03 Dec 2013
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The Republican Party of Alabama is currently on a path that can mildly be described as an agonizing road of moral uncertainty.
The general consensus among the Republican leadership is that if Mike Hubbard is indicted on only a few felony counts, he will be allowed to remain in his position as Speaker of the House.
As outrageous as this might sound to the average citizen, the power elite of the Republican party have determined that Hubbard will only be removed as Speaker if he is charged with more than 15 crimes; or, if his indictment begins to have a negative effect on other GOP candidates.
The thinking among the ruling class is that it is better to try and keep a lid on Hubbard’s troubles than replace him and cause doubts about the party itself. So, it is with the so-called "Law and Order Right" that only multiple charges of corruption, racketeering or using one’s office for personal gain reaches the bar of removal from leadership. As has been stated here before, this thinking by the Republican Party's leadership constitutes the height of political cynicism.
This political calculation in itself is a moral failing, which stands as a crisis of conscience for the whole Republican apparatus.
This attitude, so fraught with self-interest, illustrates the culture of corruption that has allowed Hubbard to not only remain head of this Alabama Leviathan, but to see it thrive for so long. The head must be removed for the good of the State, but it appears that Hubbard will survive as Speaker, unless his indictment inconveniences other’s elections.
Those who promote such notions should be removed from office, and they would be, if the good people of this State knew what a ruse is being played on them by their elected officials.
Is holding an office so dear and the will to power so great, that morals are so easily sacrificed to the gods of elections?
What idols do our leaders worship? Is it the flag that flies over the Capitol?
Has the Great Seal of Alabama become their Golden Calf, worshipped on a bloody altar where our morals are sacrificed, just to gain four more years of office?
When will men and women of character rise from the pigs swallow created by Hubbard to lead our people with righteousness and honor?
Like all people, if charged with crimes, Hubbard should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But a man who is considered to be the most powerful politician in Alabama should be held to a higher standard of ethical behavior, and therefore should be removed from any position of leadership or influence. Even the appearance of a moral failing in such a high office should be enough to remove an individual from the roll of leadership, much less removal from the most powerful position in the State Legislature.
Hubbard has spent his political career destroying the lives of other men and women. He has exercised power without guilt or remorse. Yet, he will now expect to be treated with kindness and consideration.
When the Democrats were in power, if one had been charged with so much as one count of using his office for personal gain, Hubbard would have stood on the steps of the State House crying for his removal. Now that Hubbard is in that position, he will fight, bully and beg to keep the reins of power.
The Republican Party will either display moral leadership or political cowardice.
Which will it be?
03 Dec 2013
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Last year, Senate Bill 122 was placed on the legislative calendar under the guise of “streamlining government.” In reality, the bill was an egregious power grab by the leadership of the Republican Supermajority. There is already a plan in place to bring the bill back before lawmakers in 2014.
Most senators, including the one who sponsored the bill, had little knowledge of what was in the actual legislation and even less about its undisclosed agenda.
If enacted, SB122 sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba) would have abolished longstanding institutions such as the Legislative Council, the Legislative Committee on Public Accounts, the Joint Fiscal Committee, the Legislative Building Authority, and the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment.
In essence, if passed into law, SB122 would have given almost all oversight of the legislature services as well as the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts into the hands of a small number of legislators.
Even more troubling, those members would serve at the whim of the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem giving them unchecked powers. Their budgets, expenditures, and all processes would become a black hole in which the Speaker and Pro Tem could act with impunity.
This year, the legislature is looking to add another level of "self-protection" to not only its leadership, but for all members of the Legislative body. This comes in the form of a pair of bills HB34 and HB35 that would first, “require each department and agency of the Alabama Legislature to notify in writing each member of the Legislature whenever a legal action is instituted against the department or agency or any of their employees acting in their official capacity, and to post the notice on the Internet website of the Alabama Legislature.”
Secondly, it would make all communications between, “the Legislature and an officer or the Legislature is privileged and confidential.” This legislation coming from Democrat Joseph Mitchell.
These three bills taken together would create a governmental body that would be beyond investigation or punishment.
Law enforcement would not be able to call a legislator or anyone on their staff or another legislative personal to give testimony against anyone in the State House.
