Connect with us

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Letter to the Editor on FCPA and the Ethics Commission

Secretary of State John Merrill

Published

on

In the 2015 Alabama Legislative Session, the Legislature passed legislation that required all county candidates and political action committees running for public office to file campaign finance reports with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office. The 2015 legislation did not change the requirement for all state candidates to file with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office. This 2015 filing process was to be accomplished through the electronic filing portal made available by the Secretary of State at fcpa.alabamavotes.gov. This legislation gave candidates until the 2018 election cycle to become familiar with the law. Beginning with the 2018 election cycle, the Secretary of State’s Office was required to issue civil penalties to candidates who did not meet the campaign finance filing requirements. Those who received a civil penalty can either pay a civil fine or appeal to the Alabama Ethics Commission. The review and appeal process was put in place to allow for expungement in specific instances in which the Commission felt the candidate had extenuating circumstances which prevented them from meeting the standard deadline applied to all candidates for public office.

All committees, regardless if it is a candidate or Political Action Committee, are required to file yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, and major contribution reports to show Alabamians the source of all contributions, expenditures, and loans. The 2015 law required the Secretary of State to issue civil fines as listed below:

  • 1st Offense 10 percent of contributions or expenditures or $300 (whichever is less)
  • 2nd Offense 15 percent of contributions or expenditures or $600 (whichever is less)
  • 3rd Offense 20 percent of contributions or expenditures or $1,200 (whichever is less)
  • 4th Offense and all proceeding penalties are the same as the third offense but this activates our requirement to report the Candidate (PCC) or Political Action Committee (PAC) to the Attorney General and the District Attorney in the judicial circuit in which they reside.

When a committee files a report late, a comprehensive review process takes place to ensure that each penalty is legitimate and that the report in question is a required report for that candidate. Step one involves one staff member of the Elections Division reviewing the late reports and preparing a file documenting the required reports and the violation number for the candidate or committee. That employee then delivers the penalty files to Clay Helms, the Assistant Elections Director and Supervisor of Voter Registration. Mr. Helms then reviews the files and corrects any errors before delivering the penalty files to John Bennett, Deputy Chief of Staff, who then reviews each penalty and checks the math on the amount of the civil fine. Once Mr. Bennett completes his review, he then delivers the penalty files to David Brewer, Chief of Staff, who then completes a final review. After Mr. Brewer’s review, he then delivers the penalty files to Brent Beal, Deputy Attorney General. Once signed, the letters are scanned and emailed to the email address on file for the PCC or PAC, and the original is mailed to the candidate via certified letter to ensure delivery. This intensive review process ensures there is a system of checks and balances to protect candidates from unwarranted claims of impropriety.

As previously noted, a campaign committee can request an appeal if the committee believes extenuating circumstances caused them to not meet the deadline for filing their report. The appeal is reviewed by the Alabama Ethics Commission at their quarterly meetings.

The Ethics Commission held its first quarterly review of the fines against committees who had requested an appeal in December, and has held subsequent reviews in April and June. During each of those meetings the five member Ethics Commission voted to overturn all of the 54 requests for appeal that were submitted to the Commission for review for a total of 113 civil penalties. The fines were overturned based on concerns from the Commission that this law was a new law which campaigns could not be held responsible for accountability at this time.

Advertisement

The appeal process is in place for a candidate or committees first offense for which someone does not meet the standard as prescribed in state law. If they are a repeat offender, the law requires a monetary penalty be issued by the Secretary of State’s Office. My question to members of the Ethics Commission, members of the media, and the people of Alabama is why do we pass ethics laws and employ an ethics commission if we do not intend to enforce the rule of law?

Further, the law was not established to function as an expensive, tax-payer funded, reminder to candidates who fail to timely file, but it was created to provide transparency on campaign contributions and expenses for all Alabamians to see and serve as a deterrent to candidates who wish to deceive voters by not providing evidence regarding the source of their campaign donations or expenditures.

Simply put, the Alabama Ethics Commission, like all other state agencies should follow the law, or ask the legislature to change it!

 

Guest Columnists

Opinion | While hospitals help second trimester babies thrive, courts allow them to be butchered

J. Pepper Bryars

Published

on

A premature baby born at just 22-weeks was discharged a few months ago from the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Mobile.

