By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, June 3, 2016, two of the most influential lobbyists in the State of Alabama both independently used the line: “I love Mike Hubbard like a brother” in their testimony as to why they went out of their way to help the Speaker of the House. Within an hour of each other both Business Council of Alabama (BCA) President and CEO William “Billy” T. Canary and Minda Riley Campbell, an attorney and lobbyist with Bob Riley and Associates; both professed their love for Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) as their explanation for why they tried to assist the Speaker of the House in his almost insatiable quest to earn more money.
The two powerful lobbyists both admitted to attempting to arrange interviews for the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, but both denied that aid was due to Hubbard, being the Speaker of the House; but was instead, due to the close friendship they have for Mike Hubbard.
Billy Canary, who is a registered lobbyist, testified that he was part of what he called a “kitchen cabinet” that met with Mike Hubbard every week of the legislative sessions. This group also included: Hubbard’s Chief of Staff Josh Blades, Dax Swatek (a lobbyist), John Ross (a lobbyist), and guests invited in by members of the group such as experts in the field being discussed.
Prosecutor Matt Hart asked Canary if it was unusual for Mike Hubbard to discuss his personal finances. Canary said, “In the eighteen years that I have known Mike Hubbard we discussed financial issues a lot.”
Canary did admit that he did recommend Mike Hubbard to people who might have use of Hubbard’s skill set: “I did anything I could to recommend him to anyone. It could in the political and other arenas that I could.”
Hart presented an email that Mike Hubbard wrote to BCA Chairman Will Brooke in which he said, “I am going with Billy (Canary) to meet some folks with Fed Ex and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (BCA is the Alabama affiliate for the U.S. Chamber).” Canary acknowledged that he did travel to Washington with Mike Hubbard and that he did arrange for Hubbard to present an award and speak with at a Chamber event; but he denied having any involvement or knowledge of the meeting Hubbard had with Fed Ex officials. Canary said that Mike Hubbard proposed doing printing work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Canary said that his friendship with Mike Hubbard, “Blossomed like any blessing in life.” Canary said that he and his wife, Leura, have visited Mike and his wife, Susan, at their homes and had meals together. The pair went to the ZZ-top and Doobie Brothers concerts together as well as Billy Bob Thornton.
Canary acknowledged that under his leadership BCA funded 22 to 23 “mostly Republican” candidates in the 2010 election who were all pro-business and pro-education reform.
The 2010 campaign effort was led by House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) who was also Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.
Canary very reluctantly acknowledged that BCA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state, though he maintained that the AEA (Alabama Education Association) was until after the 2014 election. Canary said that BCA was run over by the gun bills which passed despite BCA opposition and by the immigration bill.
Canary said that he introduced Hubbard to his longtime friend, Rainey Foster. Canary said, “I was bringing her a friend who I believed to be very talented.” Rainey Foster is executive vice president and partner of Leading Authorities, Inc. Leading Authorities, Inc. maintains a stable of nationally renown speakers who are experts in a variety of fields that are available as speakers to corporate groups and other events for a fee.
Canary also acknowledged introducing Hubbard to Walter White, whom Canary said that he has a close personal relationship. White is in charge of Public Policy and Government Relations at the federal level for Verizon. Canary hoped that White and these other contacts could utilize Mike Hubbard.
The prosecution is alleging that this warm personal relationship between Hubbard and Canary was for their mutual benefit.
The defense maintains that the pair were friends before Hubbard was speaker and before Canary was with the BCA and that the various favors that Canary has done for Hubbard are not violations of the State Ethics Law.
Hart showed Canary an email that Canary had received from Hubbard’s executive assistant where she wrote that Canary was setting up a series of meetings with CEOs in Alabama.
Canary denied that those meetings were about finding Hubbard work; but were instead listening sessions where CEOs who were upset about Alabama’s anti-illegal alien bill (HB56) could vent their frustrations with the Speaker.
When a mutual acquaintance, Colby Cooper, emailed Canary to announce that he was leaving his position in Fairhope to take a job in the Northeast with Pepsi Cola, Canary asked Cooper to find some work at Pepsi for Hubbard to do. Cooper is now Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff.
After the prosecution rested, Hubbard defense lawyer former Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley (D) asked: Your being friends with Mike had nothing to do with him being Speaker and you being head of the Business Council of Alabama?
Canary said no that it didn’t; “I love him life a brother.”