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Opinion | Alabama politicians aren’t even trying to hide the corruption anymore

Josh Moon

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Gov. Robert Bentley shakes hands with new Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, after signing his appointment letter at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. (Governor's Office/Jamie Martin)

The corruption within Alabama’s state government doesn’t surprise me anymore.

The brazenness of that corruption does.

Seriously, these people aren’t even hiding it anymore.

Former Republican majority leader Micky Hammon, before being busted, convicted and shipped off to federal prison, actually told a reporter about his illegal deal with a health care company.

Former Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard was scheduling official meetings and whining in emails about the ethics laws — the laws he helped pass — before he was busted.

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Former Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and former Republican Attorney General Luther Strange stood in front of a room full of reporters and tried to pretend that Bentley wasn’t under investigation by Strange’s office, even after Strange wrote a letter all but saying he was. And he was.

I mean, maybe there’s an argument to be made that our people are more stupid than brazen, and they’re simply too ignorant to recognize that we all see what they’re doing. But that’s not a lot of comfort.

Because we seem to have reached a point in this state where corruption and shadiness is the norm.

We simply expect the crooked deals and underhanded payoffs and backroom politics. So much so that our politicians aren’t really hiding it anymore.

Perfect example: Steve Marshall.

Take a quick look through our interim AG’s campaign finance records sometime. And prepare to be amazed.

Not necessarily at the amount of the donations, although that figure, at well over $1 million raised so far — for a gig that pays $168,000 annually — should be scandal enough. But look at who’s giving.

On Feb. 26, a $2,500 donation came in from the Riley and Jackson law firm. That’s the firm of former Gov. Bob Riley’s son, Rob Riley. That firm also shares office space with Bob Riley’s consulting firm.

But more importantly to Steve Marshall, and the attorneys working for him at the AG’s public corruption unit, Rob Riley is currently representing Mike Hubbard in his appeal against a case brought by that aforementioned AG’s public corruption unit.

So the current AG is taking in donations from the attorneys of a convicted felon who was one of the most powerful men in the state.

Swell.

But in Marshall’s case, not at all out of the ordinary.

Because Marshall has indirectly hauled in tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Jimmy Rane and Will Brooke — two wealthy and prominent business owners, and major political donors, who were caught up in the Hubbard conviction.

And here’s the fun backstory there: Rane and Brooke could technically still be indicted for their roles in giving Hubbard money. Of the 12 felony counts against Hubbard, two involved in Rane and Brooke. And with a grand jury still empaneled in Lee County …

But no biggie to Marshall. He’ll take their cash.

And why not? In fairness to him, now that HB317 — a bill that altered the definitions of who is deemed a lobbyist under Alabama law — has passed and is awaiting the governor’s signature, it’s not clear how Rane and Brooke would now be defined under the law.

Yeah, sure, he took in most of the cash before this bill was even introduced. And yes, if you want to get all nitpicky, he was out there publicly pushing for the passage of this bill. (Really, sarcasm on pause for a minute, when’s the last time you remember an attorney general pushing for major exceptions to the ethics laws, particularly those that define who is and isn’t a lobbyist?)

But then, it’s not like he’s the top law enforcement official in the state or something.

I mean, is there anything that defines Alabama politics better than the state’s top law enforcement official accepting campaign donations from an indicted felon’s attorneys during the appeals process and from two subjects in an ongoing investigation being conducted by his office?

And doing all of it right out in the open for everyone to see.

Maybe it’s just what we’ve come to expect, and accept, in this state.

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Opinion | Trump’s con game is almost over

Josh Moon

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It’s all true.

All of the rumors. All of the speculation. All of the oh-my-God-have-you-heard-about whispers.

All of it is true.

All of the things that Donald Trump and his administration and family have been accused of doing … they actually did them. All of them.

Even the really dumb ones.

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Even the really awful ones.

They did it all.

Oh, listen, I know that the typical Alabama conservative voter has zero idea what I’m talking about right now, because they have so fully wrapped themselves in the protective bubble of conservative opinion sources that they’re still talking about the Clinton Foundation. But I don’t care.

Because this isn’t speculation. Or partisan hopefulness. Or ignorant accusations.

This is under oath.

