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Ainsworth blasts Twinkle in lieutenant governor race, lays out his plan for the office

Josh Moon

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Will Ainsworth, a state representative, speaks at a committtee meeting during the 2018 Legislative Session about his bill that would arm teachers. Ainsworth is currently in a race for lieutnant governor. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Career politician vs. successful businessman.

That’s the way Will Ainsworth sees his Republican primary race for lieutenant governor. He, of course, is the successful businessman, having founded Dream Ranch and the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Expo, and his opponent, Twinkle Cavanaugh, is the “swampy” career politician.

“You can’t get more swamp than my opponent in this race,” Ainsworth said during an interview with the Alabama Political Reporter on Wednesday. “She’s spent her entire life living off the taxpayers, bouncing from one state job to another. While I’ve been running successful businesses and putting people to work. That’s the difference between us, and I hope people will just look into our backgrounds a bit before making a decision.”

Ainsworth’s background reads like the wish list for a conservative politician’s bio: raised in Boaz to a businessman dad and mom who’s the director of the local Crisis Pregnancy Center; he’s a former youth pastor, Auburn grad, started a couple of successful businesses with his brother, wife and three cute kids.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life, and I know it, and I want to share some of that,” Ainsworth said. “I want to make the state better, to do what I can to help. This isn’t about earning a living or taking from the taxpayers. It’s about doing what I can to leave a better Alabama for my kids.”

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To do that, he has a three-step plan for his time as lieutenant governor — a position Ainsworth acknowledges carries little real authority under current Alabama law. Just the same, Ainsworth said he believes the position — the only statewide elected official in the Alabama Legislature — can influence positive change.

And in that regard, he said he plans to focus on shaping a positive conversation among lawmakers, improving education and sharpening the state’s workforce development.

“I’m tired of Alabama government being an embarrassment to the Alabama people,” Ainsworth said. “I want to be part of changing that image.”

Ainsworth also noted that, unlike Cavanaugh, his children attend public schools, and he has ideas for improving public schools all over the state. That plan starts with expanding pre-k options and providing all school systems with the opportunity to participate.

“My wife is a former pre-k teacher, so I have some experience with seeing the benefits of that program up close,” Ainsworth said. “When I was running for the House, I went and sat down with many of the public school teachers in my district. I took their recommendations to heart.”

On the workforce development front, Ainsworth said he simply wants to be a facilitator — bringing people from all sides together to make sure we’re getting Alabama citizens into Alabama jobs.

“I want to be that voice, that person who can bring everyone to the table and make things happen,” he said.

Ainsworth also said he wants to continue the push in economic development to see more accountability. And he wants to see more focus on existing businesses expanding, which he said was the biggest jobs producer.

But mostly, he wants Alabama voters to know that he plans to work as lieutenant governor, unlike Cavanaugh.

“When she talks about improving education and creating jobs, it’s such a joke, because she has no idea how to do any of that,” Ainsworth said of Cavanaugh. “She’s never done it. She is a professional politician. She says these things because they sound good — that’s something a politician does.”

Ainsworth said he’s grown tired of politicians, like Cavanaugh, spending their entire lives in government, which is why he introduced a bill last session to put term limits on all public offices. He also said he’s been a staunch advocate for tougher ethics laws, and he was an original sponsor on a bill that prohibited lawmakers from jumping immediately from their office to working as lobbyists.

“That’s profiting from your office, as far as I’m concerned,” Ainsworth said. “My opponent certainly did that. She went right from being a public official to working as a lobbyist.”

In the early 2000s, Cavanaugh left a position with then-Gov. Bob Riley to become a lobbyist for a firm in Mississippi that represented Mississippi Choctaw Indian casinos. At the same time, Cavanaugh was serving as the executive director of the Alabama GOP.

But it didn’t stop there. After an unsuccessful run for the Alabama Public Service Commission, Cavanaugh was hired by Riley to work in his finance department. What experience Cavanaugh had working in finance is unclear — she has a degree from Auburn in biology and had never worked in finance. Additionally, Cavanaugh’s hire came during a statewide hiring freeze.

“How is any of that serving the public?” Ainsworth said. “That’s what’s wrong with politics today. Everyone is in it for themselves. But I’m not. I just hope the voters of this state will take a hard look at both of us and then make up their minds. There’s a pretty clear difference.”

