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Bill Britt

Commission for “Ethics Reform and Clarification” is pure fantasy

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

A Senate joint resolution creating The Code of Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission sponsored by Republican Senators Arthur Orr, President Pro Tem. Del Marsh and Majority Leader Greg Reed has been submitted to the Rules Committee and could be making it’s way through the Senate soon.

Creating a commission to reform and clarify current ethics laws sounds like a reasonable undertaking until it’s understood that the underlying premise is to weaken much of existing laws.

Over 18 months ago current law was tested and defined in a Lee County courthouse where Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III and 12 jurors found former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard guilty of 12 felony counts of violating the state’s ethics statutes.

The commission as envisioned by the resolutions’ sponsors can be summarized by the now infamous email from Hubbard to former Gov. Bob Riley in which Hubbard wrote, “Those ethics laws, what were we thinking?”

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While these three senators can be granted the benefit of the doubt — that they are not acting for personal interests — the motivation of those pressing for this so-called reform and clarification by committee should be seriously questioned.

Simply put, the vast majority of Montgomery’s power elites would like to see Hubbard be the last man convicted under the current law. In fact, many are hoping the Court of Criminal Appeals will overturn Hubbard’s convictions on soliciting a thing of value from a principal.

A number of high-net-worth individuals took the stand in Lee County as unindicted co-conspirators in Hubbard’s case. Those individuals and business interest don’t want to face such humiliation the next time they purchase a lawmaker as was the judgment of the court in Hubbard’s trial.

Since Hubbard’s conviction, a select group of lawyers has worked to specifically undermine the section of code that defines who a principal is.

There are also legislators especially attorney-lawmakers who want to solicit and represent “clients” with business before the legislature. Even non-lawyers like Hubbard want “business” and “economic development” opportunities to make a little money on the side advising companies who need some help from the government.

Let’s put aside the notion of public service or the idea that any committee appointed to reform and clarify the state’s ethics code will be any more than a group of men and women slavishly beholden to special interests.

Who would comprise this commission, according to the resolution?

The Legal Advisor to the Governor. That would be Bryan Taylor who, with direction from Hubbard, Riley and BCA chieftain Billy Canary, carved-out the ethics reforms enacted in 2010 that appeared to favor those men specifically.

The Attorney General or Chief Deputy Attorney General, who shall serve as co-chair. Lawmaker’s decided to offer current Attorney General Steve Marshall the co-chair position not because he knows ethics law but to satisfy his ego so he would go along with the plan of a commission rather than legislation as prepared by his predecessor.

The Executive Director of the Ethics Commission would serve as co-chair. Heaven knows Director Tom Albritton has tried, but the Ethics Commission itself is weak and corrupt.

The resolution goes on the name other groups represented on the commission, even a representative from the Alabama Press Association.

As an aside the Alabama Political Reporter cannot be a full member of the press association because we do not mail a print product. Even though APR employs more political reporters than any other media outlet, has broken more public corruption articles in the last several years and was the only press outlet to doggedly pursue Hubbard’s crimes, we can only join the press association as associates, which is a category available to any Tom, Dick or Harriet.

A commission to reform and clarify state ethics laws is a terrible idea. It was a bad plan when Republican House Ethics Committee Chair Representative Mike Ball — an unrepentant Hubbard supporter — suggested it years ago.

This commission is a purely political move and not a serious attempt to “unambiguously articulated policy that clearly distinguishes between the private interests of public officers and public employees and the public duties of those officers and employees,” as the resolution states.

This is yet another attempt to water down existing law to curry favor with big mules and lobbyists while giving public officials loopholes to enrich themselves.

There was a bill prepared by former Attorney General Luther Strange, Chief Deputy Alice Martin and Special Prosecutions Chief Matt Hart.

That bill was signed-off on by Republican House and Senate leadership only to be ignored when disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley played fast and loose with appointments.

Republican leadership has expressed a desire to have a controversy-free session. This resolution is not the way to keep the peace, it’s pure fantasy.

 

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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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Commission for “Ethics Reform and Clarification” is pure fantasy

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