By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Twin bills in the Alabama House and Senate would call for a Constitutional Amendment to “regulate the disclosure, raising, and spending of moneys to influence elections and governmental actions.”
The constitutional amendment is the brainchild of Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who says the primary purpose of the bill is to clear the way for the legislature to enact laws that would compel non-profit 501(c)4s to disclose their donors.
In a conversation with alreporter.com, Orr specifically cited the Alabama Foundation for Limited Government, (AFLG) a 501(c)4, led by former Republican State Sen. John Rice. AFLG opposed several incumbent republicans during the 2014 elections. “It is not right for people to have no idea who is giving money to these foundations,” Orr said.
However, critics of the bill challenge the sincerity of Orr’s explanation, citing the bill’s language: seeks to regulate…the raising and spending of money “to influence elections and governmental actions.”
In 2014, Rice’s AFLG asked lawmakers to sign an anti-corruption pledge and also vigorously opposed taxes increases, later passed by the Republican supermajority.
Orr said the people of Alabama deserve to know who funds such groups, but when asked about 501(c)4s, led by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Orr did not directly answer the question.
First Amendment champion Shaun McCutcheon, who fought the FEC over campaign giving and won in the 2014 US Supreme Court ruling “McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission,” once again weighted in on Orr’s proposed constitutional amendment saying, “As previously stated, I don’t support the proposed law for multiple reasons. The law is too broad and vague. If the law were about disclosure, then it need not mention campaign fundraising and spending.”
But Orr says it is about disclosure: “It is a two-step process to passing legislation requiring these group to disclose their donors.”
Ann Eubank, speaking for the Rainy Day Patriots (a large TEA party group) said, Orr’s bill would enable State lawmakers to “pass laws that allow the State to ‘regulate’ political activity. These bills will give them carte blanche to control our political behavior; the worst form of tyranny.”
She sees Orr’s bill as a way to give big money donors complete control and silence “we the people.”
“These proposed changes to the Alabama Constitution are a politically motivated abuse of legislative power, and a violation of our right to freedom of speech without governmental interference,” said Eubank.
Orr says he is not trying to stop donations: “I am not trying to do that, but let’s get a bill together and make them report.”
However, Eubank points out, “A 501(c)4 is the only way that citizens can donate to a cause without being afraid of the consequences if it becomes public. The goal of these two bills is to take away that freedom.”
McCutcheon also stated, “The main problem with campaign finance laws is that they are almost always designed by incumbents to silence the political messages of challengers. They usually try to squash the political speech they do not like so opponents cannot even play much less win. Instead they should just win on the merits of good ideas and let the free speech flow.”
Orr’s bill would also facilitate changes current State law on issue advocacy.
Marsh has used his two 501(c)4s, Conservatives for Alabama’s Future and Foundation for Accountability in Education, Inc., to promote issues he championed while disparaging others for doing the same. In April 2014, Marsh made headlines attacking Rice’s foundation while he used one of his 501(c)4s to fund the other in a scheme reminiscent of the old PAC-to-PAC transfers outlawed by the republican lead government.
While attacking Rice, Marsh’s 501(c)4’s website and Facebook page primed with ominous pictures of Sen. Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama. The website hosted a “News” section that links to stories that say the National Education is pushing a “Gay agenda,” and that AEA money was used to defend “Gay marriage before the Supreme Court.”
McCutcheon said, he believes disclosure of campaign contributions “is good and necessary for many reasons including the verification of American money in campaigns.” But he is not in favor of “disclosure of small donations to issue groups.”
He sees pure issue advocacy groups disclosure is not necessary, “as it is just pure free speech like media and the press.”
The 501(c)4 so-called “Dark money” groups have gained new attention after Rebekah Caldwell Mason revealed she was paid by Gov. Robert Bentley’s ACEGOV. Bentley has admitted to inappropriate sexting and FaceTime peccadillo with Mason who served as his senior advisor before resigning in March.
The Wetumpka Tea Party did not return request for comment. Rice said he would be dealing directly with Sen. Orr in the coming days.