By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Since the fall of 2013, indicted Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard has been collecting campaign donations to pay at least a portion of his criminal defense legal fees. The latest figures show that he has spent just over $286,000 with White Arnold & Dowd and Trussell, Funderburg, Rea & Bell, who are representing him in his felony pubic corruption case.
Who are these donors paying for Hubbard criminal defense and how is the money being routed to Hubbard? Is it possible that these funds are ear-marked for his legal fees, contrary to campaign finance laws?
We now believe that the Alabama Political Reporter can show a pattern of donations that leads back to two individuals named in the State’s 23 felony indictments against Hubbard.
Without sworn testimony or a grand jury subpoena, it is seemingly impossible to answer those questions. However, a close study of Hubbard’s FPCA filings, and those of associated PACs, offer an opportunity for what the legal community calls a, preponderance of the evidence.
A close examination of the dates donations were made and amounts given reveal a striking pattern in which $285,500 in donations from two entities aligns closely with payments made to Hubbard’s attorneys.
This paper trail, while winding and perhaps intentionally obscure, makes a case that Auburn Trustee and businessman Jimmy Rane, along with Business Council of Alabama (BCA) Chairman Billy Canary, have used political action committees to funnel money directly to Hubbard for his defense. Rane and Canary are named in the Hubbard indictments and have been characterized by the State as “material witnesses.” If these men actually are behind a scheme to pay Hubbard’s legal defense fees, this could represent an extraordinary chain of events; perhaps unprecedented, in legal circles.
In early September 2013, Hubbard hired white collar criminal defense attorneys J. Mark White and Lance Bell. A letter from White to Acting Attorney W. Van Davis, dated September 13, 2013, acknowledges that White and Bell are representing Hubbard, with reference to the Lee County Grand Jury. In the letter, White states that Bell had already been in contact with White and prosecutor Matt Hart at some previous date prior to September 13, 2013.
In proceeding days, Hubbard took surprising steps to rearrange his business, political, and legal affairs. In a flurry of activity, he shuttered one of his most potent political action committees, Network PAC, on September 13, 2013. He terminated his consulting contract, worth over a hundred thousand dollars a year, with Southeast Alabama Gas District (SEAGD) during the same period and hired White and Bell as legal counsel.
The letter from White to Davis and the closing on Network PAC, perhaps coincidentally, happened on the same day Hubbard and Rane attend the dedication of the Micheal G. Hubbard Center at Auburn University. At that event, Rane made his famous quote, “If a fistfight breaks out, give me a call.” This would suggest that Rane had already more than casually aware of Hubbard’s legal dilemma.
Three days earlier on September 10, 2013, a series of contributions in the amounts of $10,000 and $5,000, per contribution, begin to flow from political action committees (PACs) controlled by Bob Geddie of the prominent government affairs firm Fine Geddie and Associates to Hubbard’s campaign.
On October 2, 2013, Rane wrote eleven checks to eleven different PACs controlled by Bob Geddie. The checks (issued from Rane’s company, Great Southern Wood) totaled $275,000.
(Note: Many high-end PACs, such as those run by Geddie, in many ways operate like a bank, at which a premier client is afforded certain amenities. One such advantage might be that money can begin flowing from an account ahead of an actual check being received from the principal. This may account for the disparity in dates, with Rane not wanting to write the eleven checks until the beginning of the new quarter. This is a pattern that is often used, according to seasoned politicos who track such transactions, as a way to obscure the money’s origins. While this may be supposition, the transfer of money and payments draw very compelling lines of interactions).
$270,000 of the amount appears to have been distributed to Gov. Robert Bentley and Hubbard. Bentley received $100,000 in donations that is believed to have originated with Rane, and then distributed to Geddie.
The week before Rane’s $275,000 contribution to Geddie’s eleven PACs, nine of those PACS contributed $10,000 each to Bentley’s reelection campaign. On October 11, 2013, two of Geddie’s PACs contributed $5,000 each to Bentley, bringing the total to $100,000 contributed to the Governor’s election.
In the fall of 2013, it is believed that Hubbard approached Bentley, asking him to remove Acting Attorney General W. Van Davis and/or Matt Hart from the Lee County investigation by using an unusual judicial standard practiced during Gov. Bob Riley’s attack on bingo halls across the State. Known as the Cornerstone Ruling, the Governor can assert power over an Attorney General’s investigation if he feels the AG is not handling the procedures properly (it is believed that Rane approached the Governor with a similar proposal after Bentley won reelection in November and before his inauguration in January).
From September 2013 through April 2014, it appears Hubbard received $170,000 from PACs distributing Rane’s contributions.
From April 2014 to August of the same year, Progress PAC (BCA’s political action committee controlled by Canary) gave Hubbard $115,000.
In December 2013, Hubbard reported paying his legal team $71,600; in March 2014, his next reported payment was a total of $75,000; August’s payment was $85,000; and the last reported payment of $55,000 was paid out in December 2014. This means that Hubbard has used campaign donations to pay over $200,000 in legal fees so far. According to State law, Hubbard is not required to file another report until January 2016.
If our supposition is correct, the Rane/Canary-controlled money paid $285,500 of the money paid to Hubbard’s attorneys from his campaign account. While this is not certain, the confluence of money, timing, and associations makes the hypothesis compelling.