 

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Ivey appoints Kelly Butler acting director of finance

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Governor Kay Ivey (R) announced that she has named Kelly Butler as Acting Director of the Alabama Department of Finance.

“Kelly Butler has more than two decades of experience working with the state’s budgets and more than three decades experience as a fiscal analyst,” Gov. Ivey said. “I know he will do an excellent job leading the Alabama Department of Finance during this interim period. I appreciate him stepping up as acting director and his commitment to my administration.”

Butler went to work with the Alabama Department of Revenue more than thirty years ago. He later worked for the Legislative Fiscal Office before joining the Alabama Department of Finance as Assistant State Budget Officer in 2012. Since that time, Butler most recently as Assistant Finance Director for Fiscal Operations.

As Assistant Finance Director, Butler oversees the State Comptroller’s Office, the State Purchasing Division, the State Debt Management Division, and the State Business Systems Division.

“I am honored that Governor Ivey has asked me to lead the Department of Finance,” Butler said. “The department has many talented employees who work hard to provide excellent services to other state agencies and to the people of Alabama. I look forward to working with them to continue those excellent services.”

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Butler’s appointment will be effective today, August 15, 2018. Former Director of Finance Clinton Carter has left to accept a position with the University of North Carolina system.

In addition to his new duties, Butler will continue his work on building the governor’s budget proposals leading up to the 2019 Legislative Session. Butler will serve in this position until a thorough search for a permanent Finance Director can be conducted.

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Ivey visits Mobile for opening of newest Walmart distribution center

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) was in Mobile County for the opening of a new Wal-Mart Distribution Center.

“Excited to be in Mobile Co. for the grand opening of @Walmart’s newest distribution center,” Ivey said on Twitter. “Walmart invested $135 million to build this facility, creating 750 jobs! I know that these folks will play a major role in fulfilling Mr. Sam Walton’s vision to serve the customer.”

Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Distribution centers, one of the State of Alabama’s foundational business targets, provide products and services that support a myriad of industries within our state. The Walmart Distribution Center in Irvington, one of six distribution centers in the United States, will be a significant addition to the estimated $22.4 billion economic impact generated last year by the Alabama State Port Authority.”

Nicole Jones explained to APR, “At last week’s economic development conference hosted by the EDAA, Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons shared with us that empty shipping containers are a much-needed commodity in Alabama. When fully operational, Walmart will carry in approximately 50,000 containers per year, which will thus create a surplus of empty cargo containers that exporters can use (and therefore reduce their costs). As a result, Alabama’s port will retain business that would otherwise divert to alternate ports due to a lack of containers. Keeping more business at home – this great news for Mobile County, The Port, and our entire state.”

The new Distribution Center will be 60 acres under one roof.

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“Mobile’s Walmart Distribution Center is officially open for business!” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said on Facebook. “They have already hired 575 people with plans to be at 750 once fully operational. Fun fact: this 2.6 million square ft facility can fit 30 USS Alabama ships.”

“Walmart proves to be a great corporate partner to the state of Alabama, year after year, by investing in its stores, its employees and the surrounding community,” Gov. Ivey said. “Their commitment cannot be better proven than by the opening of this new Distribution Center, which, when fully operational, will provide approximately 750 quality jobs in the Mobile area. We are grateful to Walmart for supporting the economic health of the Port City, and for the large role they play in propelling our great state forward.”

The new distribution center will supply 700 Wal-Mart stores.

“We are excited about how this facility will help us better serve our customers across the South and beyond, while creating a positive economic impact locally through job creation and future development,” said Jeff Breazeale, Walmart Vice President, Direct Import Logistics. “We are grateful to the State of Alabama, Mobile County, the City of Mobile, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and the Alabama State Port Authority for the warm welcome we have received here, and we look forward to a strong partnership with the community for years to come.”

Mobile is Alabama’s port city. It is also the oldest City in Alabama, having been founded as a French colony in 1702, 31 years before the English founded the Georgia colony.

Since rising to the office of Governor, Kay Ivey has presided over an unprecedented period of job market improvement. June unemployment was 3.9 percent and the state has seen its total workforce rise to pre-Great Recession levels.

Ivey is running for her own term as Governor in the general election on November 6. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox is her Democratic opponent.

(Original reporting by Berkshire Hathaway’s Business Wire contributed to this report.)

