no one else.”

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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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A curious case of Canarys

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min
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