By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, March 12, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill was in Birmingham briefing the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans (GBYR) on his first weeks in the Alabama Secretary of State office.
Secretary of State Merrill said that he and his office have been looking at the campaign finance reports that candidates in the 2014 elections filed. There were a lot of candidates not filing their required campaign finance reports on time. There are some who still have not filed the required 2014 reports. Some are trying to misrepresent, some are trying to mislead, and sometimes they just don’t know what they are doing.
Merrill announced that on Tuesday: the SOS office, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Director Spencer collier were holding a press conference to announce the creation of the Alabama Election Task Force. The SOS office will team up with investigators from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and attorney with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office to investigate potential election law violations.
Secretary Merrill said that his employees at the SOS office don’t have police powers but they will be able to turn over their cases to law enforcement officers with ALEA who do. The investigators will turn it over to prosecutors. If warranted it will go to a grand jury for possible indictments.
Merrill said that other announcements will be forthcoming and he is working on legislation.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked,
“During the last election, there were organizations spending money on ads, often negative, targeting races across the State. No one could trace where this money was coming from. Is the so-called ‘dark money’ going to be a focus of the task force.”
Merrill said that yes there was a lot of “dark money” in 2014 and yes the task force will look into that. He also acknowledged that it is possible there are some people currently holding office who could be investigated.
Sec. Merrill said, “We are very excited about the things that we are trying to do,” at the SOS office. He said that he started preparing after he won the Republican nomination. Merrill said that he has created a committee of Democrat and Republican Probate Judges to advise him and he has met with the boards of registrars as well. The first thing they did was prepare a handbook for the registrars and have got some other things we have got to do. Some of those items will take legislation.
“I want the office to be as effective and as efficient as it can possibly be…I talked to each employee for at least 30 minutes…I told them all don’t tell anyone they work for me…We all work for the people of Alabama.”
We have been very successful. We have found a way to generate a $250,000 savings for the taxpayers by moving from the RSA Union building to the State house.
Merrill said that at one of the first GBYR meetings he attended during the campaign he met a young man who revealed his frustrations with the business division of the SOS office. Birmingham area attorney, Joel Blankenship, explained that the slowness of the office was a continuing burden for his clients. Incorporation filings that takes days in most states took months in Montgomery. “I made that a campaign plank.” Now I am moving to take LLC (limited liability company) filings and make them a one day process instead of four months. That came directly from the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans.
Sec. of State Merrill said that he has been talking with officials in South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and other states about the 2016 Presidential Primary. I want to form a Southeastern primary. I have talked with Governor Huckabee for 45 minutes about this and Rand Paul for ten minutes. Merrill has also talked with representatives of Scott Walker, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton. Merrill said I want the people of Alabama to get the same as Iowa and New Hampshire, where they get to know the presidential candidates and not just have one check-in visit in the State.
Merrill said that Brent Beal has joined his the SOS office as staff attorney. Adam Thompson was retained as a valuable member of our team.
GBYR Chair Jackie Curtiss said that Merrill was the one guy we were all unified behind.
Chair Curtiss said that the GBYR will be hosting the Alabama Young Republican Convention in April. Curtiss announced that she is running for Chair of the Alabama Young Republicans. The Young Republican Chair has a voting seat on the Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee.
The GBYR moved their monthly meeting to the Sidebar Cafe on 7th Avenue South near 30th Street South.