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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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Opinion | Walt Maddox has lost his mind

Josh Moon

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Walt Maddox is nuts.

That’s the only explanation I have for what the man’s doing — going around the state and trying to engage voters on the issues. Holding press conferences talking about health care and offering plans for increasing Medicaid coverage.

The guy’s got an infrastructure plan. He’s got an education plan.

He’s got details and costs and information on how we can do it all and actually pay for it.

And this nonsense is what he believes will get him elected governor.

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See? Nutty as a fruitcake, that Walt Maddox.

Because Alabama voters do not care about such trivial things as an improved quality of life, better education for their kids and increased job opportunities that actually pay you enough to live and eat.

They don’t care.

Trust me on this. I’ve been banging my head against this particular wall for all of my life.

I screamed and screamed and screamed some more over Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. I pointed out the benefits and the zero costs. And I pointed out the meticulous studies done that showed massive increases in jobs, revenue and health services if that expansion occurred.

You know what people cared about?

That it was named after the black president.

That’s right. This bunch of hillbillies would rather drive across two counties while suffering a heart attack than give the “libs” the pleasure of knowing that their health care plan wasn’t terrible.

Oh, but that’s not even the most mind-boggling conversation I’ve had with Alabama voters.

That honor goes to anyone opposing gambling.

This is inevitably the dumbest debate. Because it starts with a flawed premise — that any lottery or gambling bill passed in the state — like the one Maddox is proposing — would “bring gambling to Alabama.”

I was in one of the three legally operating casinos in this state a month ago. I’ve known people who place bets with bookies or on online gambling sites. I’ve attended cash bingo games where thousands of dollars changed hands. I’ve bet on both dogs and horses, legally. And I’ve stood in line just across the borders in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to buy lottery tickets.

Gambling has been here for decades now. The only thing we don’t have are the tax revenues that are paying for other states’ kids to attend colleges, eliminating other states’ food taxes and helping fund thousands of classrooms in other states.

But the voters here, they don’t care.

That’s why they keep electing goobers who vote against even allowing Alabama citizens to vote on the issue. Because democracy is great unless the majority is going to agree on something you don’t like.

This is the reality facing Walt Maddox, as he travels around the state on a bus, trying to pretend that Alabama voters know that a governor can’t influence either abortion laws or gun laws, but can ensure their children get to see a doctor this year.

The voters in this state are so unconcerned with the issues that they don’t really care if Kay Ivey ever debates Maddox. Because, honestly, they’d rather not know that she has no ideas, can’t think on her feet and can’t lead in a crisis.

It’s much easier to not know. To just vote blindly for the GOP candidate, convinced that it’ll all work out eventually (even though it never, ever has).

Walt Maddox foolishly believes that he can reason with these people, that at some point their sense of self-preservation will kick in, that they’ll grow tired of remaining stuck living paycheck to paycheck, that the GOP corruption will finally chase them to at least consider another option.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that Walt Maddox is nuts.

 

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Alabama Hospital Association pushes for Medicaid expansion, backs candidates who do not

Bill Britt

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According to a recent AP report, the Alabama Hospital Association has launched a campaign to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. However, the organization is supporting Republican candidates who are either trying to kill the law altogether or refuse to expand its coverage in the state.

The association has so far this election cycle given nearly $20,000 each to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall and Gov. Kay Ivey. Marshall and Ivy, both Republicans, owe their current offices to disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley.

Marshall is actively using his office to abolish the law that provides health care for low-income Alabamians and is currently suing to overturn provisions that allow individuals with pre-existing conditions to not be denied health coverage.

Ivey for her part falls back on the standard line that the state can’t afford to expand Medicaid and has also signaled that she will not support the expansion sought by the Hospital Association.

Danne Howard, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the Alabama Hospital Association, told AP’s Kim Chandler, “One in every ten people who walk into a hospital doesn’t have insurance. At some point, those providers, those hospitals, are not going to be able to maintain operation. They are not going to be there, either closing their doors or cutting back services.”

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Howard expressed the need to expand Medicaid to AP but has failed to answer APR‘s question as to why the organization is supporting candidates who oppose expansion.