And right now, after the last two weeks, here’s what people under oath, facing the penalty of perjury and providing supporting evidence and documentation, have said about the conman you people elected president: He has lied repeatedly. He has directed illegal payments. He has sought to cover up affairs. He has bought off a tabloid. At least 14 members of senior campaign staff were in contact with Russians. And Trump — or “Individual 1,” as he’s known in court filings these days — was involved in it all.

Trump’s personal attorney has now been convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for a crime personally directed by the president.

That makes five — FIVE! — of Trump’s top aides or attorneys who have struck deals with Robert Mueller and are now working with the broad investigation into possible (certain) Russian interference and collusion.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Trump’s personal businesses are also under federal investigation. His campaign staff’s use of funds is now under federal investigation. And most of his immediate family is under investigation.

And absolutely none of this should be a surprise to anyone.

Because all of you should have known well before this clown was elected president that he is nothing more than a two-bit conman with an ego large enough to fill a stadium and less shame than a 90-year-old stripper.

You should know because we told you. We, the media. The actual media.

We wrote story after story on this crook and his shady business dealings — how he rarely paid his bills, how he left working men holding the bill, how he created a scam college to bilk poor people out of money, how he skirted laws and tax codes constantly and how he gamed the system over and over again to stay wealthy using taxpayer money.

All of it was right there for anyone to read.

But a good portion of this country didn’t care. They were too caught up in this buffoon making jokes and calling people names and kicking people out of rallies and saying offensive things. He catered to white men and claimed he could fix any problem just by saying he could fix any problem.

And they bought it. Just like the conman planned. You didn’t even make this dude show you his tax returns!

And the white, working-class folks are still buying it. Which would make sense if he had done even one thing to help them.

But he hasn’t.

His economic policies have been a disaster, especially for the people of Alabama. And his tough talk has produced zilch in the way of foreign respect, better trade deals, lower prices for consumers or more American jobs. In fact, we’ve lost respect, have worse deals and higher prices and companies are still moving American jobs to other countries.

And yet, the supporters remain.

I don’t understand it. But you know what? I don’t have to understand it for much longer.

The walls are quickly closing around the conman president. Soon, the rest of Mueller’s investigation will drop, and the indictments will roll out. The full breadth of the Trump administration’s illegal acts will be laid out for Congress to see. Given what we already know from the few filings that have been made public, this will not go well for Trump and his closest associates.

I do not expect the Trump supporters to ever admit they were wrong.

But if there is justice in this world, and if the indictments break just right, those supporters will have to deal — at least for a brief period — with the two words that could make this whole thing almost worth it.

President Pelosi.

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Corruption

Opinion | Want to fight public corruption? Start with the Alabama Ethics Commission

Josh Moon

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What can I do?

That question has come to me more than a few times since I wrote Monday that the last line of defense between the public and political corruption are the people — an informed, active, engaged people.

To be fair, it’s awful easy to sit behind a keyboard and say everyone should get involved in government and be watchdogs, and it’s a whole other thing to actually go and do it.

So, I’m going to give you a suggestion here. I’m going to recommend a good starting place, a way to flex your watchdog muscles.

The Alabama Ethics Commission.

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That’s the five-member commission that is supposed to hold politicians and public servants accountable, that’s supposed to uphold the state’s ethics laws and investigate violations.

But more than a few times, the Alabama Ethics Commission has served as a safety net for crooks and given soft landings to public officeholders who should have fallen hard.

The reason the Commission is able to get away with things like not upholding campaign finance reporting fines is because you — the general public — usually isn’t paying attention. And I get why.

The meetings are boring and filled with complex and complicated arguments. And right in the middle of every meeting is a looooooong executive session, which sometimes stretches on most of the day. It’s hard to find agendas prior to meetings, and even if you do, the specifics of what’s taking place aren’t usually included.

That said, your attention to what happens at these meetings is vitally important. Remember, this is the same group that started the ax falling on Robert Bentley.

And as luck would have it, we know of something that’s supposed to be happening at a meeting in the near future, most likely at the Dec. 19 meeting.

The Commission will be asked to rule on Attorney General Steve Marshall’s accepting more than $730,000 in questionable campaign donations.

