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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.