In a touching video posted on AL.com, little Cullen Porter can be seen wearing a tiny black cap and gown on the way home, having “graduated” in August from the neonatal intensive care unit with “no major issues.”

Three months later two other extremely premature babies were successfully discharged from Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children. One was born at just 23 weeks and another at 25, according to hospital spokesperson Jennifer Malone.

This is wonderful.

Advances in medical science allowed these three babies, and many others born prematurely in the second trimester of pregnancy (roughly 14-27 weeks), to survive, thrive, and enjoy life with the rest of us.

Advertisement

Yet stagnation in law allows many other healthy babies in the second trimester to be killed through what’s called a “dismemberment abortion.” They’re too developed for simpler procedures, so they’re torn apart and removed from their mother’s womb in bloody, broken pieces.

This is horrific.

Thankfully, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall just asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case concerning our state’s ban on dismemberment abortion that was ruled unconstitutional by lower federal courts.

“Federal courts … are already hearing challenges to dismemberment abortion bans in at least five states, including Alabama,” said Mike Lewis, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “There is a high likelihood that if not Alabama, then another state could see its dismemberment abortion law challenge reviewed by the Supreme Court in the near future.”

Lewis added that Congress outlawed a similar procedure called partial-birth abortion in 2003 and it was upheld by the Supreme Court a few years later.

That bodes well for our ban.

As described in Marshall’s petition, the only meaningful difference is that during a partial birth abortion a still-living baby is almost completely delivered before a doctor uses a suction device to “vacuum out the child’s brains.”

In a dismemberment abortion, a still-living baby is mutilated entirely within the womb by using “clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or similar instruments that … slice, crush, or grasp … a portion of the unborn child’s body to cut or rip it off.”

“The fetus,” the petition continues, “dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb.”

If the Supreme Court upheld the partial birth abortion ban, then it’s reasonable to hope they’ll uphold a dismemberment ban, as well.

And such a ruling couldn’t come too soon.

State data show the gruesome procedure, called dilation and evacuation within the medical community, was performed on 89 unborn children in Alabama during 2016 alone.

That was the same year the Alabama Legislature banned the gruesome technique while providing for a health exception to save the life of the mother.

“It was the most bi-partisan prolife legislation that I saw during my eight-years in the legislature,” said Phil Williams, a former state senator who co-sponsored the law and who is now with the Alabama Policy Institute. “One pro-choice state senator told me he supported the bill because dismemberment abortion is such a horrible procedure.”

Most people feel the same way.

During the last election 59-percent of Alabamians voted in favor of an amendment to the constitution declaring that it’s the state’s policy to recognize the rights of the unborn. And national polls have shown that more than 60-percent favor banning second and third trimester abortions.

The Alabama Policy Institute will file a brief in support of the state’s position should the justices decide to hear the case. Other organizations and individuals across the state and nation are sure to do the same.

Meanwhile, while our state officials appeal to a higher court, our state’s citizens should appeal to a higher power and pray that Alabama, and our nation, forever ends the scourge of dismemberment abortions.

J. Pepper Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

 

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Survey says time for Accountability Act to go

Larry Lee

Published

on

More than 600 people have responded so far to a recent online survey about the Alabama Accountability Act.  They are loud and clear as to how they feel.  Seventy-six percent say it should be repealed.  Another 17 percent say it should be modified and only one percent say it should be left as is.

This is not surprising since 78 percent of respondents are either currently working in public education, or are retired educators.  They also have a vested interested as 58 percent either have children or grandchildren now in a public school.

More than 51 percent are in the age range of 46 to 65.  Sixty-eight percent of all respondents are female. And 46 percent identify themselves as Republicans, 32 percent are Independents and 23 percent are Democrats.

Editor’s note: SurveyMonkey was the instrument used to get responses.  This methodology is used by more than 4,000 companies worldwide In market research.  Unlike traditional political polling, SurveyMonkey does not control responses according to demographics.  However, the number of responses is so large that info is very valid in measuring attitudes and trend lines.

The survey probed a number of issues regarding AAA.

Advertisement

For instance, while those supporting the accountability act imply that public schools should not miss the $100 million now diverted from the Education Trust Fund by this legislation, 95.5 percent of survey takers do not believe Alabama schools are adequately funded.

