By Baron Coleman
The media accounts of Mike Hubbard’s financial woes have descended on Alabama like thick morning dew.
As the media sifted through the treasure trove of emails and other documents, the public got its first glimpses behind the Lee County Grand Jury’s curtain. Everyone could finally begin to read what Mike Hubbard knew and when did he know it.
Unfortunately, the media collectively appears to have concluded Mike Hubbard was and may still be broke. This is what Mike Hubbard wanted the recipients to believe when he drafted these fateful emails in 2011 and 2012. He just never intended the Attorney General’s office, a grand jury, the media, and the public to give the emails a thorough vetting.
At the time the recently released emails were written, Mike Hubbard wasn’t broke. In August 2012, Hubbard filed a personal finance statement with Regions Bank painting an incredibly different financial picture than the one he attempted to pawn off on Alabama’s most powerful political figures.
Most Alabamians can’t fathom an $8 million net worth. But there it is in black and white on page 3 of Exhibit 42A of the prosecution’s response to Hubbard’s impossibly foolish Motion for More Definite Statement. Hubbard’s net worth was $7.8 million, his 2011 taxable income was $434,000, and he had liquid assets (i.e., cash or its equivalent) of $865,000.
Whether Hubbard subsequently burned through the nearly $8 million net worth he disclosed to Regions Bank we may never know. But we know this: In 2011 and 2012, while Hubbard was telling anyone and everyone who would listen he was flat broke, he wasn’t broke. Not even close.
A detailed reading of the 85 exhibits filed by the prosecution answers why Hubbard wanted to appear broke to Alabama’s rich and powerful.
The earliest email in the cache is an email exchange between Bob Riley and Mike Hubbard from January 2011. Riley and Hubbard discussed Hubbard’s employer, IMG, forcing Hubbard to choose between politics and continuing to work for IMG. IMG’s stated reason, according to Hubbard: Politics was taking too much of Hubbard’s time from work.
Hubbard was fewer than 90 days into his reign as Speaker and his employer was asking him to quit.
On February 10, 2011, and again the following day, Hubbard sent his first emails stating openly that he wished he could work for or perhaps even run Bob Riley & Associates, the lobbying firm opened by Governor Riley after leaving office in January 2011.
This is the first insight into Hubbard’s mindset at the time, and it’s not clear which way Hubbard was planning to attack.
He had two options.
One option was to solicit business from the rich and powerful, Riley included, in the hope that businesses would open their bank accounts to the new Speaker of the House. One can hardly blame Hubbard for thinking this might work, especially considering the amount of money Hubbard is credited with raising during the 2010 campaign, a staggering number totaling in the several millions of dollars. Hubbard interpreted this to mean the rich and powerful have disposable income and trust Hubbard with that disposable income to further their political and financial interests.
The second option was for Hubbard to portray himself as something he was not, on the verge of financial ruin, in an attempt to manipulate the rich and powerful into thinking they should support Hubbard, lest he be forced to leave politics and threaten the “investments” they made during the 2010 campaign.
The second option can even be considered a fallback option to the first. If Hubbard solicited businesses and they declined his overt advances for their financial affection, he could resort to option two.
The emails suggest that is exactly what he did.
The polite exchanges between Hubbard and Riley in January and February of 2011, 90-120 days into Hubbard’s tenure as Speaker, show a gently forward Hubbard, a man asking to be included in what he saw as the get-rich-quick scheme that had become Governor Riley’s new career. But they also show a polite, almost meek Hubbard, beating around the bush and offering childish pleasantries and subtle hints disguised as playful requests.
Riley, whether purposefully or not, did not act on the hints.
The next known email exchange between Hubbard and Riley is from February 20, 2011, just nine days later. The emails indicate Riley was working on a business or lobbying deal in South Carolina. Hubbard wrote a brief email from his BlackBerry asking Riley if it was successful. Riley’s reply was tantalizingly brief: “Oh yeah.”
Hubbard’s reply to Riley’s “Oh yeah” indicates a shift in tactics, if not strategy. No longer was he simply wishing aloud that he could work for Riley; rather, Hubbard came right out and asked for it. “Can I come work for BR&A (Bob Riley and Associates)? I need a job and this way I would work [for] someone I respect.”
