By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Millionaire Tuscaloosa real-estate developer Stan Pate has filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Luther Strange alleging his acceptance of an appointment to the US Senate was improper and violated the State’s ethics laws, APR has confirmed.
The ethics complaint, filed Wednesday with the Alabama Ethics Commission, alleges that Strange violated state ethics laws in three different instances: by announcing his desire to be appointed to the Senate, by accepting an interview with former Gov. Robert Bentley during an active criminal investigation his office was overseeing, and by suspending the House’s impeachment investigation into Bentley.
“Common sense is that a deal was agreed upon by then-Governor Bentley and then-Attorney General Strange — an unethical and illegal act by the two parties,” the complaint reads. “Luther Strange violated the public trust and the sworn duties of the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Alabama.”
Stan Pate, president of Pate Companies based out of Tuscaloosa, has been a vocal critic of Luther Strange since the start of the campaign, financing thousands of dollars in ads against the now-incumbent Senator purchased by his PAC, Swamp Drainers Foundation. The ads have gotten nearly a million views so far on social media.
The ads — like the ethics complaint — accuse Bentley and Strange of making a deal to get Bentley off the hook in an ongoing criminal investigation. In return, Strange would be appointed as US Senator after Jeff Sessions was selected as President Trump’s attorney general, Pate has said.
Strange’s campaign has not returned any requests for comment to APR for several weeks and did not return any comment on this story. They have said to other outlets that Pate’s ads are baseless and politically motivated.
Bentley resigned from office in April after a spiraling sex scandal ended with an impeachment investigation and several criminal investigations. He resigned as part of plea deal with prosecutors that got him 100 hours of community service and not much else. He won’t serve any time for the two misdemeanor campaign finance violations he pled guilty to.
The investigations began after former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier accused the Governor of maintaining an affair with Mason. Bentley denied any legal wrongdoing and denied a physical affair.
Strange’s Special Prosecutions Division, since early last year, was thought to be conducting a criminal investigation into Bentley for possible abuse of power and misuse of state funds. In April of 2016, the House also began an impeachment investigation into the same matters, which revolved around an alleged affair with a former top political aide, Rebekah Mason.
The House’s investigation began to heat up as the Judiciary Committee began sending subpoenas in September to Bentley, Mason and others involved in the alleged illegal activity. The House Judiciary Committee later suspended impeachment proceedings after Strange sent the committee a letter on Nov. 3 informing them of necessary “related work” that his office was conducting. Strange, at the time, said he was concerned that the House’s investigation could have overlapped with one in his office.
In February, Bentley appointed Strange to the US Senate amid questions that Strange was trying to cover that investigation up. When Strange moved to Washington, Bentley would get to appoint his own attorney general.
After interviewing 20 candidates and narrowing down his choices to six top contenders, Bentley settled on Strange, a man who ran against and later campaigned with Bentley during the 2010 elections and has been in State politics for years.
The ethics complaint, which is likely motivated by Pate’s disdain for Strange, may go nowhere. Strange’s new position as a US senator is out of the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission. But Pate has said he and his attorneys believe Strange could still be held accountable for his actions while he was still Alabama’s attorney general.
The complaints likely won’t be taken up by the commission for months, meaning that its filing on the eve of the election is probably politically motivated. But it wouldn’t be the first time that a political rival’s complaints — no matter how based in politics — spelled the end to someone’s political career. After all, State Auditor Jim Zeigler’s ethics complaints against Bentley were the ones that resulted in his resignation.
The complaint isn’t the first to be filed against Strange, either. In late spring, Secretary of State John Merrill forwarded an Ethics Complaint against Strange to the Commission asking the commission to review a financial disclosure from Strange that might have contained improper activity between Strange’s Senate and Attorney General campaign committees.
APR first reported that Strange transferred more than $1,000 between his attorney general campaign account and his US senate campaign account outside of the window allowed by Alabama law. The two separate instances of $606 and $454 occurred in December, outside of the 120-rule established by Alabama’s Fair Campaign Practices Act.
The total of $1,060 also exceeds the $1,000 limit imposed even during the legal window, which could amount to two separate violations, Merrill said at the time, quoted in APR’s article.
The Ethics Commission has said they would take up that complaint after the election.