By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
It is said there is nothing new under the sun. So it is that Alabama lawmakers returned to Montgomery this week again under the noxious cloud of an investigation into alleged government corruption. Only this time the stench is drifting from a Republican-controlled House.
Speaker Mike Hubbard is the apparent subject of an Attorney General’s probe into whether state laws were broken when perhaps millions were funneled from the Alabama Republican Party and other PACs to companies owned by Hubbard during his tenure as ALGOP chairman.
Hubbard – who not long ago proclaimed himself the corruption-fighting “new Sheriff in town” –has in the past denied any wrongdoing.
Tuesday was the first official gathering of legislators since a Special Grand Jury began hearing evidence, including financial records from the Alabama Republican Party during Hubbard’s reign. And the anticipation that comes with a fresh legislative session was notably darkened by increasing paranoia, particularly among House Republicans once close to Speaker Hubbard.
“When I came here I was new to how I believed in the leadership operated,” said a freshmen representative, who did not want to be identified, “now, that I know what is really going on, I am keeping my distance [from the speaker], frankly I’m scared that I may be some how involved and didn’t know it.”
At the heart of the investigation are the many ways Hubbard used campaign funds either directly from the PACs he controlled or indirectly—as in the case of subcontractor to notorious political operatives, called Majority Strategies, based in Ponte Vedra, Florida—to enrich himself.
As the state investigation proceeds, the Alabama Political Reporter has continued to examine the flow of cash from the state Republican Party, various political organizations and legislative candidates to businesses and PACs controlled by Hubbard.
Our reporters have identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to Hubbard’s companies – transactions that are in addition to those currently being examined by investigators. But it remains unclear exactly how much money Hubbard profited, personally, and to what extent his businesses were propped up political money during the historic 2010 elections.
Here we are examining Hubbard’s 2010 use of PAC transfers to an anti-gambling group that waged a $1 million-plus campaign against the “Sweet Home Alabama” plan to regulate e-bingo.
At the height of the 2010 anti-gambling fervor, Hubbard used PAC-to-PAC transfers to funnel more than $400,000 to an anti-gambling group linked to Indian gaming casinos in Alabama.
The group, Citizens for a Better Alabama (CBA), in turn hired Hubbard’s private companies to create and saturate the Alabama airwaves with anti-gambling ads – some or all of which were produced by one of Hubbard’s privately owned companies.
Citizens for a Better Alabama
Citizens for Better Alabama (CBA) was a Birmingham-based, tax-exempt group that was the public face of opposition to Sweet Home Alabama, and to shut down legal casinos operated at VictoryLand and Country Crossings. According to archived versions of its website, the CBA – run by Birmingham lawyer A. Eric Johnston – has “been an advocate for the family since 1991.
But its origin, funding and objectives are never quite transparent.
According to the Associated Press, CBA started out as “Citizens Against Legalized Lottery” but changed its name in 2001 after an investigation by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs disclosed the group was “a vehicle by which Mississippi casino interests opposed legislation in Alabama that threatened their market share on gaming.”
Nearly a decade later, in 2010, the CBA surfaced again in a bitter and expensive campaign against VictoryLand and Country Crossing. Again, it used Indian gaming money, in part, to fund its political battle. The Montgomery Advertiser reported late last year that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians gave $100,000 in 2010 to a national Republican organization the same day that organization donated $100,000 to CBA.
According to the Advertiser, “a check log from the Republican State Leadership Committee shows the group received a $100,000 check from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians on June 10, 2010. State campaign-finance documents filed by the RSLC show the GOP group made a $100,000 donation that same day to Citizens for a Better Alabama.”
For Speaker Hubbard, Opposing Gambling is Good Politics and Even Better for Business…
Speaker Hubbard’s role in raising money for – and receiving money from – the CBA group is only beginning to be fully explored.
Based on 2010 campaign finance and other records, the CBA was a crucial aspect of Hubbard’s political strategies – and a potentially lucrative aspect of his financial bottom-line.
According to the IRS Form 990 tax returned filed by CBA for 2010, the tax-exempt 501c4 group took in a little over $1 million in donations.
Of that amount, $413,750 came from Hubbard’s personal leadership PAC – the Auburn-based Network PAC – between February and October 2010.