The record goes silent for the next six months. When it picks back up in August 2011, Hubbard was no longer basking in the glow of the immediate aftermath of the 2010 campaign. The mild sense of fear he might lose his job with IMG had given way to an earth shaking panic, perhaps even, in Hubbard’s words, depression or a mid-life crisis.
On August 8, 2011, in the midst of a back-and-forth email exchange about politics at the Alabama Republican Party and updates about Riley’s health, Hubbard subtly mentioned that he had “to get busy trying to figure out how to support [his] family after March!” Riley’s reply addressed only Riley’s health and the Party. Riley avoided Hubbard’s comments about seeking a firm financial footing.
Hubbard prodded again in a reply, outlining his busy travel itinerary but noting that it wasn’t helping him make money for his family.
Riley again missed the mark in his reply. Rather than addressing what Hubbard wanted (money), he addressed Hubbard’s political future, essentially asking whether he wanted to be Speaker Hubbard or Governor Hubbard, though he never mentioned the “G” word. If Hubbard wanted only to remain Speaker, Riley suggested the hectic travel schedule might be too much. However, if his goal was more than just Speaker, i.e., Governor, Riley told Hubbard he was doing all the right things.
But Hubbard wasn’t looking for political or travel advice. He wanted to talk about money. Hubbard’s next reply makes that painfully clear.
Hubbard launched into a confusing, yet revealing, tirade about his place in life. He lamented the fact that his company controlling Auburn sports media rights had been sold twice and he was no longer a part of it. He complained that his then-current company, presumably Auburn Network though the same could be said for Craftmaster Printers at the time, was merely spinning its wheels in a state of non-profitability.
Then things turned personal. He told Riley he feared he was sacrificing his family’s financial future for politics. He said he felt like he was collapsing and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He mentioned the possibility he was having a mid-life crisis and admitted he was battling depression.
This is the first email revealing Hubbard had moved from merely hinting or asking for financial opportunities to putting on the full-court press for cash.
Riley’s reply to Hubbard’s emotional screed is equally strange in that Riley stated from that point forward he and Hubbard would be suspect in everything they did. Riley didn’t explain why the former-governor-turned-lobbyist and the Speaker of the House would be suspect. He just stated it as a fact, a fact Hubbard ratified by silence when his reply did nothing more than thank Riley for his words.
That was the turning point. From that point on, Hubbard would not go back to hints or wishes that he could be a part of a moneymaking operation. All subsequent emails, whether to Riley, Riley’s daughter Minda Campbell, or businessman Will Brooke, sound this same desperate tone.
Hubbard’s email exchanges with Brooke from September 2011 through September 2012 centered on Hubbard approaching Brooke for help finding business opportunities to avoid financial ruin that could lead to Hubbard’s resignation. Brooke ultimately would come up with a plan to have outside investors save Craftmaster Printers, a cause for concern for Hubbard at the time. As investors took the bait, Hubbard’s tone improved and Hubbard outlined the financial gains Craftmaster Printers achieved as Brooke’s plan was executed.
Hubbard emailed Brooke multiple times asking for help identifying business opportunities as Hubbard’s contract with IMG was nearing its conclusion. Whether honestly or not, Hubbard expressed confusion and hurt over businessmen investing heavily in his vision for the 2010 campaign but not wanting to hire him after winning. Instead, he wondered in writing whether he was too much of a lighting rod or that “no good deed goes unpunished.”
On March 20, 2012, Brooke finally stated as politely as possible, without blatantly calling Hubbard a crook, what the businessmen likely had been thinking but apparently never stated openly. “No, Mike, that’s not it,” Brooke said about Hubbard’s martyr complex. “I think that folks are afraid to mess up, either on their or your side of the equation.”
It was Brooke’s way of politely telling Hubbard that people knew he was asking them to break the law.
All of this is notable because of one particular point of context Hubbard fails to include in his emails. At no point during the time period of these email exchanges, from early 2011 to late 2012, could Hubbard truthfully be described as anything nearing financially broke. He told Governor Riley he was broke. He told Minda Campbell he was broke. He told Will Brooke he was broke. But he wasn’t broke. Not even close.
