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Anti-Gambling Money May Have Financed Supreme Court Campaign

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—As reported previously in the Alabama Political Reporter, 501 (c) 4 chair for Citizens for a Better Alabama (CBA) A. Eric Johnston has acknowledged allowing then-Governor Bob Riley and Alabama GOP chairman Mike Hubbard to direct political PAC money through his nonprofit charity to Mike Hubbard’s business interests.

In 2010, over $1 million was raised – almost in its entirety – by Hubbard and Riley and then – again, almost in its entirety – paid to Hubbard-controlled businesses by CBA.

(See article here.)

Many in Montgomery have wondered why Johnston would allow his nonprofit charity to be used in, what certainly appears to be, a questionable fashion. Some have speculated that Johnston’s anti-gambling zealotry may have influenced his decision.

A close examination of Johnston’s unsuccessful campaign for Alabama Supreme Court in 2010 (against Roy Moore ally and one-time frequent Riley critic, Tom Parker) raises interesting questions, that fit a well-known pattern and practice among certain politicos.

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On April 1, 2010, FBI agents visited the home of lobbyist Jarrod Massey in Montgomery. Later that same day, the FBI revealed to Alabama governmental figures that an FBI investigation into State House corruption centering on bingo legislation was ongoing, effectively killing the bingo legislation for 2010 and eliminating the need for further anti-bingo activity by Bob Riley’s PACs and by CBA.

Again – on that same day, April 1, 2010 – Eric Johnston qualified to run for Alabama Supreme Court against incumbent Justice Tom Parker – a jurist known to be friendly with Roy Moore and seen as an opponent by pro-Riley loyalists on the court.

Within days, Johnston – who prior to 2010 had never managed to raise more than $40,000 in a year for his nonprofit – had raised a staggering $194,000 for his Supreme Court contest. And, overwhelmingly, that money appears to have been directed to Johnston specifically from three corporate donors aligned with Bob Riley.

(See report here.)

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And, overwhelmingly, that money appears to have been directed to Johnston specifically from three corporate donors aligned with Bob Riley.

The synchronicity between the arrest of Massey and the collapse of the bingo effort with the budding, well-heeled candidacy of formerly penniless Eric Johnston for the Alabama Supreme Court begs the question:

Did Bob Riley and Mike Hubbard promise to finance a Supreme Court run for CBA head Eric Johnston in return for his aid in illegally laundering political money through a non-traceable non-profit to companies owned by Mike Hubbard?

Of the $194,350 raised and reported by Johnston on his 10-day 2010 pre-election FCPA reports, precisely $170,000 (87.5 percent of his total) came from one PAC – the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee PAC (ACJRC).

(See report here.)

The ACJRC is controlled by Larry Vinson of Montgomery.

In the 10-day pre-election report detailing the $170,000 in contributions from ACJRC to Eric Johnston, precisely $171,000 in contributions to ACJRC came from 5 PACs, all controlled by Larry Vinson, just like the ACJRC.

(See report here.)

No other donors to the ACJRC PAC contributed anything resembling a $170,000 total, with the $94,000 contributed by PACs associated with Montgomery lobbyist Clark Richardson running a distant second.

The FCPA reports for the year 2009, filed by January 31, 2010, for the 5 PACs controlled by Vinson that contributed to ACJRC shows that they raised $201,500 for the year, with all money being raised in the final months of 2009.

(See combined reports here.)

Of that amount, $183,500 came from just three (3) donors – ALFA, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and Compass bank (routed through Sound Economy PAC, all of the money originating with Compass). All three are longtime financial supporters of Bob Riley.

Notably, $65,000 of the money raised into Vinson’s 5 PACs all came on the same day, December 9, 2009, and all came from a single donor (Compass Bank through Sound Economy PAC).

Riley had formed his own anti-bingo PAC, one that was used to send money to Johnston’s nonprofit and on to Hubbard’s businesses, within days of the big money dump into Vinson’s PACs (GOV Pac, chaired by Rob Riley, was formed on December 1, 2009).

The 5 Vinson-controlled PACs did not raise one penny of money between the close of 2009 and May 17, 2010 – and Johnston’s FCPA reports show that he had received all of his $170,000 from ACJRC by May 20, with $110,000 in hand before ACJRC reported raising any money at all in 2010.

(See report here.)

Additionally, one of Vinson’s PACs, Equal Justice PAC, shows a $3500 contribution to Johnston on the day he qualified to run for the Supreme Court (April 1, 2010). This closely aligns with the qualifying fee to run for Supreme Court in 2010 suggesting strongly that Vinson’s PAC (and its donors) paid Johnston’s qualifying fee.

(See report here.)

It appears Johnston failed to list the $3500 contribution from Equal Justice PAC, as required by law.

When the $3500 contribution from Equal Justice PAC is added to the $170,000 directed from ACJRC to Johnston, the total of $173,500 from the Larry Vinson-chaired (and three Bob Riley-aligned corporate donor financed) PACs meshes to a high degree with the $183,500 contributed by corporate donors to Larry Vinson’s PACS in calendar 2009 – and the money was not spent by those PACs until Johnston entered the Alabama supreme court race.