Here are a few of the PAC to PAC transfers that went to CBA and then to at least one owned Hubbard businesses :
February 2, 2010: Alabama Republican Party (controlled by Mike Hubbard) sends $50,000 to Network PAC (controlled by Mike Hubbard) http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0109997.PDF
NETWORK PAC shows receipt of the $50,000 from the Alabama GOP THE SAME DAY (2/2/2010) http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110802.PDF
and immediately writes a check to CBA THAT SAME DAY (2/2/2010) http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110805.PDF
On 2/1/2010 Sanford P. Brass, the CEO of Gulf Coast Asphalt – who now employ BOB RILEY as a lobbyist – wrote a check for $50,000 to NETWORK PAC http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110802.PDF
The NEXT DAY (2/2/2010) that $50,000 was passed on to CBA http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110805.PDF
The $155,000 passed through NETWORK PAC to CBA on March 1, 2010 is a truly remarkable example of political money laundering. MIke Hubbard ran precisely $155,000 through 5 PACS (three of them controlled by Bob Riley’s nephew and niece, one controlled by Riley’s political consultant Dax Swatek, and one controlled by Hubbard himself) BACK INTO NETWORK PAC and then sending that exact $155,000 to CBA.
Here is how it worked: The Alabama Republican Party contributed exactly $35,000 to AGPAC (controlled by Bob Riley’s nephew Johnny Adams and his wife Kim Adams) on 2/18/2010 http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0111353.PDF
AGPAC then wrote two checks (the next two written after receiving the money from the state GOP) to NETWORK PAC for $20,000 on 2/26 and 23,000 on 3/1 (total $43,000) http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0111355.PDF
Then the AL GOP wrote a check to Common Sense PAC (controlled by Riley nephew Johnny Adams – again on 2/18 – for $25,000 http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0113497.PDF
On 2/27 Common Sense PAC wrote a check for $8,000 to Network PAC and on 3/1 wrote a check for $11,000 to Network PAC ($19,000 total) http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0113498.PDF
Victory PAC – controlled by Riley nephew Johnny Adams and his wife Kim – was next, getting $45,000 from the Alabama Republican Party (again on 2/18/2010) http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0113500.PDF
This money was passed on to Hubbard’s Network PAC disguised as three checks – one for $2500 on 2/26, one for $22,000 on 2/27, and one for $21,000 on 3/2 ($45,500 total) http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0113501.PDF
Dax Swatek – longtime consultant for both Bob Riley and Mike Hubbard – received $15,000 from the AL GOP for his DSA PACon 2/16 http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0111592.PDF
He passed $9,000 of that along to Network PAC on 2/27 http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0111593.PDF
The Alabama GOP itself directly passed along $35,000 to NETWORK PAC on 2/17 http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110802.PDF
The Alabama GOP – controlled by Mike Hubbard – contributed precisely $155,000 to NETWORK PAC and the 3 PACS controlled by Bob Riley’s nephew and niece and the PAC controlled by his political consultant – all between 2/16/2010 and 2/18/2010.
AGPAC – $35,000; AL GOP – $35,000; Common Sense PAC – $25,000; DSA PAC – $15,000; Victory PAC $45,000. TOTAL: $155,000
These PACS then turned over almost that exact sum to Hubbard’s NETWORK PAC ($151,500) and Hubbard DID give exactly $155,000 to CBA on 3/1/2010. http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110805.PDF
And on 3/17 2010 the Alabama GOP gave $57,000 to NETWORK PAC – money that had originated in a $150,000 donation from Poarch Creek Indian money conduit RSLC PAC on 3/18 http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110567.PDF and then was split into a $93,000 donation to Bob Riley’s GOV PAC and a $57,000 donation to Hubbard’s NETWORK PAC dated 3/12/2010 http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110569.PDF ; this money also ended up being passed to CBA http://arc-sos.state.al.us/PEL/SOSELPDF.003/E0110805.PDF on 3/17/2010.
The contributions are rife with irony. Consider that in February 2010 Hubbard said of ethics reform proposals before the legislature, “PAC-to-PAC, that’s going to end. I’m not someone who wants to limit what people or groups can spend supporting the people who they want in office, but whatever anybody contributes should be known. I think we want transparency. I know the word gets used a lot. But that’s really what we’re talking about, pulling the curtain back and seeing where the money comes from and where it goes,” Hubbard was quoted as saying in an AL.COM story.