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox has promised to expand Medicaid if elected governor, likewise, Democrat attorney general nominee Joseph Siegelman vows to protect Alabamians with pre-existing conditions should he win in November. The Hospital Association isn’t supporting either candidate even though their campaign platforms align with the association’s stated goals.

Since Howard refuses to answer APR‘s request for information, there is no way to understand why the Hospital Association would back Ivey, who has said she would not support expanding Medicaid and Marshall who is actively working to end guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

According to The American Journal of Managed Care, “Medicaid expansion… was associated with increases in coverage, service use, quality of care, and Medicaid spending. Among those who benefitted the most are adults without a college degree, patients with cancer, and patients with diabetes.”

If Marshall prevails with his current lawsuit, Alabamians with cancer, diabetes and other pre-existing conditions would no longer have guaranteed access to health insurance.

Current law allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to non-elderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Howard says that there is a real possibility that doctors and hospital care will not be available if Medicaid does not expand, yet, her association is financing candidates whose goals are to stop expansion and cut options for those who have persistent medical problems.

 

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Fastest growth in Alabama: Baldwin, Lee Counties and the Greater Huntsville area

Brandon Moseley

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There are 383 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in the country. The Census Bureau estimates that only seven of the twelves MSAs in Alabama have experienced any growth since the 2010 census.

From 2010 to 2017 the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the Daphne-Fairhope-Foley MSA has grown from just 182,265 in 2010 to 212,612 people in 2017. That is an incredible 16.68 percent increase. That makes the Daphne-Fairhope-Foley MSA in Baldwin County the thirteenth fastest growing MSA on a growth rate basis nationally.

The Auburn-Opelika MSA has grown from 140,247 to 161,604. That is a 15.23 percent growth rate and is number 19 in growth rate in the nation.

The Huntsville MSA has grown from 417,953 people in 2010 to 445,448 people in 2017. That is a 9.07 percent growth over that time period.

The three county Tuscaloosa metro area has grown from 230,262 people in 2010 to 242,299 persons in 2017. That is a 5.49 percent increase.

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The Birmingham-Hoover metro area is the largest MSA in the state. It has grown from 1,128,047 persons in 2010 to 1,149,807 people in 2017. That is a 1.93 percent increase. Birmingham-Hoover is the 49th largest MSA in the country; but is only number 245 in growth rate nationally.

The Dothan MSA has a 2017 population of 147,914, up from 145,639 persons in 2010. That is a 1.56 percent increase.

The Mobile MSA increased from 412,993 people in 2010 to 413,955 in 2017. That is an increase of just .23 percent.

The Florence-Muscle Shoals MSA has an estimated 2017 population of 147,038. That is a decline from 147,137 persons in 2010. That is a .07 percent decline.

The four county Montgomery MSA had a 2010 population of 374,536. The Census Bureau estimated that that population has declined to 373,903. That is a .17 percent decline.

The Decatur MSA has a 2010 population of 153,829. The Census Bureau estimates that the MSA has declined to just 151,867 in 2017. That would be a 1.28 percent decline.

The Gadsden MSA which consists of just Etowah County had a 2010 population of just 104,430. The Census Bureau estimates that Etowah County has dropped to just 102,755 people. That is a decline of 1.60 percent since the last census.

The Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville MSA which consists of just Calhoun County had a 2010 population of just 118,582 people. The Census Bureau estimates that the Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville MSA has a population in 2017 of just 114,728. That is a decline of 3.24 percent which would rank Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville at number 361 out of 383 MSAs in terms of growth rate.

The state was hit extremely hard in the Great Recession, which was exacerbated by the confusion and chaos surrounded the Jefferson County bankruptcy. Jefferson County is by far the largest county in the state; but experienced several post recession years where financial issues surrounding the massive sewer system debt made it difficult for the state’s largest county to compete to recruit new employers. As a result, a lot of jobs and young people entering the prime of their working careers left the Birmingham-Hoover MSA to pursue greater opportunities elsewhere. The Birmingham area has also been hard hit by gang violence and the opioid crisis.