Only four percent say they know someone who has contributed to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and seven percent say they know a student who has received a scholarship with this program.

This law creates a double standard for charitable contributions.  While the state allows an income tax DEDUCTION for traditional contributions based on the contributor’s income tax bracket; donors to an SGO get a dollar for dollar TAX CREDIT on their taxes.  Say you are in the 35 percent tax bracket and give $1,000 to the Boy Scouts, you get a $350 (35 percent X $1,000) tax deduction.  However, if you give $1,000 to a SGO, the state allows you to take this amount off your tax liability owed the state.  In other words, you are reimbursed $1,000.

Some 56 percent of those who answered the survey say both regular charitable contributions and SGO contributions should be treated equally.

There is concern these scholarships are sometimes used to recruit athletes to private schools and 77 percent think a school getting AAA scholarships should not be allowed to compete in athletics with public schools.

They also have strong feelings about scholarships being given to non-accredited private schools as is presently allowed.  Eighty-three percent oppose this.

The survey shows intense feelings about the State Board of Education and their unwillingness to take a stand on AAA.  Some 88 percent say the board should take a public position on AAA and 90 percent say the board should be actively involved in making legislative changes to the law.

While this law requires that the state identify the bottom six percent of all public schools and label them as “failing,” 78 percent say the same bottom six percent standard should be applied to private schools.

AAA does not stipulate that any resources or help be given to “failing” schools to help them improve.  Eighty-three percent of responses say this is wrong.

So far, school boards in Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of AAA.  Some 87 percent agree with school boards taking such action.

Respondents were asked how they feel about the overall state of public education in Alabama.  Unfortunately, 45 percent believe it will be worse in the future than it now is
.
Might it be that after six years of the accountability act and little to show for it, plus the fact that the state school board is apparently content to give up $100 million in funding without saying a word, there is ample reason for pessimism?

I don’t know that answer.  But I do know the folks who took this survey have spoken loudly that they do not believe the accountably act works and are calling for action.

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board. [email protected]

 

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Alabama is O-KAY

John W. Giles

Published

on

At high noon today, Monday, January 14,  2019, Alabama will swear in the Honorable Kay Ellen Ivey as our 54th Governor. Governor Ivey has selflessly dedicated her entire life to public service. In this guest editorial, we will travel down memory lane of her resume; however it is my goal to talk about the Kay Ivey I have known for 30 years. For those looking under every rock for motivations of an article like this; you can relax; I am not looking for a job, a political appointment or running for any office. This is a good will piece for a very deserving lady.

After being appointed by Governor Guy Hunt in 1989 as Alabama’s Small Business Advocate for the State of Alabama; and being new to state government, I was making the rounds getting familiar with all functions of government. I was seeking resources and how we might work with other agencies to benefit small businesses. I was scheduled early one morning to meet with Dr. Sutton, Executive Director of the Alabama Commission of Higher Education. The moment I introduced myself to the receptionist; popping out in the hall from one of the back offices was this lady with a bright smile, a glowing personality and a strong southern Alabama accent. She reached out to shake my hand and said, “Hello John Giles, I am Kay Ivey, we have been looking forward to your visit, could I get you a cup of coffee?” As one can imagine; a first impression like this last for decades.

Kay Ellen Ivey was raised on a farm in Camden Alabama. After graduating from Auburn University, she began serving the public as a school teacher and then a local banker. She was Reading Clerk in the Alabama House of Representatives serving under the infamous Speaker of the House, Joe McCorquodale. She then learned to recruit industry as Assistant Director of the Alabama Development Office.

Her first election was in 2002 statewide as Alabama’s first Republican State Treasurer since reconstruction. She served there until 2010, when elected as Lieutenant Governor. On April 10, 2017, with a notice of three hours, she ascended as Governor of the state after Governor Bentley resigned. I recall her statement as if was yesterday, “We are going to steady the ship of state.” Her new public service assignment was on the heels of a turbulent ride with Bentley and steady the ship of state she did.

Working for two governors, I realized the inherent characteristics of the state’s Chief Executive Officer is to be a consistent coalition and consensus builder, have clear communicated priorities, maintain a high ethical and moral ground, stern, gracious, humble yet tough. Also, you are Alabama’s number one Ambassador and under her leadership we have had banner industrial investments and job creation. Like most, I am on the sidelines now observing the news on the internet, but I can tell you, Kay Ivey, even though she is 74 has all the right stuff for the job. She has more titanium steel in places I only wish some male public officials had in place; know what I mean Vern. Her leadership is admired by Alabamians because she was recently ranked the 3rd most popular governor in America.

