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Stealing the Statehouse

Ethics Chief Approves Speaker Contract

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama Ethics Commission Director James L. Sumner approved a lucrative contract between House Speaker Mike Hubbard and a company seeking favorable Medicaid legislation, even though Sumner never saw the contract and relied entirely on Hubbard’s verbal characterization of the business arrangement.

According to Sumner, Hubbard informed him after-the-fact of a business agreement between Hubbard’s media company, Auburn Network Inc., and the Bessemer-based American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc. (APCI). “He said it (the contract) was to provide several services is what I understood. I don’t recall that he went into detail.”

APCI is a advocacy group for independent pharmacies, providing government lobbying services, as well as bulk purchasing of prescription drugs. APCI pushed aggressively this spring for a General Fund budget that allow APCI to become the Pharmacy Benefits Manager for Alabama Medicaid Agency, an arrangement potential worth millions of dollars in federal and state Medicaid funds. Budget language pushed by APCI would have made the company the only qualified PBM in Alabama.

Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBM) would administer to prescription drug purchases for Medicaid. Major pharmacies across the state – as well as some critics in Gov. Bentley’s administration – were concerned that PBMs might cut reimbursements, making it harder for Medicaid recipients to get their medicines.

Even though APCI was one of the most active groups lobbying for a share of  $600 million-a-year in state and federal Medicaid money, Sumner told the Alabama Political Reporter that he saw no need for the Ethics Commission or its lawyers to examine details of the business arrangements between the Speaker of the House and APCI. “No, I never saw a contract and didn’t ask to see a contract,” Sumner said.

Without seeing the contract, it is impossible to know whether APCI monetary payments to Hubbard were intended to influence his favorable votes. Sumner did not indicate whether he warned Hubbard that the contract – or Hubbard’s multiple votes on the APCI/ Budget bill – presented a clear or potential conflict of interest.

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Alabama’s ethics code defines conflicts of interest this way, “A conflict of interest involves any action, inaction, or decision by a public official or public employee in the discharge of his or her official duties which would materially affect his or her financial interest or those of his or her family members or any business with which the person is associated in a manner different from the manner it affects the other members of the class to which he or she belongs.”

Sumner explained that Hubbard’s statement of economic interest should list his income from Auburn Network.

“If I can make an analogy,” said Sumner, “it is like a law firm, say a member of the legislature is a lawyer, they will indicate income from their law firm but they won’t indicate that they have 25 clients, individually, by name.”

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However, Hubbard’s Statement of Economic Interest form on April 30, 2013, does not disclose any agreement with APCI.

Tim Hamrick, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc. (APCI) would not return phone calls from the Alabama Political Reporter. But he did confirmed the Auburn Network relationship in a brief email on Friday. Hamrick contended in his email statement that Sumner approved the arrangement “ … although not required.”

“Our group is pleased with the Auburn Network relationship, which supports our membership growth strategies in 23 other states,” Hamrick said in his email statement. “Additionally, although not required, the relationship has been reviewed and blessed by the Director of the Alabama Ethics Commission.”
According to the groups website they represent only do business in 23 U,S, states including Alabama.

According to the Drug Store News publication, APCI represents more than 1,300 drug stores across the country. The drug stores pool resources under the umbrella of APCI and purchase prescription drugs at bulk rates from pharmaceutical companies. One of the lobbying outfits the APCI is affiliated with is the National Community Pharmacy Association, which spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying in Washington since 2012. In Alabama, APCI uses high-powered Montgomery lobbyist Bill Eley.

Auburn Network is a  private company, 100-percent owned by Hubbard. The Auburn Network held the broadcast rights to Auburn University sports for years until Hubbard sold that division of the company for undisclosed terms to International Sports Properties, now known as IMG Sports.

It is unclear when Hubbard’s financial arrangement with APCI started.

Hubbard does have another consulting contract with the Southeast Alabama Gas District (SEAGD) located in Dothan. Since January, 2012 Hubbard has represented SEAGD in the area of economic development, according to Chairman of the Board Billy Blackwell. For these services Hubbard is paid $12,000.00 a month.

Unlike the contract with APCI the Alabama Ethics Commission did review the contract that Hubbard signed with SEAGD. Legal council for the commission Hugh Evans, III, wrote in his opinion, “The only potential issue that we saw [with the SEAGD contract] would be if something came before the legislature that uniquely affected the Southeast Alabama Gas District differently than it affected all other utilities around the State of Alabama.”

Evans said that should an issue that directly effected SEAGD come before the legislature that Hubbard  “would expect … to remove himself from discussions, votes, etc.” Evan’s also stated in his opinion that, “the Speaker may not use his position or mantle of his office to assist him in …providing benefits to his … clients.”

Sumner had a different take on conflicts of interest when ex-Senator Roger Bedford ran into ethical problems a decade ago. Bedford was an officer in a bankrupt mobile home business that was in line to receive state bond money at Bedford’s behest.

According to the Birmingham News, Sumner said at the time that legislators risked violating ethics laws when they vote on matters that could benefit them. “If the money is going to a business that the legislator has an interest in, that’s a potential problem.”

SEAGD is a quasi public-private entity that is owned by 14 municipalities in southeastern part of the state.
Both the APCI and SEAGD contracts are held by Hubbard’s Auburn Network.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Buck’s pocket

Steve Flowers

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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In Case You Missed It

Hubbard’s Lee County Trial Finally Ends in Silence

Bill Britt

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In Case You Missed It

Hubbard’s Post-Trial Snoozer

Bill Britt

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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.

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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.”

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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

 

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In Case You Missed It

Attorney General Reacts to Hubbard Loyalist’s Plans for Ethics Reform

Bill Britt

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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.

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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.

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