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Walt Maddox, statewide candidates host forum in Gardendale

Brandon Moseley

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Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox will headline a forum for Democratic candidates at the Gardendale Civic Center on July 30 at 6 p.m. Maddox will be joined by a host of other statewide legislative and local candidates.

Maddox claims that he offers voters a path forward out of the state’s corruption and funding crisis.

“It’s the same crisis we’ve been facing for the last seven years,” says gubernatorial candidate Maddox. “If we don’t do something today, there will be no tomorrow; we need safe infrastructure, access to healthcare and good paying jobs.”

The organizers say they “put people before party” so they can bring about change in Alabama.

“As taxpayers, we have been shortchanged for too long,” says former Gardendale City Councilman Blake Guinn, who is working for the Maddox campaign and is one of the forum’s organizers. “I’m tired of being last in everything but football. I’m looking for candidates who have the energy, intelligence, and vision to move this state forward.”

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Most Alabama politicians are just “rubberstamp” what their national party says, says Jennifer L. Greer, a retired university assistant professor who lives in Gardendale and is also organizing the forum. “I don’t care about Washington. I care about Alabama and getting services for my tax dollars, like Alabama’s First-Class Pre-K in every community.”

Maddox will be joined at the Gardendale forum by:

  • Danner Kline, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District.
  • Judge Robert “Bob” Vance, Democratic candidate for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
  • Dr. Will Boyd, Democratic candidate for Alabama Lieutenant Governor.
  • Joseph Siegelman, Democratic candidate for Alabama Attorney General.
  • Heather Milam, Democratic candidate for Alabama Secretary of State.
  • Donna Smalley, Democratic candidate for Alabama Supreme Court, Place 4.
  • Cara McClure, Democratic candidate for Public Service Commission, Place 1.
  • Kari Powell, Democratic candidate for Public Service Commission, Place 2.
  • Veronica R. Johnson, Democratic candidate Alabama House District 51.
  • Danny Carr, Democratic candidate for Jefferson County District Attorney.

The event is free and open to the public.

Democrats have renewed enthusiasm after Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore for U.S. Senate. Prior to that win, the last Democrat to win a statewide office in Alabama was Lucy Baxley, who was elected to president of the Alabama Public Service Commission in 2008. The last time a Democrat won a gubernatorial election was 1998, when Don Siegelman defeated incumbent Republican Fob James.

The general election will be November 6.

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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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Lee Auman calls for new leadership in Alabama Democratic Party

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday, the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee voted to keep Nancy Worley in place as Chair Woman. Lee Auman, who is running for Congress in the 4th Congressional District, released a statement strongly disagreeing with the decision to retain the party’s veteran leadership in place.

“The outcome of today’s State Democratic Executive Committee meeting is disappointing, but I am encouraged by the leaders and committee members who challenged the status quo,” Auman said. “Discussion and change in the Party are healthy and should be embraced—not feared.”

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, the only Democrat to win a statewide race since 2008, supported Alvin L. “Peck” Fox for Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. Sen. Jones and other elected officials reportedly asked Fox to run for the chairmanship.

“A change in leadership is badly needed in the Alabama Democratic Party,” Auman continued. “I am proud to stand with Senator Doug Jones and Representative Chris England in calling for a strong, forward-looking Party. We must stand together to demand accountability, transparency, and growth. It’s time for a generation of leaders who are not afraid of a new way forward.”

Worley bested Peck’s challenge in a 101 to 89 vote (53 percent to 47 percent) of the Democratic executive committee on Saturday.

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Joe Turnham was Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party from 2005 to 2011. In 2010 the Alabama Republican Party won every statewide office on the ballot, six of the seven Congressional seats, and control of both Houses of the legislature for the first time in 135 years.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy was elected Chairman in 2011 with Nancy Worley the Vice Chair. In 2012 Mitt Romney (R) easily carried Alabama and Democrats again lost every statewide race and failed to field credible congressional campaigns outside of the majority minority Seventh Congressional District.

On April 22, 2013 Kennedy resigned the position in a power struggle with Joe Reed. Reed is the Alabama Democratic Party Vice-Chair for Minority Affairs and heads the powerful Alabama Democratic Conference. The ADC is the caucus for Alabama’s Black Democrats. Blacks have historically been discriminated against within the Alabama Democratic Party (most Alabama Blacks voted Republican when they were allowed to vote, through 1960). Working with the Alabama Education Association, which Reed co-ran with Paul Hubbard (now deceased), over time the ADC has grown very powerful in the Alabama Democratic Party and now controls a large number of seats on the Democratic Executive Committee by rule. Reed and Kennedy clashed publicly. Mark Kennedy left his position as Chairman to form his own parallel organization, Empower Alabama, to elect Democratic candidates.

