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Bill Britt

BCA’s Canary linked to lobbying firm partnership

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Documents recently uncovered by the Alabama Political Reporter appear to show that Business Council of Alabama (BCA) C.E.O. Billy Canary has personally profited through private ownership of a favored lobbying firm while acting in his official capacity to represent the association’s membership before the State Legislature.

For years, Montgomery’s chattering-class echoed with rumors that lobbyist Dax R. Swatek and Canary enjoyed a profitable business partnership. The recently discovered document reveals there is real substance to the story and now suddenly it appears there is more evidence on how BCA has run their powerful lobbying efforts for more than a decade.

Documents from Experian, the credit reporting agency, show Canary as an ownershow Canary as an owner of Dax R. Swatek and Associates LLC. Other business-reporting agencies also show Canary as the “Owner” of Swatek and Associates. If these reports are accurate, and there is no reason to doubt them, then Canary has, for years, shared in the profits of the Swatek firm, Dax R. Swatek and Associates.

Beyond mere speculation that the duo profited from their previously undisclosed relationship, this revelation may further add to the deterioration of BCA’s once-heralded success as a business lobby. BCA’s legislative influence has declined dramatically over the last two years, culminating in a devastating defeat with Canary’s failure to pass a gasoline tax to support infrastructure improvements in 2017. Canary’s ham-handed efforts have also resulted in public scorn and ridicule from the Senate floor by Republican members who now see BCA as a shameful replacement for the once-loathed Alabama Education Association.

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Several reports from reliable sources speaking on background say that in 2017, the Alabama Road Builders Association (ARBA) and at least nine of its leading members wrote checks totaling about $250,000 to help with the passage of HB487, also known as the “Infrastructure bill.” Additionally, sources state that the Road Builders Association and the Alabama Asphalt Paving Association (AAPA) wrote checks totaling $100,000 to one of Swatek’s lobbying interests, Swatek, Howe and Ross (SHR), to push the legislation.

SHR reports ARBA and AAPA among its clients on its 2017 lobbyist filings. Dax Swatek lists Dax Swatek and Associates and SHR as his sole clients. This type of arrangement is often used by one lobbying group to pay another to help service its client base. This allows for money to freely flow without direct disclosure of who is actually doing the work.

After Canary’s epic fail in 2017, many of these various associations are asking what happened to all the money that went into attempts to pass the infrastructure legislation last year. Why did the ARBA and the AAPA have to pay any money at all to help move the bill? Perhaps the picture is clearer now.

During former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s public corruption trial, it was revealed that Canary and Swatek both were key members of Hubbard’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” which met weekly during the legislative session to determine which bills passed and which ones died. Canary no longer profits from such meetings, but his business interest with Swatek may be providing other incentives, or as some suggest, even give the pair a reason to take a client up to the goal line but never cross into the end zone.

Some members of the Road Builders Association say privately they believed during last year’s session that Canary, at times, actually seemed to have been working against the passage of their bill and that he was, in fact, putting up roadblocks. Sources tell APR there was an agreement that if the bill did not pass last session, that another round of large donations would be coming to pave the way for passage in this session or a future session. Obviously, if the infrastructure bill had passed in 2017, there would be a real lost opportunity for profitable work down the road.

For decades, it would seem the close association between BCA and its legislative agenda with the Swatek firm could have been driven by a profit motive – profit for Canary, personally.

Canary, a once feared player, is now himself fearful that his crippled leadership and perhaps his secret business interests will be his undoing according to those who share his confidence.

For months, Alabama’s Republican Senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby has voiced his wish to see Canary removed from BCA’s leadership. Similarly, according to APR sources, Alabama Power’s top executives have called for Canary’s replacement. Perry Hand, chairman of Volkert, Inc., reportedly has received the message that it’s time for Canary to go.

These latest reports of Canary’s business alignment with a lobbyist who directly profits from BCA’s membership dues is said to be the final nail ensuring his exit.

In an email on Monday morning Swatek wrote: “The only “Owner” or “Partner” in Swatek & Associates since it’s inception (i.e. ever) is myself, Dax Swatek.”

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | DC’s political pornography keeps voters distracted

Bill Britt

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While Alabama’s voters breathlessly bask in the bodice-ripper soft porn that is the daily press coverage of the President Donald J. Trump administration here at home, some elected officials are disregarding and dismantling the very laws that Republicans rode to victory in 2010.

Ethics reform and the Fair Campaign Practice Act are under attack, not from Democrats, but by Republicans who control every branch of state government.

Voters, in general, are blinded by the R after a politician’s name because Alabama is considered a Republican state. The jersey seems to matter more than the character of the player who’s wearing it.

Billionaire industrialist and Republican megadonor Charles Koch recently said, “I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name — I’d like there to be many more politicians who would embrace and have the courage to run on a platform.”

When Republicans ran in 2010, they had a platform. It was pro-business, fiscally conservative with a heavy emphasis on a stringent code of ethics and transparent campaign laws.