Advertisement

My dad always taught us; there is your side, their side, find what is right and don’t budge. Here are three recent examples when she was under tremendous pressure and did not budge. The Republic establishment in DC wanted her to abandoned the state GOP party nominee for U.S. Senate in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate, Chief Justice Roy Moore, she did not waiver one click. She held fast to the notion that the Trump tariffs would hurt some Alabama industries; even though she loves Trump but did not budge. Then the Pardons and Parole Board got on a path of insanity and she wasted no time reeling them in and put them in checkmate.

I would be remiss in not mentioning three key men who are also my friends that have helped her immeasurably over the years. Will Sellers, who is now an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has been with her from the get-go when running for State Treasurer. Steve Pelham has been with her since she was elected Lieutenant Governor and serves as her Chief of Staff. And last, but foremost is her long time pastor, Jay Wolf at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, who has been her spiritual pillar for years.

On a lighter note, she is always authentically friendly, easy going and fun. I love her signature Wilcox County Strong Alabama Southern accent. I have always loved hearing her talk. Listen next time when she says State Treasurer; you will count at least four of five syllables in Treasurer. I trust you are smiling with me on this one.

In conclusion, Alabama is O-KAY with Kay.

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Get the show on the road

Bradley Byrne

Published

on

It is time for the Democrat leaders in Washington to stop posturing when it comes to border security and end the government shutdown.

The old expression “get the show on the road” is very apt in this situation. But, truth be told, the show is already on. There is no better way to describe the Democrat strategy right now than as a show, playing to their audience.

The Democrats have lost touch with what matters to Americans outside of their bubble. They continue to play to the far-left base of their party in order to placate the loudest voices. But the loudest voices don’t always have the best interests of the American people at heart.

President Trump has made many efforts to work with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on a deal, but those efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

Last Wednesday, the President asked Speaker Pelosi if she would be willing to negotiate for a deal to open the government quickly and provide funding for border security at a later date. Speaker Pelosi answered “no.” If Democrats aren’t willing to negotiate, then what is President Trump to do? He can’t negotiate with himself.

Advertisement

I have heard from many folks in Alabama expressing their disbelief that Congress has not yet provided the necessary funds to secure our border, build a wall, and reopen the remaining 25 percent of the federal government.

I cannot help but echo the sentiment of my fellow Alabamians: why would a Member of Congress not support something as commonsense as border security to end the partial shutdown?

In the past, Democrats have supported these commonsense national security priorities such as fencing, barriers, and increased border funding, but there is something different going on here.

It appears that it is not enough for the Democrats to earn a win. Instead, it must be that President Trump gets a loss. And the sad part is, the people that lose the most in this situation are the hardworking American taxpayers contributing their time, efforts, and skills to the betterment of our communities.

Roughly 800,000 federal employees are currently on furlough, some continuing to work without pay. Last Friday, many of those people missed a paycheck. That is simply unacceptable, especially when the solution is one that both puts these people back to work and improves our national security.

More than this, Americans have been greatly affected already by illegal immigration and the crisis taking place on our southern border.

A big issue is the flow of illegal drugs. Hundreds of thousands of men and women in the United States have fallen victim to the evils and unbelievable effects of drug addiction and overdose. Many of those illegal drugs have their origins in Central and South America.

All throughout the country, we have heard horror stories of illegal immigrants committing horrendous crimes. We had an illegal immigrant in Shelby County, Alabama rape a young girl, and everyone has heard the story of the police officer in California who was murdered by an illegal immigrant. In many of these crimes, the illegal immigrant had even been deported before and managed to reenter the country illegally a second time.

Crimes happen every day, but these crimes were preventable.

We must act, we must enforce border security, and we must provide the funds necessary to get the job done. I call on Democrats to stop with the show, come to the table, negotiate with President Trump, and let’s get the government back open.

 

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

Opinion | Letter to the Editor on FCPA and the Ethics Commission

by Secretary of State John Merrill Read Time: 4 min
0