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Featured Opinion

Will the Ethic Commission’s political parlor tricks doom Bentley?

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

What the public learned from the Ethic Commission hearing surrounding accusations against Gov. Robert Bentley, is that he may have violated the Ethics Code and the Fair Campaign Practice Act (FCPA). What observant politicos witnessed was an Ethics Commission that is political, ineffectual, and has long outlived its sell-by-date.

Let’s take the cute little nod and wink between Commissioner Stewart Tankersley and Tom Albritton.

Tankersley asked the commission to determine if sex was a thing of value. His motion for a vote failed, not even garnering a second from any of the other commissioners. Their silence leads us to believe that under this Ethics panel, a lobbyist or a paid surrogate can perform any sexual act desired in exchange for a lawmaker’s vote, or whatever the lobbyist wants in return without fear of running afoul of the law. Sell that in court. Sex is a thing of value in this context.

But, this was only the warm-up act for a nine-hour Burlesque show posing as a serious inquiry.

The Commission went into Executive Session to hear testimony and make its determination. They tried in vain to sneak in witnesses without the press discovering their identities. Why hide that Governor Robert Bentley, Secretary of State John Merrill, Seth Hammett, Spencer Collier, Ray Lewis and other were providing testimony? These are not delicate orchids, that wither at controversy.

The Commission’s efforts to hide these individuals included harassing APR’s Josh Moon and others who joined him in solidarity on the sidewalk at 100 South Union Street. Since when is a reporter told and threatened to be moved off a public sidewalk for covering a story?

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Why did the Ethics Commission feel compelled to use Law Enforcement in such a way that almost ended in a reporters arrest for doing his job?

The Commission claims its hearing falls under the State’s Grand Jury Secrecy Act. Does it? Should it? Someone needs to ask Attorney General Steve Marshall for an opinion.

Commissioner Butch Ellis, a Bentley appointee, abstained from every vote, yet sat through the entire nine-hour Kabuki dance, aggressively questioning witnesses while steering the hearing with lawyerly slyness. Did Ellis only discover his conflict of interest after grilling all the witnesses or did he walk in the door knowing he was conflicted?

Judge Charles Price (another Bentley appointee) voted no on the issue of Bentley using his position for personal gain. Why?

And why did he and Ellis push for the alleged violation to be handed over to Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey, when they knew that former Montgomery District Attorney Ellen Brooks is leading an Attorney General’s probe?

Bailey is understaffed for such an investigation. Montgomery County is so plagued with murder, gun violence, and crime that he’s even having trouble bringing a Capitol Murder case to a grand jury.

Then there’s the press release about the hearing. A preposterous piece of PR, which is beneath the office of a commission that is entrusted with the enforcement of law.

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What was the need to state that they questioned forty-five witnesses or that they analyzed over 33,000 documents in the course of their investigation? This next sentence alone should get someone fired. It reads, “The staff of the Commission has worked tirelessly and thoroughly to investigate every Complaint that we received.”

Isn’t that their job?

And if that’s not enough to make you question the press release, it goes on to say, “I want to recognize my entire staff for their dedication to their public duty, especially [blah, blah, blah] as well as the Commissioners for faithfully executing a difficult and often thankless task they have undertaken, voluntarily in service to the State of Alabama.”

Gratuitousness and self-congratulatory PR is quite unbecoming.

But these hearing were never about Bentley; they were about the Ethics Commission ridding themselves of a hot potato while appearing to be doing their job.

These hearings were about politics, not justice or law. They were a sham in the worst way. Whether you like Governor Robert Bentley or not, or whether you think he is a dirty crook or an adulterer, he shouldn’t be removed from office because of this ridiculous show trial.

Of course the House report that comes later today will be scandalous enough that it will horrify even the most lascivious lawmaker. But in this instance the real porn will be the politics of it all.

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Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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