By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Many Alabama voters were already suspicious of the circumstances around former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision to appoint Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., to the U.S. Senate; now new allegations are swirling around Strange, his personal finances, and his campaign finance chair.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler revealed on Tuesday that Strange owns 16 percent of a company that sells VISAs to wealthy foreigners, mostly Chinese.
Strange who claims to be for strong border enforcement and touts his support for building a border wall, apparently has no moral or ethical qualms with profiting from marketing visas to wealthy foreign nationals. According to Strange’s required “New Filer Report” of Feb. 8, 2017, Strange owns an “indirect 16.665% ownership” in Sunbelt EB-5 Regional Center, a multi-million dollar Limited Liability Company. It sells VISAs giving legal status to wealthy foreigners and their families who then by-pass legal immigration requirements.
“Strange has been talking against illegal immigration in his campaign, but it is only talk,” Zeigler said. “He did not put his money where his mouth is.”
“Luther Strange is making big money off wealthy foreigners, enabling them and their families to come to America, get legal, and compete against American businesse,” Zeigler said. “This is exactly the type of self-serving that we do not need in Washington.”
The operation sells the VISAs to wealthy foreigners willing to invest a half-million dollars each (for depressed areas only) or a million dollars each in an American business not in a depressed area.
“The EB-5 regional center program has been plagued by fraud and abuse,” U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “It poses significant national security risks. There are serious allegations that the program may be facilitating terrorist travel, economic espionage, money laundering and investment fraud.”
WHNT Channel 19’s Bryan Lawson is reporting that the Strange campaign told them: “Luther agrees with the Trump administration that there are serious concerns over the EB-5 visa program, which is not being used as originally intended. It’s time for Congress to get to work on these issues. He looks forward to working hand-in-hand with the White House on legislation like the RAISE Act which would overhaul the program.”
The Strange campaign has not responded to a request from The Alabama Political Reporter for more information about Strange’s investment.
A spokesman for the Roy Moore campaign responded: “Luther Strange is lying about Judge Moore’s commitment to build the wall. Meanwhile, Strange is hiding his ownership in a company that sells EB-5 visas to foreign nationals. Strange says he is for a new tough immigration system that puts America first but profits off the broken system that takes much-needed jobs and business opportunities from Americans.”
Critics claim that it is a conflict of interest for Luther to be a Senator setting immigration law while he makes hundreds of thousands of dollars exploiting those same immigration laws.
On top of this, Alabama Media Group’s Kyle Whitmire reported on Wednesday that Strange’s Campaign finance chairman, Thompson Tractor CEO Mike Thompson, is also the secretary of the nonprofit, which made payoffs to former state Rep. Oliver Robinson.
Robinson has pleaded guilty to bribery, corruption, fraud, and tax evasion.
According to federal prosecutors, Robinson accepted the money as bribes in order to oppose the expansion of a Superfund site in North Birmingham. ABC Coke would have been responsible for paying for the cleanup of the site. Drummond Coal Inc. owns ABC Coke and Drummond Coal has a strong business relationship with Thompson Tractor.
Mike Thompson has not been charged with anything, but he was one of two officers in a charity that appears to have no other purpose but to pay Robinson. Strange, as Alabama Attorney General, opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to expand the North Birmingham site to include Inglenook and Tarrant.
Drummond has also made campaign contributions to Strange. There is a strong likelihood that an executive at Drummond as well as a partner at the law firm, Balch & Bingham LLP named in the U.S. Attorney filings will be indicted soon for their alleged illicit relationship with Rep. Robinson (the Vice-Chair of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation).
Despite the ethics issues surrounding Strange his lobbyist allies in Washington have only double down on their support. The Senate Leadership Fund alone has spent $14 million to elect Strange and spread false and misleading tales about Roy Moore. The SLF is an off-shoot project of Karl Rove’s American Crossroads project and is designed to help the Senate leadership under Mitch McConnell to stay in power.
The SLF is managed by McConnell’s former Chief of Staff Steven Law and the Treasurer is Alabama Policy Institute President and CEO Caleb Crosby. Only $55,000 of that was actually raised in Alabama this year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the One Nation Fund, and the National Republican Senate Committee have committed another $1.2 million to Strange’s campaign.
“This Senate seat is not for sale,” Bill Armistead, chairman of the Moore campaign, said. “The Senate Leadership Fund, Mitch McConnell, and Karl Rove should not be fooled. Alabamians are not going to sell their representation in Washington and they will refuse to vote for a Senator who is bought and paid for by the Washington swamp.”
“This year, the Senate Leadership Fund, whose stated purpose is to expand it’s Republican majority in the Senate, has poured over $10 million into ads attacking principled conservative Republicans Roy Moore and Mo Brooks and only a mere $50,000 to defeat Democrats,” Armistead said. “Mitch McConnell is spending 20 times more money to defeat Republicans than Democrats. It’s an act of disgusting betrayal and all conservatives should flock to the polls on September 26th to tell Mitch McConnell and his cronies: No way! We will elect our own Senator who will fight for Alabama values.
“The stench of the Washington Swamp has descended on Alabama heavily in this race. Threats to blackball anyone who worked for a candidate other than Luther Strange, underhanded tricks, false campaign ads, and money from elites who are putting their personal political interests before our nation’s.”
The runoff will be on Tuesday. The winner will face Clinton-era U.S. Attorney Doug Jones in the special general election in December.