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Sewell, Gowdy, others introduce bill to strengthen election infrastructure against cyberattacks

Brandon Moseley

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Friday, four members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) introduced the Secure Elections Act, which would provide local communities and state governments with the resources needed to strengthen election systems against cyberattacks.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Florida), Terri Sewell (D-Selma), Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), and Jim Himes (D-Connecticut). All four of them have played a role in the HPSCI investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“Our democracy is our nation’s greatest asset and it is our job to protect its integrity,” said Rep. Sewell. “We know from our Intelligence Community that Russian entities launched cyberattacks against our election infrastructure in 2016, exploiting at least 21 state election systems. As the 2018 elections approach, action is urgently needed to protect our democracy against another attack. Today’s bipartisan bill takes a huge step forward by providing election officials with the resources and information they need to keep our democracy safe.”

“Although the Russian government didn’t change the outcome of the 2016 election, they certainly interfered with the intention of sowing discord and undermining Americans’ faith in our democratic process,” Rep. Rooney said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they will continue to meddle in our elections this year and in the future.”

The sponsors say that the Secure Elections Act would allow states and local jurisdictions to voluntarily apply for grants to replace outdated voting machines and modernize their elections systems. The bill also streamlines the process the federal government uses to share relevant cybersecurity threat information with state and local governments.

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The Senate version of the Secure Elections Act was introduced in March by Sens. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota).

Sen. Lankford addressed the U.S. Senate on the Secure Elections Act.

“We have to be able to have better communication between the federal government and states, a better cybersecurity system, and the ability to be able to audit that,” Lankford said. “That is why Senator Klobuchar and I have worked for months on a piece of legislation called the Secure Elections Act. That piece of legislation has worked its way through every state looking at it and their election authorities. We’ve worked it through multiple committee hearings. In fact, recently just in the last month, two different hearings with the Rules Committee. It is now ready to be marked up and finalized to try to bring to this body.”

“I have zero doubt the Russians tried to destabilize our nation in 2016 by attacking the core of our democracy,” Lankford said. “Anyone who believes they will not do it again has missed the basic information that is how day, after day, after day, in our intelligence briefings. The Russians have done it the first time. They showed the rest of the world the lesson in what could be done. It could be the North Koreans next time. It could be the Iranians next time. It could be a domestic activist group next time. We should learn that lesson, close that vulnerability, and make sure that we protect our systems in the days ahead.”

Rep. Sewell is also the lead sponsor of the SHIELD Act and the E-Fellows Security Act, two bills which would strengthen cybersecurity on federal, state, and local campaigns.

Rep. Terri A. Sewell is serving her fourth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional district. She sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was recently appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Sewell is a Chief Deputy Whip and serves on the prestigious Steering and Policy Committee of the Democratic Caucus. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, and Vice Chair of Outreach for the New Democrat Coalition.

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Secretary of State’s letter addressed out-of-state PACs meddling in Alabama elections

Bill Britt

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During the runoff in the recent Republican Attorney General’s race, the question of whether an out-of-state Political Action Committee can donate to a candidate without complying with Alabama’s Fair Campaign Practice Act was raised but never fully answered. The Ethics Commission Executive Director seemed to say it was unlawful while the Secretary of State’s Office appeared to say it was okay.

A 2015 letter from the Secretary of State’s Office may shed some heretofore unseen light on the matter.

At issue was whether or not the Washington-based Republican Attorneys General Association, a federally registered 527 PAC, could legally give money to candidate Steve Marshall.

The group eventually contributed over $700,000 to Marshall who won the Republican nomination and will face Democrat Attorney General candidate Joseph Siegelman in the fall general election.

A 527-organization or 527 PAC is a tax-exempt organization organized under Section 527 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 527). A 527 is created primarily to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates to federal, state or local public office.

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During the public debate over RAGA’s financial role in Marshall’s campaign, Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said that he had advised other campaigns that they could not receive such contributions as Marshall was receiving from RAGA. He also told al.com’s Kyle Whitmire, “if an out-of-state PAC gives to an Alabama candidate, it is obligated to register and file reports just like Alabama PACs.”

RAGA is not registered with the state and doesn’t file reports in accordance with state law like other PACs who contributed to campaigns during this election cycle.

