By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In Count 13 of the State’s felony criminal indictments against Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, he is accused of representing Robert Abrams d/b/a CV Holdings, LLC., before Gov. Bentley.
State Ethics Law, Section 36-25-1.5 prohibits a legislator from representing any person, firm, corporation or other business entity before any executive department or agency.
In a report from al.com’s Chuck Dean, “Bentley, under oath, testified as to what Hubbard was seeking on behalf of the company. The questioning by prosecutors took place in Bentley’s office. At no time was Bentley a target of the investigation, nor did he seek to avoid testifying.”
What is known from the indictments is that Hubbard lobbied Gov. Bentley on behalf of Robert Abrams d/b/a CV Holdings, LLC. Bentley’s testimony conferred to the State’s prosecutors that Hubbard in fact lobbied and exactly what he wanted the governor to do for his client.
The law as passed by the Republican super majority under Hubbard’s leadership, makes it a felony offense for a legislator to lobby the governor on behalf of a business client.
Count 11 reveals that Hubbard, through his company Auburn Network, LLC., received money from Robert Abrams d/b/a CV Holdings, LLC.
These actions fall under the prohibited category of using ones office for personal gain, which is an offense punishable with fines and imprisonment.
It was not publicly known before Hubbard’s indictments that he was working as a consultant for Robert Abrams d/b/a CV Holdings, LLC., it was known that Abrams had contributed liberally to former Gov. Bob Riley 2014PAC and that he also had business before the State, as well as the Retirement Systems of Alabama, (RSA).
Abrams is the CEO of CV Holdings, which was founded in Amsterdam, New York in 2002.
CV Holdings, LLC., owns several other companies including Capitol Cups, also located in Auburn. Capitol Cups’ website states that the company “is a leading supplier of insulated and non-insulated travel cups, tumblers, and children’s spill-proof cups for the food, retail, sports and fundraising industries.”
Around 2010, Abrams began to seek investments in SiO2 which develops and manufactures …silicon-oxide coated containers, utilizing… plasma glass coating technology,” for medical products.
CV Holdings, LLC., needed $90 million to build the SiO2 research and manufacturing facility in Auburn and in 2012, they received $78 Million in a loan from RSA to realize that plan.
In March 2012, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, as well as RSA chief Dr. Bronner and others announced the development of the SiO2 facility and a reported 300 jobs that would be created as a result of the project.
At the time, Bentley said about SiO2: “An essential part of creating new jobs is encouraging our existing companies to further their investments in this state…SiO2 Medical Products is creating new opportunities in the form of additional well-paying jobs, and we appreciate their continued commitment to Alabama…and we look forward to even more announcements from SiO2 in the future.”
Speaker Hubbard spoke of the investment as well, saying, “If the recession has taught us anything, it is that we must keep innovating and keep finding ways to create jobs. I’m proud of the teamwork it took to make this project a reality and to bring so many high-tech, high-paying jobs to Lee County.”
Hubbard never revealed in his Statement of Economic Interest or in any other public way, that he represented CV Holdings, LLC., or any related business.
Hubbard and his allies have wanted the public to believe that he was just a business man trying to make a living, but at the press conference he was speaking as Speaker of the House and representative from his House District.
Even Dr. Bronner at the announcement of the companies expansion acknowledged Hubbard as being in his official capacity: “We are very excited about the opportunity to partner with SiO2 Medical Products’ Chairman Bobby Abrams, Auburn Mayor Bill Ham, Auburn Economic Development Director Phillip Dunlap, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, and Governor Robert Bentley to expand the plant in Auburn.”
Bronner said that the RSA was, “excited to partner with…Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard… to expand the plant in Auburn.”
When the Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Abrams in September, he expressed a close, working relationship with Auburn Mayor Bill Ham. But, when asked about his relationship with Hubbard, he did not reply directly, only saying he worked with all those in business development in Auburn.
When asked if he was aware of the Lee County Grand Jury investigation into Hubbard, he said he was unaware of the investigation.
The conversation with Abrams occurred before Hubbard’s relationship between he and Abrams was made public by the indictments.
Several past and present members of the RSA board said they were unaware of the $78 million loan that financed the expansion of SiO2. They expressed shock and concern over the enormity of the loan against the collateral. According to Dr. Bronner, the $78 million dollar loan was secured by “37 patents and other intellectual property, covering the company’s developments, a pledge of stock, and all other assets of the company. The interest rate is 8% and the company will pay the RSA a success fee upon maturity of the loan. The success fee will be 22% of the average daily outstanding balance of the loan for each year the loan is outstanding.”
Abrams also contributed $33,333.00 to former Gov. Bob Riley’s 2014PAC, and other $66,666.32 was funneled into the Riley PAC by others in $13,333.33 increments, except for one transaction of $13,334.00.
How much Hubbard was paid to lobby the governor is unknown at this time.
Hubbard’s contract with Southeast Alabama Gas District was for $12,000 a month plus expenses, which included a trip to the Paris Air Show with his wife.
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.