By Brandon Moseley and Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, January 13, the Jefferson County Young Democrats announced their endorsements in the 2016 Democratic Primary races on March 1. The Alabama Young Democrats (AYD), however, were quick to offer their view: that Alabama Young Democrats are prohibited from making endorsements under their Constitution.
The Jefferson County Young Democrats are listed on the AYD website as an officially recognized chapter, however endorsing candidates “prior to the primary cycle of elections” is reportedly prohibited by the AYD Constitution.
AYD President Beth Clayton said in a statement, “The Alabama Young Democrats and its affiliated chapters are not authorized to make endorsements in primary elections pursuant to Article III of our Constitution. We believe in a unified Democratic Party, and will continue to work hard to elect all Democrats who step forward to run for office. The endorsements announced today by the Jefferson County Young Democrats are not official and do not speak on behalf of our membership or our organization. We remain committed to support all candidates who win the Party’s nomination in the primary elections.”
On Tuesday, January 10, the Alabama Political Reporter (APR) spoke with Jefferson County Young Democrats President, Le’Darius Hilliard. APR asked if he had any response to the State organization saying that they are prohibited from endorsing candidates in a Democratic Primary?
Hilliard said, “I am of the belief that if the local chapter endorses in the name of the State Young Democrats, then that is forbidden; however, if the local chapter charters a political action committee (PAC) through the Probate Judge’s office and make endorsements, that is within the rules.”
Hilliard emphasized that he respects everyone’s opinion, but maintains that he and the Jefferson County Young Democrats endorsements are proper.
A search of public records with the Jefferson County Probate Court and the Alabama Secretary of State showed that no Statement of Organization or financial disclosures for a Jefferson County Young Democrats Political Action Committee had been filed as of publication.
APR asked if he, or anyone else with the Jefferson County YDs have been paid by any candidates or campaigns or candidates who were endorsed?
Hilliard said, “That is false. I have not been paid to make endorsements and I am not aware of any other Jefferson County Young Democrats being paid.”
Hilliard did receive $1,100 from two campaign committees during the month that candidates were screened for endorsements, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State.
Hilliard said that the endorsements were made after a through screening process. Several candidates however expressed a concern with the endorsements process, questioning the transparency and ethical nature of the screenings and endorsements.
The Jefferson County Young Democrats endorsed Charles Nana over Ron Crumpton for the office of US Senate.
APR spoke with Ron Crumpton. Crumpton said, “We were never contacted, for any thorough screening process.”
APR asked Crumpton if he ever had the opportunity to speak to the Jefferson County Young Democrats. He said, “I have never had a chance to speak with the Jefferson County Young Democrats. We tried contacting them early on, but had no success.”
One member of the Jefferson County Young Democrats spoke to us about the apparent rift between them and their parent organization without wanting to be identified. The source stated that, “The Jefferson County Young Democrats are trying to move forward and do real work to move the State forward and other young Democrat groups would rather talk about their bylaws.”
The inside source says that the Jefferson County Young Democrats made it clear to everyone when they chartered the group that they were going to make primary endorsements. “We are, by far, the largest chapter (of Young Democrats) in the State. We have more active members than all the other chapter combined. We are excited about that.”
The inside source said that over 30 candidates went through the endorsement process, those that were endorsed were excited about it and those that didn’t get the endorsement probably were not.
“On Sunday, we had a debate watch party that was well attended. We plan a full get out the vote effort and radio ads for our endorsed candidates. If the state Young Democrats take our charter away our charter, Jefferson County will be just fine.”
AYD President Beth Clayton said that she “did not want to comment heavily on the organization’s internal disputes, since disciplinary procedures are pending” but said that the organization has grown significantly over the past year, forming new chapters in Mobile and the Shoals.
“We’re proud of a lot of the work our Jefferson County chapter has accomplished, but we have to maintain ethical and legal lines which includes following our own Constitution and bylaws. If we don’t enforce the rules in this case, how do we move forward in an organized way?” Clayton said.