By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On Monday, politico.com published a confidential report revealing that Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, in collusion with the Republican State Leadership Committee, (RSLC), funneled over a million dollars into Alabama “improperly.”
The investigation was led by notable D.C. law firm, Baker Hostetler.
Many elements of the memo have been previously reported by the Alabama Political Reporter. However, the Baker Hostetler internal investigation conducted at the request of the RSLC is yet another round of evidence of a still, very hot smoking gun.
The report concludes that Hubbard, along with senior members of the RSLC, violated Alabama law, in an attempt to hide “Toxic” campaign funds through a “one-for-one” money swap.
The 2011 report titled, “Investigation Into Alabama Activity During The 2010 Election Cycle,” was initiated by the RSLC Board of Director, and according to its authors, “Based upon our interviews with RSLC staff and our review of RSLC’s public and private financial records.” The report says that, “it appears that current and former senior RSLC staff, Tim Barnes and Scott Ward in particular, engaged in improper activities that, taken together, would lead an outside observer to conclude that RSLC had made contributions in the name of another. In particular, it appears that RSLC, with Tim and Scott’s full knowledge and approval, entered into an agreement with Mike Hubbard, State Party Chair and Speaker of the House in Alabama, under which Hubbard raised money for RSLC from Alabama donors which RSLC then contributed, on a ‘one-on-one’ basis, back to PACs and candidates controlled or supported by Hubbard.”
The scheme revealed in the report shows Hubbard raising money for the RSLC, which would then be transferred back to Hubbard completely cleaned of its original donors.
The report concludes that, “It would appear, then, to an outside observer, that Hubbard was raising money for RSLC that was either politically toxic or in excess of Alabama contribution limits, and then channeling that money through RSLC back to himself in order to get around the governing Alabama campaign finance laws.”
On Monday, Hubbard, went on the offensive saying that he had no deal with the RSLC and did nothing improper. However, RSLC staffers interview for the report contradict Hubbard’s assertion. Scott Ward, identified as Chief of Staff, reveled, “that Mike Hubbard originally approached him with the one-for-one deal, under which Hubbard would raise money for RSLC in return for which RSLC would contribute the same amount of money back into Alabama.” Ward, said in an interview with the investigators that he took the proposal to Tim Barnes, then CEO of the RSLC, and that they, “agreed to make the deal,” with Hubbard. Staci Goede, Margee Clancy and Ben Cannatti, all staffer at the RSLC at the time of the report also confirm, Ward account. However, then RSLC, CEO Tim Barnes, denied any such arrangement with Hubbard.
Barnes was terminated by the RSLC Board after the Baker Hostetler report, which was the recommendation of the investigating attorneys. As for Ward, the reported recommended his termination as well because he had been, “Hubbard’s go-between with Tim in making the ‘one-for-one’ deal. RSLC cannot afford to continue its association with him.”
The report makes clear that they investigating attorneys believed that the action taken by Hubbard and the RSLC, “implicate violations of two sections of the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act: 1) making a contribution in the name of another, and 2) violating the PAC-to-PAC transfer law.”
Another, more interesting accounts of one-on-one money transfers was $850,000 to the Alabama Republican Party.
In 2010, Hubbard also instructed John Ross, his executive director at the ALGOP, to enter into a sub-contacting agreement with Florida based Majority Strategies.
In 2010, the ALGOP at Hubbard direction entered in to a contract with Majority Strategies of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, was for $848,687. Majority Strategies, then in turn, sub-contacted the printing of “hundreds of glossy and colorful campaign flyers for GOP candidates,” to a Hubbard business interest Craftmasters Printers, Inc. It is quite possible that the some of the money once cleaned by the RSLC, landed back into Hubbard’s own pockets, which in itself could be a felony act of embezzlement.
According to the attorney’s report, the worry for the RSLC was “the question of what might be revealed by any sort of investigation or additional scrutiny as a result of the PAC-to-PAC transfer controversy. By themselves, RSLC’s public financial disclosures appear to raise serious questions about RSLC’s financial activity in Alabama.”
The report focuses heavily on the transfer of funds from the Poarch Creek Indians’ (PCI) casino operation to fund the Republican takeover of the Alabama State House.
Alabama Political Reporter was the first to report that then ALGOP, Finance Chairman, Sen. Del Marsh was the man who approached the Poarch Creek Indians for campaign contributions in 2010. When first reported Marsh and Hubbard denied, that the request was ever made. But after confirmation from Robbie McGee, of PCI, confirmed the request from Marsh, a slow acknowledgement was made by Marsh. Former Lt. Gov. turned lobbyist is also mentioned in the report as a lobbyist for the Tribe and contributor along with the PCI.
The report concludes that the revelation of “toxic” money from the gaming industry would have a devastating effect on the State’s Republican Party.
