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Did Steve Marshall violate campaign finance laws?

Josh Moon

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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.

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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.

 

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Opinion | The plan to kill public education in Alabama is succeeding

Josh Moon

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Put the flashlights away, Jason Taylor has been located.

Maybe.

The Alabama State Department of Education’s $700,000 accountant is still working for the state, just not doing much — or anything, depending on who you ask — for the Montgomery Public Schools.

Instead, according to ALSDE spokesman Dr. Michael Sibley, Taylor is spending the majority of his time working with other school systems in the state, in an attempt to be more proactive and avoid issues like the ones plaguing MPS.

At least, that’s one story.

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A state school board member recently said that Alabama state superintendent Eric Mackey told the board earlier this month that Taylor was spending most of his time working in MPS.

This was news to the MPS system’s new CFO, Arthur Watts, who told his own board members that he speaks with Taylor a couple of times per week but has no idea what Taylor is working on.

You know what? I don’t even care who’s right or what the truth is.

Because at the end of the day, here’s all that matters: The Montgomery intervention has been a complete and utter dumpster fire.

Take the $700,000 being paid to Taylor, add it to the multiple six-figure contracts awarded to wholly unqualified and now-departed administrators, add that to the raises to every principal, the legal fees out the wazoo and a ridiculous cleaning bill, and you know what you get?

You get a seven-figure tab paid out by one of the brokest state departments of education in the country and by the brokest school district in that state, and somehow, someway they have failed to help one single child.

There has been no purchase of additional supplies or books. There have been no additional teachers hired. There has been not one advancement of school safety equipment, whether a security officer, a metal detector or just a damn floor mat to keep kids from slipping down on a rainy day.

Nothing.

Zip. Zero. Zilch.

And you know why this travesty has occurred?

Because somewhere along the way, like with everything else in this state, public education was hijacked by greed and self-interest and, ultimately, corruption.

That’s how we ended up with Mike Sentance in the first place — a corrupt search undermined by a state board member (who lacks self awareness to such an astonishing degree that she’s writing blog posts bemoaning corruption) and steered to land a pro-business candidate. Instead of, you know, the candidate who was best qualified to fix education.

None of the people behind that ruse cared about teaching and learning.

They cared about training kids to work in the factories of the companies to which they have given ridiculous economic incentive packages. Because teaching students to read and write and do complicated equations is hard damn work and just takes too much money. Lots easier to just train ‘em for the job you want them to have instead of producing well-rounded citizens with career options.

This has been the dream of the business class in this state for years.

Montgomery was to be the first test in this plan — a combination of trade schools and charters and conversion charters.

But like all things done in Alabama, it turned into the powerful white men trying to force a system change on everyone else. Instead of doing things the right way and presenting well-meaning, well-intentioned ideas to the general public and building support for a comprehensive plan that benefitted all students, ALSDE and Montgomery leaders went with the we-know-what’s-best-for-you-so-shut-up approach.

And it has been an unmitigated disaster.

Which is how you end up with a $700,000 accountant who isn’t accounting. And a superintendent who lasts a year. And your third largest school system in, astonishingly, a bigger mess than it was before the state intervened and spent millions.

What’s happened, and continues to happen, in Montgomery is a microcosm of the failures in public education around Alabama.

Greedy people making selfish decisions, with the best interest of educating ALL children near the bottom of the priority list, and lining their pockets and the pockets of people like them at the very top of that list.

From the AAA to charter schools to pathetic funding to phony “failing schools” lists to ignorant rants over Common Core, these people have been hell bent on ruining public education in Alabama for decades.

And it’s the only thing in education at which they’re succeeding.

 

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Opinion | Maddox is right: The state shouldn’t pay for Bentley’s attorneys

Josh Moon

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Should the state be footing the bill for attorneys to defend former Gov. Robert Bentley in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier?

Gov. Kay Ivey says it should, that the state has an obligation to do so under the law.

Her challenger for the seat she currently holds, Walt Maddox, says no, and that Ivey is wrong about the state’s requirement to do so.

The war of words about the lawsuit started last week, when the Maddox camp questioned why the state was still footing the bill — a bill that’s surpassed $300,000 so far — to defend Bentley. Ivey responded to questions about the payments to Bentley’s attorneys over the weekend, saying it was appropriate to pay the bill, because the law requires it.

On Tuesday, the Maddox campaign issued a press release saying Ivey is mistaken about the law.

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And so, here we are.

First things first, let’s back up and explain just what’s going on.

Near the end of his tenure as governor, Bentley had a falling out with Collier over a request the Alabama Attorney General’s office was making of Collier. Basically, the AG’s office wanted Collier to file an affidavit about an investigation that was sort of related to the Mike Hubbard prosecution.

Bentley ordered Collier not to provide an affidavit and to instead tell the AG’s office that the investigation was ongoing.

Collier was concerned that lying to the AG’s investigator would violate the law. (It definitely does.) So, instead, he worked with Bentley’s legal advisor and issued a watered-down affidavit. When Bentley discovered what had been done, he fired Collier.