Here are the facts:

• $183,500 in contributions from three major Bob Riley/Mike Hubbard donors to PACS controlled by one man.

• $173,500 in contributions out with checks written by that same man to a candidate who had cooperated, perhaps at legal and professional risk, with Bob Riley and Mike Hubbard.

• The contributions followed immediately upon a favorable result for Bob Riley and Mike Hubbard.

• The candidate receiving major donations, infinitely greater than he could ever attain by his own efforts, had placed himself at legal peril for Bob Riley and Mike Hubbard.

This possible conclusion is supported by the evidence submitted:

It appears that Bob Riley, using money he raised from friendly donors and “stashed” in friendly PACS, financed a Supreme Court campaign for Eric Johnston, in exchange for Johnston allowing his nonprofit charity being used to hide the movement of political money to businesses owned and/or controlled by Mike Hubbard.

Is this evidence of a criminal conspiracy?

That is not for media to decide.

But, it may very well demand the scrutiny of public authorities.

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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Roby warns Americans to be careful this Thanksgiving

Congresswoman Roby urged Alabamians to adjust Thanksgiving holiday activities to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama

Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama, warned Alabamians to adjust their Thanksgiving holiday activities to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

“Thanksgiving is a special holiday because it provides us an entire day each year to pause and give thanks for the many blessings we have received,” Roby said. “Particularly amid a global pandemic, the stress and craziness of life often make it easy to lose sight of just how much we have to be thankful for. Whether you are gathering with loved ones or remaining in the comfort of your own home, I hope we all take time to celebrate gratitude – something we may not do enough of these days.”

“As we’ve learned to adjust our daily routines and activities throughout the course of this pandemic, we know this Thanksgiving will not look like those of the past,” Roby said. “Please be mindful of any safety measures and precautions that have been put in place to help protect your family and those around you. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) released guidance that includes a list of low, moderate, and high-risk activities in order to help Alabamians have a safer holiday season. ADPH suggests a few lower risk activities such as having a small dinner with members of your household, preparing and safely delivering meals to family and neighbors who are at high-risk, or hosting a virtual dinner with friends.”

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, echoed Roby’s warning to be safe this Thanksgiving holiday.

Aderholt said: “I want to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope Thursday is filled with a lot of laughter and gratitude, and that you can share it with friends and family. And while we continue to navigate this Coronavirus pandemic, please stay safe this holiday season.”

On Thursday, the CDC encouraged families to stay home as much as possible over the holiday weekend and avoid spreading the coronavirus.

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“As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” the CDC said in a statement before the holiday. “Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.”

The CDC has updated its guidelines to encourage families to stay home during the holiday.

  • The CDC said that postponing Thanksgiving travel is the “best way to protect” against the virus.
  • If you are sick or anyone in your household is sick, whether you think it is COVID or not, do not travel.
  • If you are considering traveling for Thanksgiving, avoid traveling to locations where virus activity is high or increasing.
  • Avoid travel to areas where hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19.
  • Try to avoid traveling by bus, train or airplane, where staying 6 feet apart is difficult.
  • Avoid traveling with people who don’t live with you.
  • You should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying travel until the vaccine is available or the pandemic is more under control.
  • Discuss with your family and friends the risks of traveling for Thanksgiving.
  • Try to dissuade people from visiting this holiday.
  • If you do travel, check for travel restrictions before you go and get your flu shot before you travel.
  • Always wear a mask in public settings, when using public transportation, and when around people with whom you don’t live.
  • Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who does not live with you.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
  • When you wear the mask, make sure that it covers your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.

Remember that people without symptoms may still be infected, and if so, are still able to spread COVID-19. Remember to always social distance. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick. Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when you are unable to wash your hands. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Try to also avoid live sporting events, Thanksgiving Day parades and Black Friday shopping this year.

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Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District and will be retiring at the end of the year. Aderholt represents Alabama’s 4th Congressional District and was re-elected to the 117th Congress.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Let’s hope for Reed’s success

Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.

Bill Britt

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State Sen. Greg Reed has been chosen as the next president pro tem of the Alabama State Senate.

State Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will lead the Alabama Senate as president pro tem during the upcoming 2021 legislative session. What changes will Reed bring to the upper chamber, and how will his leadership differ from his predecessor? No one knows for sure.

Reed succeeds Sen. Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem since Republicans took control of the Statehouse in 2010. Marsh, along with then-Gov. Bob Riley, current felon Mike Hubbard and ousted BCA Chair Billy Canary orchestrated the 2010 takeover that saw the Republican rise to dominance.

Reed, who won his Senate seat the same year, was not a charter member of the Republican ruling class, but he benefited from the power sift.

Mild-mannered and studious with a quiet charm, Reed has steadily ascended the ranks of Senate leadership. His silver hair and calm determination have served him well. Reed is a senatorial figure straight out of Hollywood’s central casting.

In all, Reed is nearly universally liked and respected, which in the near term is a hopeful sign of potential success. But political leadership always comes with a warning: “Friends come and go, enemies accumulate.”

