Connect with us

Josh Moon

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

Josh Moon

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

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.

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Alabama: The confused state

Josh Moon

Published

on

Alabama is a confusing state.

A state that prides itself on its hardworking, blue-collar image but somehow turned out overwhelmingly to vote for the (alleged) billionaire, reality TV star for president was just as bi-polar during Tuesday’s primary runoff election.

On one hand, voters seemed to want to rid themselves of long-serving, stagnant politicians, rejecting Democrats Alvin Holmes, John Knight and Johnny Ford and Republicans Twinkle Cavanaugh and Gerald Dial. They seemed to be saying that they wanted ethics and term limits and candidates that were more responsive and energetic.

But on the other hand, still standing at the end of the night were Steve Marshall, Martha Roby and Larry Stutts. So, voters were also saying they were cool with a complete lack of ethics, a complete disregard for constituents and a completely awful human.

Maybe this is why pre-election polling in Alabama is always so screwed up. How can a pollster figure out what you people want when even you don’t know?

Advertisement

So, let’s try to dissect this a bit and come up with a few answers. 

Let’s start with the Democrats, because they’re easier to understand.

Holmes and Knight, with a combined 70 years of experience serving in the Alabama House, lost to two dudes who have combined to serve for exactly zero years in any state office. David Burkette, who beat Knight for what seemed like the 50th time in the past year, has served as a city councilman in Montgomery, but that’s the extent of their political experience. Kirk Hatcher, who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup with The Beatles, has zero political experience.

All of this fits with a recent trend in the Democratic Party to push for candidates who relate better to real, everyday people. They believe the old-school guys, particularly the multi-term lawmakers, are out of touch with the real people they serve and are selling them out.

And those voters are right.

For example, while I’ll happily vote for Chuck Schumer over pretty much any dollar-seeking, Bible-thumping Republican, I’d sure like to have an option that isn’t sitting right in the middle of the big banks’ pockets.

And so, the Dems have decided to clean house wherever it’s possible.

It was possible in Montgomery.

Republicans, however, are a different story, which is usually the case. Because while certain factions of the GOP love to play up this alleged independent streak they claim to have, at the end of the day, it’s hard for them to turn their backs on the guy they came in with.

They get trapped by the lights and sparkle of the incumbent’s deep pockets.

Or at least they used to.

Before Twinkle turned dull and Dial time ran out.

In those races, Republicans voted against the lifelong politicians, putting Will Ainsworth and Rick Pate, respectively, into office.

Ainsworth’s win was particularly satisfying, yet also so confusing. He’s a pro-ethics, pro-term limits guy who once stood up to Mike Hubbard and told him he needed to go.

How do you vote for a guy like Ainsworth and then also vote for Steve Marshall? Or Larry Stutts?

Marshall, in particular, has governed pretty much the opposite of Ainsworth and former AG candidate Alice Martin, who picked up nearly a third of the votes in the primary. Marshall’s not chasing crime and corruption. His major accomplishments have been weakening the state’s ethics laws  — a move the business community rewarded him for — and pushing back against the law that outlaws political action committee (PAC)-to-PAC transfers.

Marshall is OK with such transfers now that he’s raking in millions from PACs doing exactly what is outlawed.

Speaking of outlaws, I’m not sure how Stutts is even on the ballot, much less still winning GOP elections. He has been nothing but an embarrassment, selling out women and children and selling out everyone else fairly routinely.

And yet, he won.

I just don’t get it. At the end of these elections, there’s supposed to be a pattern. We’re supposed to be able to look at who won and who lost and tell people what it all means. That voters were tired of this, or happy about that, or that they want a certain type of candidate.

Not in Alabama.

We apparently do things a bit different here.

 

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | The anti-American American president

Josh Moon

Published

on

The American president has refused to defend America.

That is, as far as I can tell, an unprecedented development in American history. Even when delusional conservatives were railing on and on about President Obama, they usually stopped short of seriously complaining that he had sold out the country in deference to a hostile foreign nation.