It would also give legislators a “heads-up,” if any investigation was initiated.
But, much of this would never happen because under SB122, the Office of Public Examiner would be without the ability to investigate public offices because of the influence of the legislative leadership.
In the case of the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, a handful of legislators could decide the fate of any investigation by the public examiners.
Currently, the department is an independent auditing agency according to its state website, the department has, “the authority to perform audits of the accounts of all entities receiving or disbursing public funds.”
The men and women who make-up the department are the watch dogs against public corruption at every level of state and local government.
Many investigations by the Attorney General, various District Attorneys and Federal law-enforcement are a result of an audit conducted by the Office of the Public Examiner. The finding of an examiner’s audit is used as “prima facie" evidence in court proceedings.
What should be frightening to anyone who cares about honest government is that SB122 eliminates the autonomy and independence of the Chief Examiner's office and places it under the legislators, who can manipulate the process. This is a case of passing a law that would allow the foxes to guard the hen house. In the right hands, SB122 would allow a particular party to decide who is investigated, or what information would see the light of day. This bill would also strip the employees of the Examiners of Public Accounts of their merit system status making them vulnerable to firings at the whim of the legislators.
Without the audits performed by the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Jefferson County sewer debacle would never have been prosecuted. Also, Roy Johnson and the criminal activities within Alabama’s two-year college system would have never been revealed.
SB122 opens the door for corruption while closing the door on how the government uncovers public corruption.
Under existing law, the auditors at the department enjoy the protection of Merit pay.
Under SB122, that will be removed.
Last year when asked about SB122 and the removal of merit pay from the public examiners office Gov. Bentley said, “I believe that the public accounts office should be under the merit system and not be beholden unto a group of twelve because they need to be independent.” He added “They need to feel like they can make judgments independently.”
The group the Governor is referring to is the junta that would be created by the Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem under SB122.
The Governor said that he believed that it concentrated too much power into the hands of too few people.
He also said, “I have not heard any complaints on how the system is working right now, so I am just wondering why you change a system that is working well?”
But the hidden agenda behind much of the so-called consolidation legislation is simply an attempt to concentrate unlimited power into the hands of a few, while also giving them the ability to act without fear of investigation or prosecution.
One little known fact is that the House amended SB122 to give sole authority to grant press credentials to the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor. Under the current rules, the non-partisan Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House have the authority to grant press credentials to members of the media.
But, so outraged were some in the Republican Supermajority at the reporting of the Alabama Political Reporter that the amendment was added and championed by Rep. Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) and was referred to by many as the “Britt Amendment.”
The goal of these bills is to shield the Legislative body from oversight, accountability, scrutiny or punishment.
If these bills pass, the result will be a carnival of lies, law breaking, coercion, threats, bribes, misappropriations of tax dollars and more.
This appears to be the exact intention of the Republican Supermajority.
23 Oct 2013
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— The latest trend in Alabama State politics is for Republican legislators to resign their positions to become lobbyist. If Charlotte Meadows wins Montgomery House District 74, she will be a lobbyist who becomes a legislator.
Meadows is a paid lobbyist for the non-profit StudentsFirst led by the controversial school reform champion Michelle Rhee. Rhee’s organization is backed by Wall Street billionaires who see public education funds as the next big boom for the high-flying investors.
Meadows has bragged about her lobbying work for StudentsFirst the same way she has touted the closing of schools and the laying off of teachers during her tenure on the Montgomery School Board. These she considers major accomplishments of her short career in education.
As the wife of a wealthy Montgomery physician, Meadows says she has a background in building a small business. But, other than her work for StudentsFirst, there is no data to support such claims. What Meadows does have going for her candidacy is her close ties to Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. Both who wish to see public education in the state privatized.
Powerful politicians like Hubbard are counting on Meadows' election to prompt Michelle Rhee to bring her millions to Alabama to ensure that control of State government stays in the hands of a few corporate-owned insiders.
StudentsFirst is spending big money to elect lawmakers who will pass legislation to open public school system to privatization.
In neighboring Tennessee during the 2011-2012 election cycle, StudentsFirst spent $533,000 on around 60 local races, according to a national report. Campaign records in Tennessee show that Rhee’s group was the biggest source of campaign money outside of the state’s party PACs.