But while PAC-to-PAC transfers were legal, and practiced by Democrats and Republicans alike, the Hubbard transfers were unique because an unknown amount of the money ended up with Hubbard businesses.
The CBA does not disclose in its tax returns, or in state filings for the Political Action Committee it operated at the time, where it spent more than $1 million in contributions. However, Hubbard has acknowledged that the advertising wing of his family of businesses was hired by the CBA.
CBA raised and spent over $1 million in 2010 after never taking in over $50,000 in a year ever before. The contributors do not appear to be listed but on this form at “part IV, line 2” it indicates that this form MUST include a list of contributors (“schedule b”). It does not. Link for the 990: http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2010/631/031/2010-631031538-07846083-9O.pdf
In an April 2010 story in the Huntsville Times, Hubbard said that his media companies were placing anti-bingo advertising for the CBA. The Times reported that “even though his company is benefiting financially from placing the anti-gambling ads, Hubbard said “that would not stop him from voting” on the bill to allow voter referendum on legalized gambling. http://blog.al.com/breaking/2010/04/leftover_riley_pac_money_would.html
According to the waka.com website, in February 2010 (when Hubbard’s PAC money began flowing to CBA) the group began airing the first of its statewide ads. “CBAs spots accuse gambling interests of misleading Alabamians to approve a tainted casino bill,” waka.com reported. http://www.wakacbs8.com/news/1167-bingo-battle-extends-to-tv-airways.html
Anti-Gambling Deal Under Scrutiny?
The Attorney General’s investigation appears to focus on spending by the ALGOP and other Hubbard controlled PACs during Hubbard’s tenure as chairman. Those close to the Attorney General’s office say that these types transaction between Hubbard and CBA are part of the on going investigations, into allegations that Hubbard enriched himself using campaign contributions.
Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Buck’s pocket
You voted Tuesday on a crowded ballot.
Historically, in Alabama we have voted more heavily in our Governor’s race year than in a presidential year. That is probably because we were more interested in the local sheriff and probate judge’s races, which run in a gubernatorial year, than who is president. The old adage, “all politics is local,” definitely applies here in Alabama.
We not only have a governor’s race this year, we have all secondary statewide offices with a good many of them open including Lt. Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Auditor, and two seats on the Public Service Commission. We have five seats on the State Supreme Court, one being Chief Justice. All 140 seats in the Legislature are up for a four-year term. These 35 state Senate seats and 105 House contests are where most of the special interest PAC money will go. And, yes, we have 67 sheriffs and 68 probate judges as well as a lot of circuit judgeships on the ballot.
You may think the campaigning is over. However, some of the above races have resulted in a runoff which will be held on July 17. So get ready, we have six more weeks of campaigning before all the horses are settled on for the sprint in November.
We have a lot of folks headed to Buck’s Pocket. Last year after the open Senate seat contest, a young TV reporter for one of the stations I do commentary for asked me about Roy Moore and his loss. I told her ole Moore had gotten on his horse, Sassy, and ridden off into the sunset to Buck’s Pocket, which by the way wasn’t a long ride from his home in Gallant in Etowah County. She looked at me with a puzzled look. Probably a lot of you are also wondering what I’m talking about when I refer to Buck’s Pocket.
For decades, losing political candidates in Alabama have been exiled to Buck’s Pocket. It is uncertain when or how the colloquialism began, but political insiders have used this terminology for at least 60 years. Alabama author, Winston Groom, wrote a colorful allegorical novel about Alabama politics and he referred to a defeated gubernatorial candidate having to go to Buck’s Pocket. Most observers credit Big Jim Folsom with creating the term. He would refer to the pilgrimage and ultimate arrival of his opponents to the political purgatory reserved for losing gubernatorial candidates.
This brings me to another contention surrounding Buck’s Pocket. Many argue that Buck’s Pocket is reserved for losing candidates in the governor’s race. Others say Buck’s Pocket is the proverbial graveyard for all losing candidates in Alabama.
One thing that all insiders agree on is that once you are sent to Buck’s pocket you eat poke salad for every meal. Groom also suggested that you were relegated to this mythical rural resting place forever. However, history has proven that a good many defeated Alabama politicians have risen from the grave and left Buck’s Pocket to live another day. Roy Moore may be a good example. He has risen from the grave before. He is only 70, and he may grow weary of eating poke sallet.
