By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, October 21, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) issued a warning to groups who may attempt to use out of state Political Action Committees (PACs) to hide the source of their funds.
Secretary of State Merrill said, “It has been brought to the attention of the Secretary of State’s Office that there may be current plans to circumvent the reporting requirements of the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act by utilizing out-of-state PACs and the reporting requirements of other states to hide the source of contributions to Alabama campaigns.”
Secretary Merrill warned, “I have been and will continue to be in contact with my counterparts in other states to work to reveal the source of contributions to candidates in Alabama in order to protect and enforce the transparency mandate for political contributions in our State.”
Merrill said that, “If we discover that there has been a violation of this law, we will identify the perpetrator and investigate that entity or individual. If it is warranted, we will seek indictment while working with the District Attorney’s Office and Attorney General’s Office to ensure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
For years both political parties would hold press conferences to denounce PAC to PAC transfers of funds and then the Democratic Party Legislative leadership would bury the bills in a committee and nothing would get done. Many candidates would claim they have never taken AEA (Alabama Education Association) or gambling donations (for examples); but they would take dollars from some other innocuous sounding PAC that took money from another PAC that took money from another PAC that took money from another PAC that did take contributions. The candidate would have plausible deniability; but everybody in the know in Montgomery knew how to get money “laundered” in this way so that voters could not tell where the money was coming from. There were allegations that Alabama gaming interests were trying to influence the outcome of elections to legalize casino gaming in Alabama and there were allegations that Mississippi gaming interests were trying to influence the outcome of elections to outlaw electronic bingo in Alabama and it was altogether impossible to prove where the money was going because of the controversial PAC to PAC transferring.
In the 2010 election, then Alabama Republican Party Chairman State Representative Mike Hubbard (R-Alabama) made ending PAC to PAC transfers a major platform position of the ALGOP effort to win control of the legislature. The voters agreed with the Republicans and gave them a supermajority in both houses of the Alabama State Legislature for the first time in over 130 years. Following the election, outgoing Governor Bob Riley (R) called a Special Session to deal with ethics reform. The new legislature passed new ethics reforms including a ban on PAC to PAC transfers.
In the 2014 election, there were allegations that groups, including the AEA, had gotten around the ban by sending money to other states where transfers were still legal and then that money would come back to the State as either contributions to candidates or as contributions to shadowy groups fighting corruption or some other cause. Both sides in many heavily contested Republican Primary fights had so-called: “dark money” flowing. To this point there have been no indictments of anybody for anything.
This is John Merrill’s first term as Secretary of State and he has vowed to clean up Alabama elections.