By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In February, 2013, the Alabama Political Reporter revealed that in 2010, Governor Bob Riley, in conjunction with then Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, funneled money from various PACs, and from the RSLC to Citizens for a Better Alabama, (CBA), to stop bingo-style gaming from becoming legal in the State.
But, certain statements made by the group’s founder, A. Eric Johnston, and various suspect actions by Riley and Hubbard, indicate there is more to this story than just one group’s battle against gambling.
A recently disclosed 2011 investigation by the Republican State Leadership Committee, (RSLC), showed that there were great concerns over donations given to CBA from the RSLC:
“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,” the report concludes.” However, it appears that the investigator, nor the RSLC knew that it was Riley along with Hubbard who were in-fact controlling CBA, by proxy.
According to Johnston, Riley and Hubbard not only procured the funds for CBA, they directed where the money would be spent.
Starting in 2009, the Birmingham-based/tax-exempt group became the public face of opposition to Sweet Home Alabama, and the shutting down of legal casinos operated at VictoryLand and Country Crossings. According to archived versions of its website, the CBA – run by Johnston – has “been an advocate for the family since 1991.”
In a 2009 letter penned by Johnston, he denounced the deceptive ads being run for the Sweet Home Alabama plan: “The Citizens for a Better Alabama may not have the millions of dollars it would take to combat these deceptive ads on the airwaves, but we do have the truth on our side.”
Before CBA’s relationship with Riley and Hubbard the group had an yearly average funding of around $40,000. However, in 2010 Johnston would have a million dollars to fight gambling, provided by his white knight Riley.
According to Johnston, when Riley became interested in ridding the State of bingo gambling, he was contacted by the Governor who said he wanted to help Johnston raise money.
“I don’t know why he [Riley] decided to do it [fight gambling] other than it was a propitious time to do it,” said Johnston. “Whatever he was doing was good. He was stopping illegal gambling.”
However, there are some very suspicious activities surrounding Riley and Hubbard funding of CBA. The way in which Riley passed along money to CBA and directed its flow is of particularly interesting.
According to Johnston, “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.”
“Hubbard’s deal,” according to Johnston, was a Hubbard business interest.
Johnston describes how money raised by Riley, went directly to Hubbard and that he never actually saw most of the money.
Johnston said that the money that his organization received was almost entirely for advertising, “Mike was in that business and I thought it appropriate for him to handle it.”
Again, a pattern emerges where donations from one group, is given to a third party and then finally back to one of Hubbard’s business interests. In this case, the money was being directed by Riley to Johnston the to Hubbard. Even the so-called small donations would be directed by Riley, “I would be informed by the governor’s office that I would be getting a check for 2 or 3 thousand dollars and we would have ad bills that cost that much,” said Johnston, “and that money would be for those bills.”
According to Johnston, “We ran a zero balance campaign. Whatever money came in was spent, a lot of it was coordinated through Mike Hubbard’s company.”
CBA is a 501(c)(4) nonpartisan nonprofit corporation. According to Alliance for Justice, “The tax exemption for 501(c)(4) organizations applies to most of their operations, but contributions may be subject to gift tax, and income spent on political activities – generally the advocacy of a particular candidate in an election – is taxable.”
CBA records show that, $717, 750 of the almost exactly $1,000,000 raised and spent by CBA in 2010 came directly from partisan Republican PACS and campaign accounts controlled directly by Riley and Hubbard. That is 70 percent of all money raised and spent.
Another $100,000 came directly from another Republican PAC – the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) PAC in Washington DC. Again from an internal memo from September of 2011, the RSLC stated that it was “unprecedented” for them to give political money to a nonprofit such as CBA.
The total amount of unquestionably partisan Republican political money (as it came directly from GOP political committees) sent to CBA in 2010 totaled well over $800,000 – 80 percent of all money raised.
Of the remaining $200,000 raised by CBA, there were only 11 separate donors. Ten (10) of those donors had previously contributed political money to Riley and/or Hubbard.
According to CBA’s Form 990, almost all of the money spent – over $982,000 – was on advertising. That advertising was purchased by a Hubbard business interest.
Taking Johnston’s statement on spending into the equation, it seems likely that all of the nearly $1 million spent by CBA was spent with companies owned (either wholly or in partnership) by Hubbard.
All of these actions by Riley and Hubbard raise serious questions.
Did Riley and Hubbard hope to hide the fact that Hubbard business interest were receiving large sums from CBA? It would seem that by running the money through CBA, there would be no disclosure that then Alabama GOP Chair Hubbard was getting almost $1 million in personal business from the “anti-bingo” effort on the eve of a major statewide election.
Due to the overwhelming funding of the “nonpartisan non-profit” CBA directly from GOP PACS, was CBA in violation of federal tax law?
Could CBA owe back taxes on the partisan money contributed for political purposes?
It would certainly seem that CBA could be held liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid taxes. As the sole officer of CBA, Johnston would be the person who would be held responsible, even if Riley and Hubbard were pulling the strings – as he has indicated in interviews.
Perhaps the more troubling questions are:
Why did the Republican State Leadership Committee send a $100,000 check to CBA after the bingo fight had been ended by disclosure of a federal investigation in April 2010?
Why did Hubbard’s Network PAC direct over $100,000 in GOP political funds to CBA after the bingo battle ended with the announcement of the federal investigation in April 2010?
Why did Hubbard send $75,000 of precious GOP political money from NETWORK PAC to CBA on October 25, 2010 – one week before the November election and at a time when the State GOP He headed needed every penny for last minute campaigning?
Johnston has a long history of opposing gambling in Alabama. It is likely he wanted to help fight gambling expansion; whether or not he knew that he would essentially be handing over his non-profit to Riley and Hubbard is unknown.
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.