By Bill and Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, is maneuvering to become the next director of the Alabama Ethics Commission in the wake of Jim Sumner’s early retirement, according to sources with knowledge of the process.
Taylor, who decided not to seek re-election to the Alabama Senate after his first term, rose to prominence due to the patronage of former Gov. Bob Riley. It has been reported that Riley is actively lobbying for Taylor’s appointment to the Alabama Ethics Commission. However, several State Senators who served alongside Taylor have been working behind the scenes to thwart Riley’s pick for the commission.
Many of Taylor’s fellow Senators have privately scoffed at the thought of Bryan Taylor as the State’s Ethics Director. “The Ethics Commission is supposed to be about promoting trust and confidence in government. These are not words that readily come to mind when referring to Taylor’s government service,” said one Senator in an off-the-record comment.
While colleagues’ opinions as to Taylor’s fitness to serve are important, so are the facts regarding his ethical conduct in public service.
Taylor is said to have gotten his start in Alabama politics in February 2006, according to a statement released by Governor Bob Riley’s office in January 2007.
The press release—announcing Taylor’s promotion to Policy Director—states that he took a leave of absence from Bradley, Arant, Rose & White in February 2006 to join the Riley administration as Bob Riley’s personal aide. The press statement contradicts several items, including campaign finance documents filed by the Riley campaign in 2006 and 2007, as well as statements made by Taylor during his 2010 campaign.
Was Bryan Taylor working for the Riley campaign, the Riley administration, or practicing law? Public records and official statements paint a contradictory picture.
An alumni newsletter from the University of Alabama, published in the spring of 2006, announced that Taylor had been hired by the law firm of Bradley, Arant, Rose & White. Bob Riley’s son-in-law, Rob Campbell, is a partner at the firm. The newsletter states that Taylor was working in the firm’s litigation practice group. Deidre Stalnaker, who at the time served as a communications specialist for the University of Alabama, said the information in the newsletter was compiled between January and March of 2006.
Taylor has never publicly explained the nature of his role at Bradley Arant, Rose & White. The closest he has come to an explanation was offered in an interview with Dan Morris in September 2010. Taylor told Dan Morris that he was “practicing law” when he received a call about coming to work for Riley’s re-election campaign. This statement raises serious questions about his role with the firm, as records from the Alabama State Bar Association reveal that he was not admitted to the Alabama State Bar until September 2006, seven months after he was reported to have been hired by the Riley administration.
The Alabama Ethics Commission never received a Statement of Economic Interest documenting Taylor’s first year of work in the governor’s office, which would be the duty of anyone working for the administration to file. Disclosures should have been filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission no later than April 30, 2007. According to a Commission employee, Taylor was not included in the list of the governor’s staff that provided to the Commission. “Since he started in Feb. unless someone gave him the form to file he probably would not have known to file one,” the Commission employee said. Taylor’s first disclosure filing with the Alabama Ethics Commission was not received until April 30, 2008. He has never disclosed any income from Bradley Arant or from the Riley campaign.
According to Riley’s January 2007 press statement, Taylor was hired by the Riley administration as a personal aide in February 2006. However, his receipt of campaign funds from the Riley campaign paint a different picture. Taylor was paid $684.61 bi-weekly by the Riley campaign. These payments in this amount began on March 31, 2006 and continued until December 29, 2006. Taylor also received additional payments from the campaign during this time, including $925.16 in March 2006, $518.00 in July 2006, $351.94 in October 2006 and $2,100.00 in December 2006 days before the governor’s office announced his promotion to policy director.
The campaign expenditures from Riley present another issue for Taylor that is clearly improper, unethical, and potentially criminal.
During the same time Taylor was a paid staffer of the Riley campaign, he was also listed numerous times as a passenger on an aircraft owned by the State of Alabama. Flight logs maintained by the State show that Taylor was on board a state aircraft more than 90 times in 2006. Only 7 of the 90 flights were reported to have been reimbursed to the State, according to the flight logs. These logs also indicate that many of the flights included campaign events for Bob Riley, and most were never noted to have been reimbursed to the State by the campaign.
It has long been known that members of the Republican Supermajority often blur the line between services funded by taxpayer dollars and their private ventures, and frequently personally profit from State-directed contracts. Taylor showed himself to be ahead of many of his legislative colleagues in playing the game of political cronyism. Bryan Taylor managed to rig the system before he was even an elected official. Taylor’s participation in these clearly unethical conflicts of interest would make his proposed nomination for Director of the Alabama Ethics Commission akin to appointing the fox to guard the henhouse. What is certain is that Bryan Taylor’s tenure in the Governor’s office coincided with a boom in state-directed contracts for Bradley Arant.
In 2009, a Declaration of Emergency letter was signed enabling the Riley administration to request Bradley Arant to aide the Governor’s gambling task force. The contract was to last from January through March 2009 and was not to exceed $50,000.
On March 9, 2009, Taylor penned a second Declaration of Emergency letter that once again hired Bradley Arant to assist Riley’s gambling task force (contract, signature page). This time the contract with Bradley Arant was to last from March 9, 2009 through May 7, 2009 and was not to exceed $150,000. Note that the letter and the contract date are the same.
All told, the Riley administration paid Taylor’s former employers $2,250,000. Bradley Arant received $6,000,000 in state contracts during that period. How much influence Taylor wielded over these decisions is not fully known. However, his inconsistent statement of facts coupled with the Riley administration funneling millions to his former employer raises more than a few questions about Taylor’s ability to head Alabama’s Ethics Commission.
Some are starting to suggest that Taylor’s behavior in helping to direct Bob Riley’s political patronage machine calls into question his fitness to serve in any capacity charged with overseeing ethical conduct by our public officials.