Worley, with Reed’s support, was elevated to Chair and then formally elected Chair by the Alabama Democratic Party Executive Committee in October 2013. Worley is the first woman to be Chair of the Alabama Democratic Party.

In the 2014 election the two competing Democratic organizations were badly outclassed by the more unified, better funded, perhaps better led, Alabama Republican Party. The GOP not only defended its super majorities in both Houses of the legislature, they grew them. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) was easily reelected to a second term and no Democratic statewide candidate was even competitive. 2016 was even worse, with Donald J. Trump (R) running away with the state. Democrats were not competitive anywhere on the ballot, and no serious observer of Alabama politics even thought they would be. Doug Jones narrowly defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) in a special election on December 12, a sign to some that Democrats fortunes in Alabama have improved.

Worley survived Peck Fox’s challenge largely due to support from Joe Reed and the Black Democrats.

Some have privately suggested that the hostility to Reed and Worley’s leadership have come primarily from White men eager to regain control of the Alabama Democratic party; even though Blacks and women are overwhelmingly the majority of Democratic voters in the state of Alabama. Critics however argue that Reed is an old man with a death grip on power and that he and Nancy Worley’s leadership have driven the Alabama Democratic Party in to a state of near irrelevance.

Worley is an educator, a former AEA President, and was Alabama Secretary of State from 2003 to 2007.

Auman is running against incumbent Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, in the Fourth Congressional District. Aderholt has served the Fourth District since 1997. Aderholt is 53. He was preceded by Rep. Tom Bevill, D-Jasper, who served 30 years in office.

The General Election will be November 6.

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Republican Party will not remove candidates from the ballot

Brandon Moseley

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Candidates are required to file a Statement of Economic Interests form with the Alabama Ethics Commission. It has been recently reported that certain candidates did not file their 2017 statements by the deadline. Under Alabama law failure to file a Statement of Economic Interests means removal from the ballot. The Republican Party told the Alabama Political Reporter that they will not be removing any candidates from the November 6 ballot.

“There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation disseminated on this topic,” Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan told APR in a statement. “The ALGOP has received compliance clearance for all of our candidates from the Alabama Ethics Commission. There will be none removed by our Party as they have met our qualifications.”

“If an official filed late, after April 30 while they had a form already on file with the Alabama Ethics Commission, it is not ballot removal,” Lathan added. “They may incur a small fine but that is a decision the Commission may or not make. There is also a grace period for filing.”

Brandon Craig Lipscomb, a Gadsden architect, is the Republican nominee for House District 30. Lipscomb filed a Statement of Economic Interest on December 4 for 2016. He then qualified for office and did not file a 2017 Statement of Economic Interest. Neither did he fill out a 2017 statement by April 30 as is required of previous filers. Despite this, the Republican Party and the Secretary of State’s office allowed Lipscomb to remain on the ballot for both the Republican Primary on June 5 and in the July Republican primary runoff, in which he defeated former Ashville Mayor Robert McKay.

House District 30 represents portions of St. Clair and Etowah County.

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Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden (R), State Senator Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, and State Representative Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery, also did not file their 2017 Statement of Economic Interests by the April 30th deadline

In Gadsden’s City election three candidates (two council candidates and a mayoral candidate) were recently disqualified because they did not file their Statement of Economic Interests when they qualified. Two of those candidates have gone to court seeking an injunction.

The Alabama Political Reporter has asked Secretary of State John Merrill (R) for additional guidance on this matter.

Sec. Merrill told APR that the candidates turned in Statements of Economic Interest when they qualified, although they were 2016s.  The Alabama Ethics Commission approved all of the candidates.  They should have filed their 2017 statements by April 30.  When state officials became aware of the lapse they sent a letter to the candidates giving them ten days to file a Statement of Economic Interest.

Merrill said that the candidates will remain on the ballot; but may be charged a $5 a day fine for every day that they missed that April 30 deadline.  Merrill said that only two state candidates were disqualified for not filing Statements of Economic Interest: a Democratic running for House District 40 and Democratic judicial candidate in Jefferson County, who successfully appealed the ruling.

Montgomery County Judge Johnnie Hardwick ruled that Pamela Cousins can indeed be on the ballot as she followed the spirit and intent of the law.  She filed her Statement of Economic Interests with the Alabama Democratic Party when she qualified; but did not realize that she also had to file with the Ethics Commission.  She filed when she became aware of the error.

The general election will be on November 6.

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Walt Maddox, statewide candidates host forum in Gardendale

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