Now, I’m not telling you what to believe on this. Although, I’ll gladly tell you that I think the donations Marshall accepted clearly violate Alabama law and that the Commission should find him guilty of ethics violations and send the case to the Montgomery district attorney’s office for prosecution.

But you make up your own mind, and no matter what you end up believing, contact the Alabama Ethics Commission and let the commissioners and staff know that you’ll be paying attention.

Here are the facts of the case:

Alabama has a ban on multiple political action committees transferring funds between them and then donating that money to a candidate. The reason for this ban is simple: those transfers mask the original source of the funds, leaving it impossible for regular folks to determine who’s paying to influence their government.

As Steve Marshall argued in a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, the ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers is the only thing standing between the citizens and a quid pro quo government.

There is no corresponding federal law, meaning federal PACs are free to participate in the transfers. The Republican Attorneys General Association PAC participates in such transfers, and it has long used those tactics to hide the source of funds going to GOP candidates.

RAGA made five donations to Marshall totaling $735,000, and it used funds that had been part of PAC-to-PAC transfers.

While Alabama law does not trump federal law, there are specific guidelines within the Alabama ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers that make it clear that the responsibility of following the law is the candidate’s. For example, the law says it applies to both state and federal PACs and it provides a remedy for the candidate if he or she accepts PAC-to-PAC money.

That remedy gives the candidate 10 days to return the funds. If he or she doesn’t, each instance is a crime and accepting multiple donations in violation of the law rises to a felony.

Those are the facts.

It’s unclear what the Ethics Commission plans to do about all of this, but given the fact that it let this matter — which was filed back in the summer — go unaddressed until after the election gives me a good idea.

But what should be made clear to the commissioners — chairman Jerry Fielding, Charles Price, Butch Ellis, John Plunk and Beverlye Brady — is that you’re watching them. You’re paying attention to what they do and that you expect the right thing to be done.  

Call 334-242-2997 and ask to speak with Fielding. He’s the chairman. Or you can email the Commission at [email protected].

That number is the main line for the Commission and the email is the general office email. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that there are no individual phone numbers or email contacts for them. Corruption grows best in a dark, quiet hole.

They’re counting on you not paying attention.

 

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Corruption

Opinion | The fight against public corruption isn’t lost yet

Josh Moon

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This will likely not surprise you: I get a lot of correspondence.

Emails. Twitter direct messages. Facebook messages. Text messages.

Every day. All day long. They come rolling in, usually from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written or has taken issue with something I said on TV or who wants to say something bad about my mama.

At this point, there’s very little contained in a letter or message to me that would surprise me.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought until the last couple of weeks.

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When the Matt Hart letters started rolling in.

If you don’t know by now, Hart is the recently fired head of the Alabama Attorney General’s special prosecutions office — the team that prosecutes political corruption. If that seems like it should be a relatively obscure position, well, it should.

Except for a couple of things: 1. We have a ton of political corruption in Alabama, and 2. Hart went after all of the crooks, regardless of party or political influence.

For those reasons, I guess, people in this state paid attention to the guy who was doing the prosecuting. And right now, I feel safe in saying that no one topic has prompted more messages than Hart’s firing by AG Steve Marshall a couple of weeks ago.

Those messages generally fall into two categories: 1. “I’m mad as hell!,” or 2. “What are we gonna do now?”

If you’ve written me one of these letters and not received a reply, consider this your answer.

I get it, and I don’t know.

The fact is Hart’s ouster, which comes a year after his top deputy — AG candidate Alice Martin — also resigned, is a significant blow.

Hart and Martin are a sort of white-collar-crime-fighting duo, beginning with their days in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama. As al.com’s Kyle Whitmire pointed out recently, prosecutions of political corruption spiked in that office while Hart and Martin were on the job.

Then those prosecutions spiked at the AG’s office when Hart landed there.

At the federal level, Hart was chasing primarily Democrats. At the state level, after the GOP takeover, it was Republicans.

Because corruption doesn’t vote straight ticket, even if you do.

But now, we’re in trouble.

Taking Hart’s spot is a prosecutor who has never tried a public corruption case and who has spent her life in and around state politics and defense attorneys. Maybe Clark Morris will be a fantastic prosecutor and turn this state upside down rooting out public corruption — I truly hope that’s the case and I’ll be happy to write about it if so — but I have my doubts that she’ll be half as dogged as Hart has been.