No doubt Alabama needs education reform. The state is ranked at the bottom when it comes to education funding, yet, our teachers have managed to keep our students at number 30 in the nation.
Meadows hopes to replace Rep. Jay Love, who traded his seat in the House to take a high-paying lobbying job with an education reformed group backed by the Business Council of Alabama.
Like the Wall Street bankers that back Rhee, Meadows is angling for the elite business machine of the BCA to give her a much needed push across the finish line.
StudentsFirst is so eager to break into the Alabama market that Michelle Rhee personally came from her home in California to lobby in Alabama last session, right before the passing of the Accountability Act.
Meadows has been criticized by the state’s teachers association, AEA, for her part in the controversial Alabama Accountability Act. Meadows told the Montgomery Advertiser in late September, “Alabama’s education system needs reform and I’m not going to back down because AEA attacks me.”
A campaign mailer from the teachers groups reads in part,
“It would be great for Charlotte Meadows if she’s elected to the Legislature...then she could vote for legislation that benefits the special interest group she works for.”
Among StudentsFirst’s stated goals is to end teachers tenure and to bring charter schools to every state. Meadows shares these goals, so, perhaps the attacks are just inconvenient statements of facts.
Meadows has said that she would leave the employ of StudentFirst if elected, however under state law she cannot be a lobbyist and be in the legislature at the same time.
The AEA has also stated that Meadows supports taking money from public education and giving it to charter schools. This is a position that Meadows has proudly embraced.
Because of Meadows' employment with Michelle Rhee, and given Meadows' other elected office as a member of the school board, questions about her thoughts on public education would seem to be appropriate.
The StudentFirst agenda is heavily supported by Speaker Mike Hubbard, the BCA and those who see public education as a growth industry for the business class. Meadows shares that agenda and doesn’t seem to be shying away from it.
The question that is before the voters: Do you believe that public education should be placed in the hands of financiers or in the care of career educators?
The debate continues...
27 Nov 2013
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
For almost two years, the Alabama Political Reporter has accurately reported the misdealings of Republican Mike Hubbard. Through thoroughly researched reports we have made evident Hubbard’s many unscrupulous schemes to use his office and position to circumvent the law and enrich himself.
When we first began to bring to light the many dubious affairs of Hubbard, he met our reporting with simple denials. We were dismissed as up-starts, looking to cause problems. As our reporting progressed, Hubbard had his people try to smear us personally.
Then his minions contacted our advertisers, such as Troy University and informed them that the Speaker of the House did not want them to support us with advertising dollars. We lost Troy University and others.
His campaign of destruction went so far that a lobbyist for ALFA was heard saying at the State House, “Don’t get close to them, they are on the Speaker's hit list.”
Imagine, a representative of one of the most powerful and respected organizations in Alabama, warning against association with members of the press corps because they were on the Speaker’s hit list.
What is even more outrageous is the fact that the Speaker would be so desperate to cover-up his activities, that he would try to destroy members of the press; personally and financially. Trying to cripple the press has been a pattern all-too familiar in the history of our State and Nation. When simple denial of fact fails, the would-be felon turns to destroying the messenger.
Hubbard made it widely known that not only were we, the Alabama Political Reporter, on his hit list, but that we were “wrong and crazy.”
Not only did he put "the fear of Hubbard" into those who might advertise with us, he enlisted a host of so-called media personalities to smear our reputation with lies, half facts and innuendo.
When these ham-fisted tactics did not stop the flow of reporting on his vast network of self-enrichment and using his office for personal gains, he even tried to have our press credentials at the StateHouse revoked.
For this he used such men as Senators Phil Williams and Bryan Taylor.
Yes, the Speaker used every means he could employ to distort, destroy and stop our reporting.
The one thing Hubbard and his surrogates have never done is challenge our facts. Once it became apparent that the facts of our reporting were being taken seriously and that Hubbard was in real legal trouble, a new method of intimidation was employed.
A disparate Hubbard hired the high-priced, criminal defense attorney, J. Mark White. White brought with him a team of lawyers and investigators to exposes and prosecute those who were making so-called “libelous” statements against the Speaker and his family. Hubbard and company even tried to solicit member of what he called the legitimate press to speak out against us and any who might speak the truth about him. White called some in the press corps in an effort to have them help in discrediting “bloggers.”