“If these events are made public, the resulting media frenzy will be a political disaster for Alabama Republicans, a disaster with which RSLC will forever be associated,” the report stated of the alleged scheme.
However, barely a ripple was seen, because the mainstream media failed to delve into the controversy.
In fact, Alabama Political Reporter received threats and were denied access to legislator as punishment from the Speaker’s office as well as the Senate President Pro Tem., for reporting on the events surrounding the PCI money scheme.
The attorneys who prepared the report also feared the illegal nature of the cleaning of the toxic money, might have been illegal on the part of Hubbard and RSLC.
“These records show, among other things, that RSLC received several hundred thousand dollars from politically-toxic sources in Alabama, including the Poarch Creek Indians, who have sizable casino/gaming interests, and their lobbyist, Steve Windom.”
“The records show that RSLC’s Alabama-registered entity (“RSLC-AL”) made contributions of almost the same amount to PACs controlled or supported by Mike Hubbard. This includes $523,000 in contributions to 136 Years PAC, NET PAC, and Citizens for a Better Alabama; and $850,000 in contributions to the Alabama Republican Party,” the lawyers said of the actions of the RSLC.
They also believed that, “Any journalist or investigator who reviewed these records would conclude, fairly or not, that RSLC made contributions in the name of another at least in part to hide the fact that Republicans were taking money from Indian gaming interests.”
Yet, the response to reports of these allegation by the Alabama Political Reporter were met with denial, personal attack against its staff, and backlash from radio talking heads.
Even now the talking heads are spinning the report as “nothing new.”
Perhaps most troubling according to the RSLC internal report are contributions made to Citizens for a Better Alabama. “The $100,000 contribution to Citizens for a Better Alabama (“CBA”), which is not controlled by Hubbard, is particularly troubling. CBA is not a Republican PAC, and it is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for RLSC to contribute money to a non Republican group. Worse, CBA appears to be the renamed “Citizens Against Legalized Lottery (“CALL”),” one of the Christian groups through which Jack Abramoff funneled Choctaw Indian-money to help Ralph Reed rally social conservatives against.”
A 2013 report by the Alabama Political Reporter reveled that then Gov. Bob Riley was the driving force behind Citizens for a Better Alabama.
Director for CBA, A. Eric Johnston, a Birmingham-based attorney and anti-gambling advocate, explained in the 2013 story the operational relationship between Bob Riley, Mike Hubbard and his 501c(4). According to Johnston, efforts by then-Governor Bob Riley allowed over a million dollars to flow through his nonprofit, Citizens for Better Alabama, into to the hands of Mike Hubbard. “Someone from the governor’s [Bob Riley’s] office would call and say you’re getting a check for $200,000 and you’re going to get a bill at the same time from [Mike] Hubbard’s deal and you need to pay that, that is what that money is for.”
After aligning with Riley and Hubbard in 2010, CBA raised and spent over $1 million after never receiving over $50,000 in donations in any previous year.
Based on 2010 campaign finances and other records, the CBA was a crucial conduit for passing campaign cash through the 501c(4) into a potentially lucrative aspect of Mike Hubbard’s financial bottom-line.
According to the IRS Form 990 tax return filed by CBA for 2010, the tax-exempt 501c(4) 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.
Riley’s Gov PAC gave $292,000 and $314,500 was contributed directly to CBA through individuals at Riley’s request.
Johnston said that the money that his organization received was almost entirely for advertising, he said, “Mike was in that business and I thought it appropriate for him to handle it.”
According to the RSLC internal report, “We do not know why RSLC-AL made this contribution, though it appears to have been at Hubbard’s direction. Nor do CBA’s financial disclosures reveal where this money went. In fact, CBA’s November 2010 financial disclosure does not report the contribution at all.”
They also concluded that this revelation, “would cause a political firestorm in Alabama if made public. Both Hubbard and his ally, Governor Riley, have made a political cause out of eliminating non-tribe gaming in Alabama. Now, it would appear to an outside observer that this has been a hypocritical effort funded by Indian gambling interests in order to keep non-Indian casinos out of Alabama. RSLC was reckless in making a contribution to a group historically affiliated with Jack Abramoff.”
As the report shows, Hubbard has been the lead actor, in what may be some serious legal issues for him and the RSLC. Alabama Political Reporter, over the past two years has documented not only Hubbard’s role in this another questionable matters, but also the involvement of Marsh and Riley.
USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.
The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.
Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).
USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.
Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.
Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.
Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks
Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.
“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”
Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, President-elect Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.
Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”
Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.
The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.
The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.
Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.
“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”
Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.
Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.
As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.
A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.
The Iron Bowl is today
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.
Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.
Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.
In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.
Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.
The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.
Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.
Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus
Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.
Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine.
Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said.
“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response.
The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval.
“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations, we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines.
In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain.
“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily.
While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.
“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.