Reed’s relationship with Gov. Kay Ivey is certainly less contentious than Marsh’s and gives rise to the belief that there will be greater cooperation between the executive and the Senate.

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With the economy and public health under dire stress due to the ravages of COVID-19, legislative priorities are fixed: get people back to work and eradicate the coronavirus.

However, one of Reed’s first tests will be whether he can cool the smoldering anger of those senators who still feel the sting of Ivey’s rebuke over the allocation of CARES Act funds. He will also need to resist those who want to punish the administration over its use of public health statutes to implement mask mandates and other safety measures to prevent the deadly coronavirus spread.

Despite outward declarations of a unified body, the State Senate is a small, insular and unwieldy beast where egos loom large and consensus on policies is often tricky to achieve except on “red meat issues.”

Building a coalition on policy in the Senate is often a combination of horse-trading, cajoling and carefully applied pressure. The way forward in the near term is exact: pass legislation that spurs economic recovery and mitigates the health crisis at hand.

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But Reed will also simultaneously need to recognize what comes next for justice reform, prison construction, gambling and a myriad of other pressing issues. His job will be to understand the prevailing winds, which are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

As author Doris Kearns Goodwin noted in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: “For political leaders in a democracy are not revolutionaries or leaders of creative thought. The best of them are those who respond wisely to changes and movements already underway. The worst, the least successful, are those who respond badly or not at all, and those who misunderstand the direction of already visible change.”

Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.

As President Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Let’s all hope that Reed passes the test.

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Aderholt introduces broadband-focused EXPAND Act

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the critical need for efficient and reliable rural broadband, Aderholt said.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, on Tuesday released new rural broadband legislation, the Enabling Extra Time to Extend Network Deployment (EXTEND) Act.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the critical need for efficient and reliable rural broadband. Teleworking, telemedicine, and virtual classrooms have been our reality for the better part of eight months, and it could continue into the new year,” Aderholt said. “Since Congress has passed stimulus funding for Coronavirus relief, I believe states should be allowed to use that money to address this dire need.”

Alabama currently has hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act dollars that the federal government sent to the state in March, but there were so many conditions on how the money could be spent that the state has been unable to find acceptable uses for most of those funds and may have to return that money to the federal government unspent early next year. Aderholt’s legislation would free up those dollars for use expanding rural broadband in Alabama.

“That is why I introduced a bill today to do just that, secure the ability for states to expand their rural broadband infrastructure with Coronavirus relief funds,” Aderholt said. “This bill will help those rural areas that have been left behind by providing a pathway for states to determine which areas are particularly underserved, while also preventing overbuilding in areas where broadband access is widespread.”

“I am hopeful that this legislation will set a precedent for future funding bills, ensuring that rural areas have access to funds to build out the broadband infrastructure they need, while also preventing waste and abuse,” Aderholt said. “It’s clear that adequate funding is needed now more than ever, and ensuring states the option to use Congressionally approved stimulus money for this issue is a step in the right direction.”

Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, is the lead co-sponsor on the EXPAND Act.

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“When Americans can’t access the Internet, they aren’t able to participate in our 21st century economy, learn remotely, or communicate with others outside of their communities, all of which have become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Latta said. “The EXTEND Act works to support the buildout of broadband infrastructure in areas that do not currently have broadband capabilities. It ensures funds from the CARES Act, which I supported earlier this year, can be granted by states for the deployment of broadband so all Americans, including people living in rural communities, have reliable internet connectivity. I’d like to thank my colleague Rep. Aderholt for his attention to this critical issue, and I am encouraged that with this bill, we are working towards a more connected future.”

Aderholt was recently overwhelmingly elected to his 13th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District.

“I would also like to take a moment to thank you for sending me back to Washington, D.C. to serve as your Representative for Alabama’s 4th Congressional District,” Aderholt said. “It is an incredible honor to serve you in Congress, and it is a responsibility I do not take lightly. And no matter how you voted in this election, I promise to fight for you, and for everyone in our district, in the halls of Congress.”

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Governor orders flags lowered in honor of former Rep. Alvin Holmes

Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday ordered the flags at the State Capitol and in State House District 78 to be lowered to half-staff in honor of former State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a tireless advocate for the Black community who served in the House for 44 years. 

Holmes, 81, died Saturday. Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried and remain lowered until sunset that day. 

“A native of Montgomery, Rep. Holmes served the people of Alabama in the House of Representatives for 44 years,” Ivey wrote in her directive. “As the longest-serving representative in our state’s history, it is only fitting that we pay homage to his decades of dedicated service. Anyone that had the privilege of working with or hearing Rep. Holmes address the legislature, knows that he was passionate about his work and cared deeply about improving our state, specifically in matters regarding civil rights. His unique approach to conveying the importance of causes he supported garnered much respect from his colleagues and is something the people of our state will not soon forget. I offer my sincere condolences and prayers to his family, friends and constituents of his beloved community.”

A caravan honoring Holmes took place in Montgomery on Monday.

State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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