Most folks don’t know that there really is a Buck’s Pocket. Big Jim would campaign extensively in rural North Alabama often one on one on county roads. One day while stumping in the remote Sand Mountain area of DeKalb County he wound up in an area referred to as Buck’s Pocket. It was a beautiful and pristine area, but it was sure enough back in the woods. Big Jim who loved the country and loved country folks was said to say that, “I love the country but I sure wouldn’t want to be sent to Buck’s Pocket to live.”
Buck’s pocket is now not a mythical place. If you are traveling up the interstate past Gadsden, on the way to Chattanooga, you will see it. There is a Buck’s Pocket State Park in DeKalb County, thanks to Big Jim.
So the next time you hear an old timer refer to a defeated candidate as going to Buck’s Pocket, you will know what they are talking about.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
Hubbard’s Lee County Trial Finally Ends in Silence
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The post-trial appeal of convicted felon and former Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, finally expired on September 8, in silence, according to the Attorney General’s office calculations.
For almost four years, Hubbard, aided by his criminal lawyers, used the State House, the Governor’s Office and some within the Attorney General’s office to deny, deflect and delay justice. Hubbard stormed the State House presiding over an orgy of greed and corruption. Those days are over for Hubbard and so is any appeal before the circuit court of Lee County.
Under Rule 24.4 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, Hubbard’s motion for a new trial, dismissal and/or an investigation by the Lee County Sheriff were denied by operation of law because Judge Jacob Walker, III, did nothing.
Under the Rules of Criminal Procedure, “no motion for a new trial or motion… shall remain pending in the trial court for more than sixty days after the pronouncement of sentence.” Hubbard’s sentencing July 8, on 12 felony counts of public corruption, means as of September 8, the calendar has run out for him, with Judge Walker deciding not to rule at all.
Under Rule 24.4: Denial by operation of law. “A failure by the trial court to rule on such a motion within the sixty (60) days allowed by this section shall constitute a denial of the motion as of the sixtieth day.”
At his post-trial hearing, Hubbard’s attorneys made their last stand in Lee County, with Bill Baxley arguing that his client was blindsided, bushwhacked and bamboozled, to no avail.
The Lee County case of the State of Alabama versus Michael G. Hubbard is over. He has a right to appeal his conviction to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals within 42 days, which expires on October 20.
Hubbard’s past efforts show he will seek every avenue available to delay his incarceration.
Every previous motion that Hubbard has set before the Court of Criminal Appeals, was denied without opinion. Many believe this same fate awaits Hubbard’s next appeal before the high court.
Hubbard’s days of freedom are rapidly coming to an end. His appeal was silently denied and most didn’t even notice. He is rapidly becoming yesterday’s news.
Hubbard’s Post-Trial Snoozer
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
OPELIKA—While searching for any thread of an argument that might lead to a new trial for convicted felon Mike Hubbard—once the most powerful politico in the state—attorney Bill Baxley whined, fretted and accused state prosecutors of blindsiding, bushwhacking and bamboozling his client.
Having written about Hubbard’s misdeeds since late 2012, the courtroom drama ending with his conviction makes Baxley’s latest attempt at the September 2 hearing feel like Hubbard trial 2.0 ad nauseam. Only Baxley’s fantastical leaps of legal logic and strained linguistic gymnastics kept the proceedings remotely interesting. Baxley argued several points, only winning on one issue with Judge Walker’s ruling that Hubbard would not be required to pay $1.125 million in restitution, as the prosecution asked.
Before the hearing began, Hubbard’s criminal defense team filed a motion to unseal all court documents related to the case, except one document. Baxley indicated that Judge Jacob Walker knew “the one” he referred too. After some legal wrangling by the prosecution and with Judge Walker, the defense was directed to construct a list of documents to be unsealed. Judge Walker’s decision was followed by Baxley huffing and puffing. Finally, he made reference to testimony given by Professor Bennett L. Gershman a “so-called” expert in prosecutorial misconduct. Hubbard filed to have Gershman’s testimony unsealed in 2015, to no avail.
Testimony given by former State Ethics Directors James “Jim” Sumner is central to Hubbard’s motion to dismiss or grant a new trial, neither of which is likely to occur. But, Baxley and company need to earn the additional $50,000 plus Hubbard recently raised from “friends.” Baxley argued it was improper for the State to present “expert” testimony about what various portions of the ethics statute mean, and whether certain phrases or clauses within those statutes would or would not encompass certain situations or events. The court seemed unmoved by Baxley’s logic since Judge Walker certified Sumner as an expert.