Collier, in his court filings, claims Bentley then set out to destroy him professionally through an investigation into misappropriated funds in ALEA and a smear campaign that, among other things, alleged that Collier was a drug addict.

So, Collier filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Ordinarily, such lawsuits would be kicked quickly by judges because state employees, such as the governor, enjoy immunity from lawsuits that arise from official acts. And in this case, Judge Greg Griffin agreed and dismissed most of the counts in Collier’s lawsuit.

But he also found that some of Bentley’s actions — specifically, the parts in which he retaliated against Collier — fell outside of his official duties. And so, he allowed the lawsuit to move forward. 

You should also know just why we, the taxpayers, are paying for Bentley’s defense in the first place.

The State of Alabama has an insurance program known as the General Liability Trust Fund that is used to pay for the legal defense of state employees who are sued as a result of incidents that occur while these employees are doing their state jobs. It also is used to cover any settlements stemming from lawsuits against state employees.

The official wording from the Code of Alabama says the GLTF will be used to cover “acts or omissions committed by the covered employee while in the performance of their official duties in the line and scope of their employment.”

And that brings us back to the argument between Ivey and Maddox.

Ivey claims that the law says Bentley should be covered. The Maddox camp says that was true up until the point the judge in the case found that Bentley’s actions fell outside the scope of his official duties.

After speaking to a few attorneys, it seems that the Maddox camp is right.

Griffin’s decision to allow the case to move forward, and specifically rejecting the defense’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that Bentley was immune from prosecution, recast Bentley’s position. His actions had to fall outside of the scope of his official duties in order for the lawsuit to proceed, which means the state has no responsibility to cover him.

Of course, there’s one other option here: Ivey could simply settle the lawsuit.

Collier was clearly wronged, and the state has all but admitted as much. The guy nearly went broke because our former governor lost his mind. To continue on with this lawsuit and the defense of Bentley is not just a monumental waste of money, it’s an embarrassment.

And it’s one more example of the political elite in this state operating a system that ensures they’re protected no matter the crimes they commit or the egregious nature of their behavior.

Collier didn’t deserve what happened to him and the rest of us don’t deserve to watch our hard-earned dollars be squandered on Bentley’s high-priced attorneys.

 

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Opinion | Why are white people so scared?

Josh Moon

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Several Saturdays each Fall, Auburn University students, faculty and alumni — thousands of them — roll into Jordan Hare Stadium on campus to cheer for the school’s football team.

The majority of the players are black.

The school’s basketball teams — both mens and womens — are made up primarily of black players.

The school’s most recognized alumni, who have giant banners and statues on campus, are mostly black former athletes.

The Auburn marching band is influenced by the bands at historically black colleges.

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The music played at most athletic and other campus events comes mostly from black artists.

And yet, last weekend, when Auburn officials decided to honor the impact and influence of diversity on its campus, many of the students and alums and sidewalk fans reacted like … backwoods rednecks who had to shrug off their klan hoods on their way into the stadium.

There were fights. There were racist banners hung up by over-privileged frat boys. There were racist comments on several different university-operated social media pages.

It was, to put it bluntly, an utter embarrassment.

To the state. To all Auburn people.

The diversity weekend sponsored by the university was a fantastic idea, and holding it on the same weekend that the football team played Alabama State University, a historically black college in Montgomery, was a nice touch.

I know a lot of the people at ASU, including president Quinton Ross and several people in the athletic administration. They were genuinely excited about going to Auburn, playing that game and enjoying the gameday experience in an SEC venue.

They had no expectations of winning. They just wanted to compete, pick up some much needed cash for their program, show off their band and then head back down I-85. Everyone happy. Everything good.

What they got instead was a clown show from a bunch of racist morons.

But then, why am I surprised?

On a certain cable “news” network over the past several weeks, there have been hosts of opinion shows openly questioning “the value of diversity.” On something called “NRA TV” recently, there was a segment that put a children’s cartoon character in a KKK hood because the NRA hosts were trying, without success, to make some derogatory point about diversity. On college campuses all around the country, and especially in the South, there has been an uptick in controversial, racist speakers.

So, it should come as no surprise, I guess, that one of the most conservative campuses in America — a campus where such programming is consumed and parroted and where there exists a “white student union” — would be so resistant to recognizing the positive impacts of different perspectives and backgrounds.

I don’t understand what’s happening in America now.

For decades, we seemed to acknowledge that our racist ways were wrong, and at the very least everyone pretended to be in favor of equality and inclusion. We seemed genuinely intent on correcting the sins of the past and moving towards a country that lived up to its promises of equality for all men.

Now, almost overnight, there seems to be a shift back to a time when ignorant ideas, grounded in fear and hatred, were prevalent. Ideas that have convinced privileged white kids they’re being held back. Ideas that have left many white people living in fear.

And look, I’d love to pretend that it isn’t so bad, that people are making more out of it than they should. But then … Nazi sympathizers have been marching in American streets and the U.S. president said some of them were probably “good people.”