However, Secretary of State John Merrill’s offices was quoted as saying, “the [Ethics] [C]ommission has the final authority to ‘issue guidance’ on the matter and should do so.”

However, Merrill’s office was not so deferential in 2015, when Secretary Merrill wrote a letter to the Mississippi Secretary of State.

In a letter to the Mississippi Secretary of State on September 21, 2015, Alabama Secretary of State Merrill outlines how it is illegal for any out-of-state political action committee to give money to an Alabama candidate without following the strict letter of the law as described in the state’s Fair Campaign Practice Act.

In Merrill’s correspondence with Mississippi Secretary of State C. Delbert Hosemann Jr., he is unambiguous about what is an “illegal contribution of expenditure,” according to Alabama law.

“Dear Secretary Hosemann:

It has been brought to the attention of my office that a Political Action Committee (PAC) may be attempting to exploit Mississippi’s campaign finance laws to hide contributions or contributors in influencing Alabama elections.”

Here, Secretary Merrill not only raised the issue of illegal out-of-state contributions, he was pre-emptive in deterring out-of-state groups meddling unlawfully in Alabama’s elections.

He further writes Hosemann, “A contribution given in Mississippi with the intent of influencing Alabama elections would require disclosure under Alabama’s Fair Campaign Practice Act. Pursuant to Alabama Code section 17-5-2,” Merrill wrote to Hosemann, in 2015. He then quotes the code section adding emphasis to the, “whether in-state or out-of-state” section.

Merrill further states, “[A]n Alabama Political Action Committee is defined as, ‘Any committee, club, association, political party, or other group of one or more persons, whether in-state or out-of-state, (His emphasis) which receives or anticipates receiving contributions and makes or anticipates making expenditures to or on behalf of any Alabama state or local elected official, proposition, candidate, principal campaign committee or other political action committee. For the purposes of this chapter, a person who makes a political contribution shall not be considered a political action committee by virtue of making such contribution.'”

Secretary Merrill concludes his letter to the Mississippi Secretary of State by writing, “At this time, we do not have any further information regarding the specifics of any illegal contribution of expenditure.”

Here Merrill agains asserts out-of-state PAC contributions made to an Alabama candidate are illegal if the PAC is not fully compliant with Alabama laws which requires registration and full disclosure of its donors.

RAGA is not registered in Alabama and its individual donors are not immediately disclosed in accordance with Alabama law and not at all if the funds are received from another PAC in what is known as a PAC-toPAC transfer.

Much has been made about how RAGA accepts donations from other PACs and then passes that money on in PAC-toPAC transfers through its 527. These transfers are part of why 527s are often referred to as “dark money” because they hide the original sources of its contributions.

Not disclosing donors and PAC-to-PAC transfers are both illegal under Alabama law but also it is illegal for a PAC to make donations if it is not registered and reports according to all state laws.

As Secretary Merrill noted in his letter to the Mississippi Secretary of State, Alabama law hinges on the words, “any…whether in-state or out-of-state.”

Marshall’s campaign argues that because RAGA is a federal PAC, and state law doesn’t apply.

In September 2016, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in favor of the State in the case of The Alabama Democratic Conference v. Strange, finding that Alabama’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers was constitutional.

By upholding the decision of the lower court, the Court of Appeals agrees that Alabama’s ban of PAC-to-PAC transfers is necessary to prevent corruption, or the appearance of corruption, while not violating the First Amendment.

The court also agreed that 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.

Again, Merrill’s reliance on the words “any” and “whether in-state or out-of-state” in his letter to Mississippi complies with the 11th Circuits findings making Marshall’s so-called loophole  even more suspicious.

During the July runoff, Marshall’s opponent, Troy King, filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order to keep Marshall from spending RAGA money. Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson dismissed the case without weighing in on the merits, questioning his jurisdiction and King’s standing in the filing.

Republicans across the state are concerned that if outside groups like RAGA can contribute unlimited amounts of money without disclosing its donors or following state law, that Democrats might use Marshall’s loophole to target candidates like Justice Tom Parker or Gov. Kay Ivey.

Ethics Director Albritton says that the commission has yet to thoroughly weighed in on whether RAGA and Marshall violated state law.

The Ethics Commission doesn’t hold its next regularly scheduled meeting until October, just days before the general elections.

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Ainsworth blasts Twinkle in lieutenant governor race, lays out his plan for the office

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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