At the Alabama Political Reporter we do not consider ourselves bloggers. We are not merely expressing opinions, nor are we hobbyists with an agenda. The men and women who make-up the core of our news reporting are veteran journalists, who follow the best practices of our trade.
But Hubbard and company are not content to just accuse us of some dire motivation. Lately, he has been saying that Matt Hart, the head of the State’s white-collar crime division is “crazy and unstable.” He has gone so far as to say that Attorney General, Luther Strange, has arranged his prosecution because Strange wants to be Governor someday.
The Hubbards of the World are what make the people distrust government. The fact that not one politician stood up to Hubbard’s corruption is perhaps the worst insult added to the injury.
The fact that Hubbard has been exposed and may soon be prosecuted is a testament to our country’s First Amendment, where no would-be prince or dictator is exempt from the relentless investigation of a free press.
When a free press is joined by honest law-enforcement the state is better for it.
That AG Luther Strange and his staff would have the courage to face down those who would use their office for personal gain shows that Strange and his people are driven by principle and not party.
02 Oct 2013
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In his most recent filings under the Fair Campaign Practice Act, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard reports giving $17,797.44 to the state in an act of disgorgement.
According to Black's Law Dictionary, disgorgement is "the act of giving up something—such as profits illegally obtained—on demand or by legal compulsion."
Hubbard’s campaign report for September 1, 2013, shows that he gave the almost $18,000.00 in campaign funds as “Disgorgement per Ala. code 17-5-7(a)(3) per 9/12/13 letter.”
The letter referred to in Hubbard’s campaign filing was not attached to the other documents provided at the Secretary of State's website, a request has been made for the letter.
However, a review of Hubbard’s August FCPA filings show that in that month Hubbard made two transfers to from his Network PAC to his personal campaign account, Friends of Mike Hubbard. On 8/07/13 he transferred $15,000.00 and on 8/30/13 he transferred $2,797.44 from his PAC to his personal campaign account totaling $17,797.44. This is the exact amount Hubbard expensed back to the state.
On September 3, 2013, Hubbard closed the political action committee Network PAC that he and his wife Susan opened in 2002. (Statement of Dissolution) The transfers were among the Hubbard’s last acts before shuttering of his political actions committee, Network PAC.
Why did Hubbard decide to give the money to the state?
Disgorgement carries with it the idea that the money involved has the taint of an unethical and/or illegal enrichment.
What is it about the money from Network PAC that caused such actions?
Recently, several attorneys speculated that Hubbard’s closing of Network PAC was a political calculation to separate the PAC should any legal proceeding that might be on going against the beleaguered Speaker.
However, the idea of returning money that has been somehow tainted would be a move a criminal defense attorney would recommend. The first being a political strategy the latter being a legal one.
They also point out that this could be like the bank robber who tries to return the loot after the heist. Returning the money doesn’t remove the underlying crime.
While all this is speculation, there has been a series of unusual moves made by Hubbard in recent weeks.
Giving money to the state as a remedy for some kind of wrongdoing is just the latest.
When Hubbard closed Network PAC not only did he transfer funds to his personal account he also gave campaign contributions in the amount of $5000.00 each to Ken Johnson, Jim Patterson, Wayne Johnson, Wes Long, Beck Nordgren, Kurt Wallace and Kay Ivey. He also gave $1000.00 to both Tracy Ledbetter and Charles Hines.
That Hubbard has expense $17,797.44 to the state in an act of disgorgement coupled with the fact that his campaign website makes it clear that he is not accepting campaign contributions at this time raises some very interesting questions.
The last time Hubbard transferred money from Network PAC to Friends of Mike Hubbard was in November, 30, 2010, when he moved $145,000.00 from the PAC to his personal campaign account.
Over the years, millions of dollars have flowed in and out of Network PAC with money passing into the campaigns of almost every sitting republican legislator.
An email was sent to Hubbard’s office requesting clarification concerning his disgorgement. We also asked to be provided a copy of the letter that is mentioned in his recent fillings. Hubbard nor his staff returned our request for information.