During the two-hour hearing, Baxley’s delaying tactics appeared to try Judge Walker’s patience, especially when the defense claimed they were unprepared to hear testimony concerning jury misconduct. Judge Walker said he set aside other cases to hear Hubbard’s claims of jury misconduct, a surprising claim that surfaced quickly after Hubbard’s conviction.
Hubbard’s criminal defense team citing an affidavit from a panel member filed a motion just days after Hubbard’s conviction calling for an investigation into jury misconduct by an impartial third party. In searching for a neutral investigator, Baxley determined Hubbard’s friend Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones was the best choice.
From the bench, Judge Walker informed Baxley that there is no legal basis for an outside investigation, and that testimony would be taken before his court to settle the matter. Baxley claimed the defense was once again unprepared for such at the hearing, and the juror who reported the alleged misconduct was unavailable.
Judge Walker questioned the two bailiffs and the court administrators who oversaw Hubbard’s trial. Bailiff Bobby Bond testified that he was instructed by court administrator Patricia Campbell, to caution a juror who reportedly was talking under her breath at the beginning of Hubbard’s trial. Bond said he issued the warning, but the juror denied the allegations and no further complaints were noted. Both Bailiffs who rotated sitting next to the jury box during the proceedings testified they never heard chatter from any jurors.
Under oath, Campbell confirmed she had received the complaint and reported it to Judge Walker, who ordered her to address the situation through the bailiffs. Baxley asked Campbell what was said. She remembered the accusing juror of claiming a fellow juror said, “Yes, now the truth comes out.”
Defense co-council Lance Bell rose to claim that Hubbard had not received a fair trial an assertion soon rebutted by the prosecution.
He, along with Baxley said the jury was not impartial, and Hubbard should receive, at least, a new trial. Arguing for the prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Katie Langer cited case law and explained the split verdict showed they were, in fact, impartial because otherwise, the trial would have ended with a hung jury.
As Judge Walker pointed out several times, the clock is ticking with very few days remaining before the 60 day deadline brings all proceeding before his court to a close. The trial judge may rule on these motion or simply wait out the clock.
Photo Credit: Albert Cesare/Montgomery Advertiser/Pool
Attorney General Reacts to Hubbard Loyalist’s Plans for Ethics Reform
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Alabama House Ethics Committee Chairman, Mike Ball (R-Madison), announced his plans (yesterday) to form a commission to review the state’s ethics laws. Ball, a staunch defender of convicted felon and former House Speaker, Mike Hubbard, told WHNT-TV in Huntsville that his committee would “review the State’s Ethics laws and recommend improvements in time for the opening of the Alabama Legislature next year.”
However, just hours after APR published its story on Ball’s plan, Attorney General Luther Strange, sent his comments. “I am strongly opposed to Rep. Mike Ball’s idea of a commission to review Alabama’s ethics law. The whole point of such a commission would be to undermine the law,” said Strange. “Alabamians want our ethics laws enforced, not gutted.”
Ball also said he wanted an “open and honest” process, stating, “Our best chance for success is for it to be carefully looked at, out in the open.” Ball claims he is determined to stop three ethics bills from coming to the House because he didn’t want them “lost in the mix, however, there is a reason to believe other forces are at work, especially given Speaker McCutcheon’s promise of principled leadership.”
It would be difficult to fathom a Hubbard loyalist overseeing a commission to amend laws that landed his former boss in prison.
The day after Hubbard’s indictment, Ball stood by his side at a pep rally proclaiming his boss’s innocence while sporting an “I Like Mike” sticker on his lapel.
Ball regularly appeared on talk radio accusing State prosecutors of conducting a political witch hunt to ensnare Hubbard.
In April 2015, Ball testified in a pre-trial hearing that Hubbard’s arrest was politically motivated. Under oath, Ball said the ethics laws needed amending to avoid prosecutions like Hubbard’s in the future.
Presiding Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker, III allowed Ball to testify, even though he said Ball’s testimony was not relevant to Hubbard’s indictments. Judge Walker ruled that accusations against Special Division’s Chief Matt Hart were not only irrelevant, but unfounded.
Ball is one of the remaining Hubbard loyalists at the State House.