By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The State Legislature looks poised to pass an $800-million-dollar prison bill based on vague plans, powerful lobbying, and a process that lacks even a modicum of transparency.
The real worry over the $800-million-dollar prison bill is, who’s going to receive a big payday?
Speculation is that Gov. Robert Bentley’s former senior adviser and sexting partner, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, has a deal. Minda Riley Campbell’s name has been linked to a company that wants to build the prisons, lease them back to the State, but staff them with civilian security contractors.
A law enforcement officer speaker on background said, “This bill if it passes will keep Federal investigators busy for years.”
A source close to the negotiations says Mason has a contract with one of the construction companies to secure the construction work, and that is why Gov. Bentley has pushed to use the alternative delivery method, where a contractor is handpicked instead of the traditional competitive bid process.
A Florida contractor has been working with the Governor’s office for two years, according to a former staffer, who claims Mason brought the company to the Governor.
The measure has Bentley’s full support, and the lack of transparency has led to the speculation about Mason. But, as with most big projects in Alabama, former Gov. Bob Riley’s fingerprints are often to be found on any deal, causing his daughter’s name to surface.
According to several sources close to the Department of Finance, Acting Director Bill Newton has bragged about the hold he has over Bentley, causing many to believe he has made a common cause with Mason.
Word from inside the Department of Finance, is that Goodwyn Mills & Caywood will be architects on the project. Finance officer Katherine Lynn’s husband works for the firm.
Newton has close ties to those in the bond business, who stand to make a considerable profit off of the $800 million offering.
The fact that the bill is being crammed through the State House by Speaker Mike Hubbard, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, with Bentley’s backing, has raised many eyebrows. Marsh is the only one of the three not currently under a cloud of suspicion.
Given the current leadership push for hundreds of millions in borrowed money, Legislators are now asking, “Who’s going to profit?” Some have even claimed that a “golden parachute” is waiting for Hubbard.
Dax Swatek and his firm are aggressively lobbying for one of the companies who wants to build the prisons.
Not a single study shows the impact of new prisons, or the rationale for the budget, or even where the prisons will be located. Rumors have swirled around the project because the process is ambiguous at best; some have even said, “deceptive.” The entire project has basically rested upon Gov. Bentley’s and Commissioner Dunn’s, “Trust us, we know what we’re doing.”
Lobbyists claim Bentley has “hot-boxed” lawmakers, waltzed contractors through the State House, and made promises he knows can’t be kept.
Deals have been made to raise taxes as a fall back measure, if the so-called cost savings never materialize.
As a third measure of insuring that the bond is repaid, the bill states that if the revenues are not “sufficient to pay at their respective maturities the principal of ant interest” the money will be essentially borrowed from the Department of Human Resources and the Veterans’ Assistance Fund.
As a member of law enforcement said, “They better look closely at the fine print, to give this administration a billion dollar credit card is insane.”