That’s a bit of a problem.

And the results of the spread of this nonsense were on display last weekend in Auburn, when the simple act of playing a historically black college so incensed people that they were a few steps away from fire hoses and dogs.

Enough is enough. White people need to get their stuff together and stop falling for the same tired fear tactics that have been used for centuries. America, like all countries, is never stronger than when it truly works together, ensuring the equality of all citizens.

 

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Josh Moon

Analysis | The myth of the “simple lottery bill”

Josh Moon

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There is no such thing as a “simple lottery bill” in the state of Alabama.

You hear this phrase a lot from state lawmakers, as they field the inevitable questions about gambling that pop up prior to each legislative session or prior to elections in which one candidate — usually a Democrat — has proposed a lottery to raise state revenues.

And right on cue, with Walt Maddox running for governor and the state facing huge budget deficits in 2019, the lottery question has surfaced again.

And again, state lawmakers have proclaimed that the only thing that will pass in this state is a “simple lottery bill.”

What they mean by that, of course, is they want to pass a bill that approves only a statewide lottery, with no provisions for legalizing other gambling, such as electronic bingo, video lottery terminals or table games. (Also, keep in mind that any legislation passed by lawmakers would have to go on a ballot and be approved by state voters, since the state’s constitution outlaws gambling.)

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The problem with that is it ignores the very complicated, very nuanced world of Native American gaming law.

To put it simply: Because Alabama has a federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, that’s already operating casinos, the implementation of a lottery would almost assure the Poarch Creeks the right to operate casinos with a higher class of casino games, and would likely lead to the tribe operating full-fledged casinos, complete with table games and real slot machines. 

While that would be great for the Poarch Creeks, it wouldn’t be the best path for the state, at least from a revenue standpoint. Non-Indian casinos can be taxed at much higher rates and stand to bring the state much higher revenue numbers.

To understand why a “simple lottery bill” is a misnomer, you have to read about three dozen federal court and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and a number of news stories on the fights between states and tribes. It also wouldn’t hurt to talk to a few attorneys, and read a few legal opinions, from people who have no dog in Alabama’s fight.

Luckily for you, I’ve done all of that. And while I’m no attorney, and don’t even play one on TV, I am pretty good at repeating stuff I’ve been told and acting like I know what I’m talking about.

So, here’s the condensed version of all that.

IGRA breaks gambling into three categories: Class I, which is social games such as raffles and junk; Class II, which is bingo and lotto; and Class III, which is everything else, including table games, slot machines and — here’s the biggie — lotteries.

Under IGRA, in order for a tribe to be able to offer any sort of Class II or Class III gaming, games that fall into those categories must be legal elsewhere in the state where the tribe’s lands are located. (This is why the Poarch Creeks can offer electronic bingo, a Class II game, in Alabama — because bingo is legally played in Alabama elsewhere, and the federal government, unlike Alabama’s courts, determined that the game can be played electronically.)

Also, IGRA requires that states and tribes enter into compacts before the tribes can offer the games that fall in Class III. That requirement provides some protections to states, ensuring that it can have some say-so over the more serious casino-style gaming.

But there’s also a protection built in for tribes, and this is where the lottery component opens things up for the Poarch Creeks.

IGRA, enforced by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior, requires states that offer Class III gaming to negotiate in good faith with tribes seeking a compact. Until a recent federal court ruling in Florida, tribes could compel states to negotiate through the use of the courts, but a sovereign immunity ruling in Florida’s favor upended that avenue.

Instead, now, if a state refuses to negotiate with a tribe, the Secretary of the Interior can simply implement a gaming plan on his own for that tribe, legalizing Class III gaming with or without the state’s consent.

So, what does all of that mean for Alabama?

It means that approving a lottery for the state opens up other possibilities for the Poarch Creeks, and could result in the state being either forced into a compact or forced to allow some form of Class III gaming.

I say “some form,” because generally speaking, the NIGC will not allow the tribes to offer games that are not offered in the state. But as we’ve seen with the electronic bingo v. traditional bingo argument, there is some wiggle room in the definitions.

Most likely what we could bank on is this: If a lottery passes, the Poarch Creeks would then have the right to operate their own lottery. Just like with the liberal definitions of “bingo,” the NIGC has also been flexible on lottery games, such as video lottery terminals (VLTs), allowing them in most cases. And the courts, with a few nuanced exceptions, have mostly backed the tribes in any disputes.

VLTs operate similar to slots and mimic the paper scratch-offs. They’re faster than electronic bingo games, and due to their popularity in other states, the VLT games and machine offerings are much more advanced and nuanced.

That would, of course, automatically give the Poarch Creeks a leg up over non-Indian casinos. As if the tribe needs another one at this point.

But it would also severely limit the state’s ability to earn revenue from both its lottery and the revenue available from gaming.

And it’s why there is no such thing as a “simple lottery bill” in Alabama.

 

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Did Steve Marshall violate campaign finance laws?

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