Because it’s an act so astonishing, so unprecedented that it’s hard to seriously fathom.

And yet, on Monday, there was Trump, standing alongside Vladimir Putin — a man whose 12 military officers were indicted by the American Department of Justice just 72 hours ago for hacking an American election — at a press conference. That brings the total number of Russian citizens indicted by Robert Mueller and his team to 25.

(Or, it did until no. 26 was indicted later on Monday — a woman with deep ties to top GOP brass and a prominent member of the NRA.)

Advertisement

None of that stopped Trump from meeting with Putin. And it didn’t stop the two from presenting a cozy relationship.

And it didn’t stop the American president from proclaiming that the relationship with Russia — strained for the past four years, he said — got “a lot better about four hours ago.” And it didn’t stop the American president from saying during a press conference on foreign soil, standing side by side with a foreign adversary — a murderous thug who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of his own people — that he had as much faith in the adversary’s words as he does in the American intelligence agencies’ investigation and his own DOJ’s indictment.

It was an utterly deplorable scene.

And one that Republican voters appear too ignorant to understand.

Let me be clear: That is not an assessment of Republicans’ intelligence. It is an assessment of Republicans’ sources of information.

Those sources have left them ignorant of basic facts and completely lost when it comes to details that should be widely known and accepted facts by now.

How badly misled are GOP voters?

Consider this: On Monday — again, just 72 hours after the DOJ announced the hacking indictments — a candidate for Alabama Attorney General, Troy King, a former attorney general in the state, invited and advertised that Trump advisor Roger Stone would be in Alabama to endorse King.

Stone was in Alabama because King’s campaign has taken the temperature of the Alabama GOP voters and determined that such an endorsement would aid King.

This is the same Roger Stone who exchanged messages with one of the most prominent Russian hackers in an attempt to obtain the hacked information. While he wasn’t named in Friday’s indictment, he was all-but-named in Friday’s indictment, as a person “in regular contact with the Trump campaign.”

It is widely believed that charges against Stone are forthcoming. Stone’s finances have already been investigated by Mueller’s team and Stone is on record saying he expects to be indicted.

But somehow, Alabama GOP voters see the guy as a trustworthy source of political advice.

There’s only one possibility for how that can be: Those voters are ignorant of Stone’s transgressions and of the seriousness of the Russian interference in our elections.

Republicans have encapsulated themselves in a bubble. And the only thing that is allowed into that bubble are sources that confirm their already held beliefs. Anything that deviates from those beliefs even slightly — no matter how grounded in reality that information might be — is dismissed as “lib’rul fake news.”

Except … it’s not.

What happened on Monday between Trump and Putin wasn’t fake. The astonishing sellout of this country by its president wasn’t just another of ol’ Trump being Trump.

It was dangerously close to treason — close enough that all of us should be concerned about just why the American president seems to be so beholden to a dictator.

And it’s close enough that a whole bunch of flag-waving, America-first GOP voters should start to wonder why they’re constantly being duped by their chosen leaders.

Seriously, doesn’t ever get old, being embarrassed time and again?

Like, when it turned out that Obama wasn’t behind Benghazi, didn’t you regret the outrage and idiotic Facebook posts. Or when you learned that Hillary Clinton didn’t really sell uranium to Russia, weren’t you red-faced over the way you behaved at Thanksgiving dinner?

All along, us sane people have tried to convey to you that your continued shunning of legitimate news sources could become detrimental to the country.

And now, here we are.

An American president is actively “paling around” with dictators, selling out American law enforcement and lifelong patriots and undermining the American government for personal gain, and you’re making excuses. You’re parroting the orange buffoon and calling it all one grand witch hunt.

You’re helping the witches.

Continue Reading

Josh Moon

Did Steve Marshall violate campaign finance laws?

Josh Moon

Published

on

Let’s chat about campaign finance laws.

Oh, believe me, I know that sentence ranks right up there with “Hey, watch this video of my kid singing” and “Let’s watch two soccer teams not score for an undetermined amount of time.”