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Since the indictment of then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard in 2014, Republicans have tried to weaken the Ethics Act they championed in 2010. They did it first to help Hubbard, but now in 2018, they want to rewrite the ethics laws to help themselves to the perks of office once enjoyed by Democrats.

Many Republicans don’t want to go back to the Wild West days of lawlessness before 2010, but they remain silent.

Recently, Alabama’s appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted $735,000.00 from a dark money PAC controlled by the Republican Attorney Generals Association in violation of the state’s FCPA ban on PAC-to PAC transfers, but Republicans lawmakers haven’t uttered a word.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s campaign says she has cleaned up corruption in Montgomery, but within sight of her office, a so-called Ethics Review and Clarification Committee is rewriting the ethics laws to include allowing a public official to solicit things from a lobbyist.

A template for strengthening and clarifying the ethics laws was written under the watchful eye of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Unit. But the committee that is rewriting the ethics laws didn’t even use that plan as a starting point. Instead, they decided to arbitrarily let associations and the Alabama Legislative Services Agency undertake a wholesale rewrite.

Why?

The reality is – far too many public officials don’t want to be policed or held accountable.

As for the money Marshall received in violation of FCPA, he says there’s a loophole.

However, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2016, found the 2010 Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) made it “unlawful for any political action committee … to make a contribution, expenditure, or any other transfer of funds to any other political action committee.” The only exception to the rule is that a PAC can donate to a PAC set up by a candidate, but full disclosure is required by both parties.

Also in 2016, a Lee County Jury found that Alabama’s toughest-in-the-nation ethics laws worked when it convicted Hubbard.

What has changed since 2010? The Republican supermajority has found that running on ethics reform and campaign transparency sounds good, but trying to live by the law isn’t as easy as talking about it.

Frankly, the citizens should care more about integrity than initials, but for the most part, they don’t even know what is happening in their own backyard. The seduction of 24-hour cable news has left most voters knowing everything about the hookers in D.C. and nothing about the pimps in Montgomery.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Only one candidate skipped debates; he had something to hide

Bill Britt

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Only once in the last two decades has an Alabama candidate for governor refused to debate their opponent, and he had something to hide.

Gov. Ivey plans to be the second Republican gubernatorial candidate in a generation to dodge debating her Democrat opponent. Why?

Every four years, since at least 1998, a Republican and a Democrat have stood on a public stage to debate the merits of being the next governor of Alabama. Disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley is the only exception, dissing Democrat rival Parker Griffith in 2014, saying there was no need to debate. But the real reason Bentley refused to stand on a stage with Griffith was because his campaign staff was worried about what Griffith knew and how he might use it.

Ivey, is doing the same to her Democrat rival Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox that Bentley did to his. Do her campaign operatives have a reason to worry?

When the sordid details of Bentley’s lifestyle and leadership were exposed, voters would learn why he wouldn’t debate Griffith. What if Griffith had raised those questions during a debate? Could the state have been spared the embarrassment of another foolish, inept and cruel governor being chased from office?

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Gov. Ivey is not a weakling like Bentley; she is experienced, battle-tested and by all accounts ready to lead. So why all the silly excuses for not facing Maddox one-on-one?

Recently, Gov. Ivey said that only the media and her opponent care about debates. She also said she saw no need to debate Maddox until he stopped debating himself.

This notion that Maddox is somehow wishy-washy merely is not right, and no matter what her campaign staff tells her, repeating this nonsense makes the governor look foolish and weak, not clever or strong.

Gov. Ivey is right that the vast majority of eligible voters do not care about debates, they also don’t care enough to vote. Even a majority of registered voters aren’t concerned about her positions versus Maddox because come November they won’t vote either. Also among the small minority that will go to the polls on Election Day, a majority of those voters may not care about what they might see or hear in a side-by-side appearance. But there are a few who care a lot, care deeply because they are the ones who must be the eyes and ears of those too busy or too lazy to bother. And yes, that’s the media.

Many in the media thought there were severe problems in the Bentley administration during his 2014 reelection bid. But solid proof about Bentley’s antics was challenging to check out because his staff was doing an excellent job of keeping a blanket over the mischief that was going on behind Wanda’s desk.

No such suspicions surround Gov. Ivey. Oh, there are questions about her health, which she said is fine. There are worries about the number of former Gov. Bob Riley’s cronies on her staff and in her cabinet, but there are no grave concerns about personal corruption as with Bentley.

If things hold, Gov. Ivey will be elected in the coming general election by a wide margin.

Most likely, her campaign is worried that a debate may produce a gaffe that might raise questions, that is always a risk in any live performance.

But for the good of the state and to assure the voters, and yes, the media, that she is still ready to serve, Ivey should stand shoulder to shoulder with her Democrat opponent and answer a few questions.

Enough already with the ribbon cuttings and seven-minute press outings, the voters deserve better, and Gov. Ivey is better. Over the last 20 years, only Bentley ducked debates, and thank goodness Gov. Ivey is not Robert Bentley.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals fails

Bill Britt

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The shocking failure of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to rule on former Speaker Mike Hubbard’s felony conviction is a travesty of justice.