And so, I guess that leaves the business of exposing and stopping public corruption to just one person: You.

That’s right, you. And me. And all of the good people who live in this state who are sick of crooks and political welfare and good ol’ boys and smoky back rooms and brother-in-law deals and pay-to-play scams.

You all care about this stuff. I have your letters to prove it.

So, it’s time to take some action. To pay attention to what’s going on. To show up at board meetings and council work sessions and county commission meetings and state legislature committee hearings. It’s time to start asking questions and making phone calls and writing letters.

If you need help, I guarantee you that we at APR will help all we can. And I’m certain other media outlets will help, too. Whether it be with making sure you know when and where to go for meetings or helping expose the corruption or illegal behavior you find.

Our system of government was set up from top to bottom to represent everyday people, and it is designed — in most cases by law — to give the people it represents a voice.

Look, I know you’re busy. I know you have lives and jobs and kids and the dog isn’t going to drive itself to the vet, but this is important too. In fact, it might be the most important thing, because it literally encompasses almost all of your life — from the taxes and fees and costs you pay every day to the quality of your kids’ schools to the success of the company you work for to the 401k you’re relying on.

It matters.

And it’s up to you to make sure the crooks don’t win.

 

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Opinion | The Hoover situation gets stranger every day

Josh Moon

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What’s happening in Hoover makes no sense.

Every day, there’s another report that’s stranger than the last report. Every day, someone says something that they have to almost immediately correct. Every day, there is some action taken by city leaders or Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials that makes it seem as though they actually want bigger and more frequent protests.

We’re now two full weeks past the shooting of E.J. Bradford in the Galleria.

For those who need a quick recap: Bradford was in the mall when a fight broke out and shots were fired, striking two people. There are conflicting reports saying he might/might not have been friends with one of the participants in the fight, but regardless, no one now believes that he was involved. When the shooting started, Bradford apparently headed for the door and was helping others, while at the same time carrying his firearm, which was legally purchased according to his family’s attorney. An on-duty Hoover police officer mistook him for the shooter and shot Bradford. According to a private autopsy paid for by his family’s attorneys, Bradford was shot three times in the back.

It’s a truly awful situation. That has been handled in the most awful way possible.

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Initial press releases from Hoover labeled Bradford, although not by name, as the shooter. When that was obviously wrong, the city decided to say he was involved in the altercation that led to the shooting. That, too, was wrong, so a third swing at it just made him out to be a crazy person waving a gun around — which also had to later be corrected.

As you might imagine, Bradford’s family and the local black community — sensing a city coverup of a white cop shooting an innocent black man — were pretty angry about all of that.

And things haven’t improved much.

City and police officials eventually went to the Bradford family to apologize. But promises to be more open with the investigation and share video from that night have fallen flat. Mostly because ALEA has stood in the way, claiming the release of any info would hurt the ongoing investigation.

And so, now Hoover has a roving band of protesters that shows up at random places, blocking traffic, stopping businesses from operating and generally causing havoc throughout the city. Because they want answers about what happened that night.

And you know what? That’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, we should have some answers. No, not a completed investigation, and nothing that would jeopardize the overall investigation, but something.

Like that video.

Why can’t the video be made public? Hoover city officials certainly wanted to show it, before ALEA stepped in. It didn’t jeopardize the investigation to allow literally dozens of people, including the attorneys for the Bradford family — al.com reported on Thursday evening — to watch that video.

So, why can’t everyone else watch the thing and see what happened?

It’s a video. Watching it won’t change it. Nor will it change the other facts and other evidence.

Because the silence here isn’t helping. The protests are growing larger and they’re getting more hostile. There’s a serious threat of protests at schools now, which will really elevate the anger.

And things are going to continue to trend ugly. Because the facts in front of the protesters are very ugly.

They know video exists. They know Bradford was shot in the back three times. They know Bradford was wrongly accused by the city and PD after he was dead. And they know there’s been enough time and enough evidence for police to ID the real shooter, find him in Georgia and bring him back.

That’s a lot of one-sided info.

There’s no reason for this to continue on without any answers for the family and community.

That it does is truly mind boggling.

 

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Opinion | Alabama politicians aren’t even trying to hide the corruption anymore

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