But give me a minute, if you would, because I’m going to do something few people ever do: I’m going to at least attempt to make a few specific campaign finance laws easy to understand and relatable.

We’re going to start here: Attorney General Steve Marshall’s allegedly illegal campaign contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA).

This is the thing that Troy King, Marshall’s opponent in next Tuesday’s runoff election, keeps prattling on and on about. King held a press conference in Huntsville on Tuesday to blast Marshall again, claiming that the more than $700,000 he’s taken in from RAGA in this election has been illegal donations.

Advertisement

The reason King believes this is where things usually get complicated, regular folks’ eyes glaze over and we all find a ballgame to watch to forget it all.

But hear me out.

King claims these donations violate a rule in Alabama law that prohibits one Political Action Committee (PAC) from donating to another PAC in an effort to obscure the original source of funds.

Let’s not get all caught up in precise definitions. Just know that a PAC is a group of like-minded individuals — Republican AGs or Republican governors or construction companies or any group of two or more people — who form this PAC in order to donate money to their preferred candidates.

Why would they do this?

Easy: Politics is a slimy business and sometimes candidates want to have a level of deniability when it comes to donations.

For example, let’s say you’re an anti-gambling politician in Alabama, but boy, do you ever want to get your hands on that sweet, sweet Indian casino cash. Solution: You have the Indian casinos donate money to a PAC, mix their money with other money donated by not-Indian casinos, and tah-dah, there’s a bit of deniability there.

While these PACs do have to disclose their donors, they don’t have to disclose where each donor’s contributed money went.

And if you have one PAC donating to another PAC things can’t get particularly confusing. Which flies in the face of the goal: To ensure the voting public has some idea who is influencing elections in the state.

So, did Marshall violate the law?

That’s a tricky question, but what’s stone cold for certain is this: He violated the spirit of the law.

Because there’s also no doubt that the RAGA PAC, before donating that $700,000-plus to Marshall, accepted transfers from other PACs.

Marshall’s camp is hanging its hat on alleged advice it received from the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, which says the state has no authority to force federal PACs located outside of the state to register in Alabama, or follow Alabama laws.

Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton, however, had a very different view when he answered that question in June from al.com, saying that he had informed other campaigns that similar donations would not be legal. (Albritton wouldn’t discuss his statement on Tuesday, saying that because King has filed an ethics complaint against Marshall, it would be improper for him to discuss a pending case.)

But he hasn’t retracted his previous advice, and there’s one reason why. In the 2010 law that created the PAC-to-PAC ban, it states the law applies to both in-state and out-of-state PACs.

That sure looks like an illegal donation.

But here’s the thing. Even if there’s a way to technically dodge a campaign finance law violation for this, Marshall can’t dodge the fact that he’s violating the hell out of the spirit of the law and trying to hide from voters who’s dumping huge buckets of cash into his campaign.

Unfortunately for Marshall, if you have enough time and know-how, you can dig through the RAGA contributions and expenditures and figure out where large chunks of money came from. And once you do, it’s easy to see why he wouldn’t want those donations disclosed.

For example, if one of your major talking points is your fight against opioids, you probably wouldn’t want it known that major drug companies — some of which have been sued by other states for their roles in the opioid epidemic — dumped more than $200,000 into RAGA in the first quarter of 2018 alone.

One of the biggest contributors, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which dumped $100,000 into RAGA earlier this year, was found by the DEA to have supplied 66 percent of the oxycodone sold in Florida in 2016.

It also wouldn’t be too swell for voters to learn that the guy who was taking on gambling operations in Alabama a few months ago was accepting money from a PAC funded by Las Vegas casino owners, Caesars Entertainment and the lobbying firm that represents the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi.
This is why campaign finance laws — as boring as they might be — are vitally important to keeping elections open and giving the voting public a window into who is supporting each candidate. Because that support often says a whole lot about the candidate.

That the AG would be so willing to violate the spirit of that law seems like something you should pay attention to.

 

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

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

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
0