Here, the legal maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied” applies to the people of Alabama.

When Hubbard was indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison, these acts were carried out in the name of The People of Alabama. It is the people who are being denied justice by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Justices Samuel Henry Welch, J. Elizabeth Kellum, Liles C. Burke and J. Michael Joiner continue to refuse to carry out their sworn duty by letting Hubbard’s appeal languish in a legal limbo because they lack the political courage to act.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” is most commonly attributed to former British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone. The idea is that if legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no remedy at all.

Hubbard’s crimes were against the citizens of the state, not the Ethics Commission, Attorney General’s Office or some arbitrary third part; he committed acts that harmed the state, therefore his crimes injured the people.

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Why Justices Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner choose to rob the state’s citizens of their right to justice is beyond comprehension unless it’s viewed through a very narrow lens of self-serving political interests.

Hubbard’s appeal is thought to be in the hands of Justice Welch. He was elected to the court on Nov. 7, 2006, and his current term expires on Jan. 13, 2019. Is Welch a lame duck justice who is biding his time to hand the case over to someone else to avoid offending the moneyed and political class still pushing for Hubbard’s acquittal?

Justice Burke is expected to receive a federal judgeship, but how can the U.S. Senate approve the appointment of a man who lacks the leadership to guide his fellow judges to a conclusion in the Hubbard case? Burke says it’s not his case, but is he incapable of motivating his colleagues to complete the court’s business?

Court spokesperson Micheal Scott continues to say the court is working on the matter, but just how much time must pass before the people lose confidence in the process?

Yes, Hubbard’s attorney’s filed numerous motions, and it was a lengthy trial, but as several legal minds have noted – Hubbard’s appeal has gone far beyond any reasonable time for a ruling to have been handed down by the court.

Well into the second year of Hubbard’s appeal on 12 felony counts of violating the state Ethics Act, and Welch, Kellum, Burke and Joiner deny the people justice.

The only conclusion that makes any sense is that the Court of Criminal Appeals is waiting for a politically convenient moment to set Hubbard free.

And then, once again, the courts of Alabama deny the people justice.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Civil trial will spotlight Bentley’s shame

Bill Britt

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To date, the state has spent at least an estimated $300,000.00 defending former Gov. Robert Bentley, and the meter is still running on the legal tab in the wrongful termination civil suit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier. There are currently three lawsuits in which Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration is defending Bentley.

In campaign commercials, Gov. Ivey claims she cleaned up Bentley’s mess, but still her administration continues to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect him. Far from putting an end to Bentley’s shameful chapter in state history, the Ivey administration’s lawyers are fighting to preserve Bentley’s image while denying Collier the compensation he deserves.

If Collier’s lawsuit goes to court, the state will not only suffer a humiliating defeat, but Bentley’s abuse of power, his sordid acts of moral turpitude and his arrogance in the face of facts will once again dominate headlines across the state and nation.

Imagine how Bentley’s tale of how he became involved with married aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason will play with a jury and late night talkshow hosts.

“I recognized in Rebekah things that I couldn’t find in Montgomery… Rebekah was one that I could trust; I could totally trust her. I could tell her things that I could not tell anybody else,” recalled Bentley under oath. “So because of the development of the friendship, and I felt safe with her, I felt comfortable with her when we would be together and talk; and, you know, with the closeness that developed, an affection
developed.” Bentley goes on and on, “I may still have not seen her but two or three times a week; but when she would come, you know, she would come. I would embrace her; I would kiss her because we really cared about each other.”

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According to Bentley, they still enjoy a special non-sexual love affair while she works for him at his Tuscaloosa clinic where he pays Mason $5,000.00 a month as office manager. Mason is also the beneficiary on his life insurance policy.

Collier’s case revolves around his claim of unlawful termination. Collier was fired from his position at ALEA after he refused Bentley’s order to lie in an affidavit to the court in former House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s trial. After his firing, Bentley’s paramour, Mason and Collier’s replacement, Stan Stabler, launched a smear campaign against him that, with the Ivey administration’s assistance, still exists today.

In a nearly six-hour deposition, Bentley admits to most of the allegations brought by Collier, except he blames Stabler for the dirty deeds.

Along the way, the Ivey administration’s lawyers have sought to smear Collier’s reputation, belittle him in a continuation of Bentley’s terrible legacy of abuse.

Anyone with half a brain realizes that Bentley fired Collier for doing his job. Anyone with half a heart knows what Bentley did was wrong and Collier should be compensated.

Now, why the Ivey administration can’t understand this is beyond comprehension.

Perhaps Gov. Ivey should watch Bentley’s deposition. She’ll be embarrassed, but that’s what’s coming to a courtroom and late night TV shows should the Collier case go to trial.

 

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BCA’s Canary linked to lobbying firm partnership

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