Many have been tempted to point to pure greed as the probable cause for Hubbard’s never-ending search for business opportunities, but there’s a better explanation. The explanation is buried in an email exchange with Minda Campbell from October 31, 2011.
In the exchange, Campbell mentioned to Hubbard that she had thought about Hubbard’s purported financial situation. She wondered if there was a way around the ethics laws that would allow Hubbard to profit from Bob Riley & Associates.
She speculated in the email that Riley de-registering as a lobbyist would allow Hubbard to associate with the firm. If Riley de-registered, the firm would be a consulting firm, rather than a lobbying firm. Legislators don’t have the same legal restrictions with consultants they do with lobbyists.
Hubbard’s reply to Campbell is the key to understanding Hubbard’s mood and behavior in his emails with Riley, Campbell, and Brooke. Hubbard tells Campbell that Hubbard and Riley had a plan from the beginning that would include Hubbard profiting off of Bob Riley & Associates. However, for the plan to work, Riley couldn’t register as a lobbyist. In Hubbard’s words, Riley “messed that up” when he registered. Hubbard hoped in the email that Riley “can and will unring that bell,” meaning that Riley would de-register as a lobbyist so Hubbard could associate with the firm and make money.
Riley was making what many speculate was millions of dollars off of Hubbard’s time as Speaker, and Hubbard was left with his $70,000 a year Speaker’s salary, his wife’s $145,000 a year job at Auburn University, and an ultimatum from Hubbard’s employer IMG that he either leave politics or lose his job.
That is why Hubbard initially dropped hints and later seethed with rage about his finances. That is why Hubbard repeatedly asked if there was a way he could come work for Bob Riley & Associates. That is why Hubbard threatened to quit and walk away from politics if he couldn’t come up with a way to make more money.
He wasn’t broke. That was a lie. Hubbard’s August 2012 financial statement states Hubbard had a net worth of close to $7.8 million and liabilities of only about $600,000. It is irrational to conclude that with a $7.8 million net worth and a bare minimum of $215,000 a year in combined tax-payer funded salary between Hubbard and his wife, he would need to harass the rich and powerful with requests for business opportunities to avoid financial ruin.
Hubbard’s bizarre behavior was not motivated by greed or poverty; it was motivated by anger and envy.
Fresh off the 2010 campaign, a time when the rich and powerful were throwing millions of dollars to Hubbard-controlled PACs, Hubbard believed he was somebody special. He mistakenly believed the campaign contributions and widespread desire for Republican control meant faith in Mike Hubbard. He became angry when the spigots ran dry after the election. He believed he deserved a reward for his efforts in 2010 and if people couldn’t appreciate him for what he did, he would make them think he was in dire straits in order to separate them from their cash.
He also was insanely jealous, particularly of Governor Riley. His email exchanges with Riley are peppered with vivid descriptions of his affection for the former governor. Verbs like love, respect, and admire are frequent in the exchanges, even if they tended to travel only in one direction: from Hubbard to Riley. At one point, Hubbard even described Riley as his true father figure and limned his own father as a poor, pitiful figure compared to Riley’s stature and sagacity. If Hubbard and Riley truly had a plan for the two of them to profit off of Bob Riley & Associates that was more concrete than Hubbard’s fanciful imagination, Hubbard must have burned with envy at the thought of Riley becoming wealthy while Hubbard treaded water in his businesses and pushed Riley’s rocks up hills in the legislature.
A judge and jury will have the final say on whether Hubbard committed crimes. However, portraying Hubbard as a scared citizen legislator teetering on the precipice of a financial catastrophe is criminally inaccurate. At the time of these email exchanges, Hubbard was wealthy beyond the comprehension of most Alabamians. Anger and envy drove Hubbard, not greed or poverty.
With the release of these records, particularly the financial statement outlining the extent of his wealth at the time, media reports of Mike Hubbard motivated by the threat of poverty must evaporate in the breaking dawn of this reality.
Baron Coleman is an attorney, political consultant, and co-host of News and Views from Nine to Noon on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV in Montgomery, Ala.