Huntsville on the other hand grew despite cuts in military spending during the presidency of Barack H. Obama (D). Now, President Donald J. Trump (R) is President and there is strong bipartisan support for increased defense spending. As the home of Redstone Arsenal and numerous defense contractors, Huntsville is uniquely positioned to benefit from increased spending on military research and weapon systems. Additionally Huntsville has grown their manufacturing and high tech sectors.  According to the Census Bureau, Huntsville passed Mobile in population in 2016 for the position as the third largest city in the state. There are projections showing that Huntsville will surpass Birmingham as the largest city in Alabama within five years.

The Census estimates that 4,875,000 people lived in Alabama in 2017, up from 4,785,000 in 2010. 2,383,113 Alabamians live in the four largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery MSAs. That is over 48.88 percent of the state.

Governor Kay Ivey (R) is encouraging everyone to participate in the 2020 Census that congressional reapportionment is based on. At this point, there appears to be a strong likelihood that Alabama could go from the current Seven Congressional Districts to just six based on early population growth estimates.

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Governor Ivey grand marshalls Winfield Mule Day Festival

Brandon Moseley

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via Kay Ivey for Governor Campaign

Saturday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) was on the campaign trail in Winfield where she was the grand marshal of the mule day festival.‏
“Glad to be in Winfield for the 44th Mule Day Festival!” Gov. Ivey said on social media. “It was such an honor serving as the grand marshal of the parade & being a part of this annual Alabama tradition. I enjoyed meeting the many festival goers & participants!”

Both Kay Ivey and her opponent, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D) were busy this weekend campaigning with just six weeks left until the November 6 general election. Maddox attended campaign appearances in Mobile.

Winfield’s Mule Day began Friday with Mule Night Madness which was from around 6:00 pm until midnight. The Encore Mule Night 5K race was at midnight in downtown. On Saturday vendors opened their booths before 9:00 am and stayed open until the afternoon. The parade was at 11:00 am in historic downtown Winfield. The Civil War re-enactment of the Skirmish at Luxapillila Creek was at 2:00 pm on Saturday and 2:00 pm on Sunday at the park.

Winfield is in state Senate District Six, which is one of the most competitive state Senate races. Both incumbent Senator Dr. Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) and challenger state Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay) were also in the parade.

As Grand Marshal, Gov. Ivey rode in the lead wagon in the parade drawn by a pair of red mules. More mules pulling wagons followed, along with the Danville High School band, parade riders on horseback, antique tractors, beauty contest winners, and Civil War re-enactors.

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Mule are the sterile hybrid offspring produced by crossing a horse with a donkey.  Mules played a tremendous role in American agriculture before being replaced by tractors.  George Washington was an early American mule breeder.

Organizers want anyone who is present to share their pictures of the 44th Mule Day festival.

“We NEED your HELP!! Please SHARE! Mule Day – Winfield, Alabama is collecting photographs from this years Mule Day. As many of you know, Winfield is getting their very own museum. We are needing as many photographs as possible to be a part of the Mule Day Collection. Please tag us and use the hashtag #muleday2018 #muledaywinfieldalabama. We want pictures of the parade, vendors, tractors, mules, car show, entertainment, carnival, Mule Night 5k Glow Run, civil war re-enactment & ball, your children, your family, your food experience, your shopping experience. Anything that pertains to Mule Day. Let’s see 👀 those photographs! We hope you have a wonderful and fun time at Mule Day – Winfield, Alabama. September 21, 22 & 23, 2018 Winfield Main Street Program, Inc The Pastime Theatre Winfield, Alabama Skirmish At Luxapallila Creek/Mule Day/ Winfield, AL. Sept.22, 23-2018 Winfield Chamber of Commerce Encore Rehabilitation – Winfield Skirmish At Luxapallila Creek/Mule Day/ Winfield, AL. Sept.22, 23-2018 Winfield Main Street Program, Inc.”

Gov. Ivey has been emphasizing the robust economy, her work in job creation, and the record low levels of unemployment.

“Alabama’s pro business climate has earned yet another top 3 publication ranking!” Gov. Ivey announced on social media Friday. “Thank you @AreaDevelopment for recognizing the tremendous economic development efforts going on here. AL has an unparalleled workforce, & we’re always looking to expand our #MadeinAL family!”

Maddox however is emphasizing the expansion of entitlements and will be holding a press conference on Monday in Montgomery to promote Medicaid expansion.

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

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min
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