By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Attorney General Steve Marshall’s campaign has accepted donations from several Political Action Committees funded by a company currently involved in an AG’s office investigation and another company owned by a man who was a key witness in the Mike Hubbard trial.
In all, according to campaign finance reports, Marshall’s campaign took in $15,000 from six PACs managed by Fine Geddie & Associates, and all six were funded by the same four entities: Drummond Coal Company, Great Southern Wood, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Protective Life Insurance.
Drummond Coal is, of course, caught up in the state and federal investigations related to the 35th Ave. EPA superfund site – investigations that have already led to a state lawmaker agreeing to a plea deal and a Drummond executive being accused by the U.S. Attorney’s office of participating in acts of bribery.
Great Southern Wood Company is owned by Jimmy Rane, the state’s wealthiest man, according to Forbes, and a longtime friend of Hubbard. Rane defended Hubbard during his trial, testifying that he gave the former Alabama House Speaker money because of their friendship – an exception under Alabama’s ethics laws. And sources close to Rane said the Yella Fella was particularly unhappy with AG prosecutor Matt Hart – the driving force behind Hubbard’s prosecution and ultimate conviction on 12 felony counts.
However, Marshall’s campaign said there is no conflict with the donations.
“The campaign has not made a solicitation to Drummond Company or Great Southern Wood,” said David Ferguson, who is handling Marshall’s campaign. “Marshall has made it clear that he is not accepting contributions from those who are under state or federal investigation. The campaign has already rejected contributions that are deemed inappropriate from both corporations and individuals.”
Ferguson declined to identify the source of the donations returned.
A source close to Marshall’s campaign said the $15,000 in question actually was provided by Protective Life, a Birmingham-based company operated by Johnny Johns. However, the flow of money into the PACs and out to Marshall doesn’t match up.
Over the last year, the flow of money into all six PACs was the same: In mid-2016, Drummond, Great Southern Wood and Protective Life all dumped $10,000 each into each of the PACs. In late December, Drummond dropped another $10,000 into each PAC and BCBS put $15,000 into each. Then, in March, Great Southern Wood dropped another $10,000 into each.
Along the way, starting in early January, money from the PACs started to go out to candidates. But only Marshall drew contributions from all six, and he was the only recipient of contributions from two of the PACs.
All of the donations to Marshall, in $2,500 increments, were sent out by the PACs on June 19.
It wasn’t until June 30 that Protective Life dumped $10,000 into each of the six PACs.
When pressed on whether the contributions contained money from Drummond or Great Southern Wood, Ferguson said the campaign was confident in the donations because they had been researched “by the chief investigator.”
When asked for the investigator’s name, Ferguson said, “You can look it up.”
The chief investigator for Alabama AG’s Office is Jim Lambert, but it’s unclear if Carden would research campaign donations for Marshall or any other candidate, or if that’s who Ferguson was referring to.
The donations, even if the money is tied directly to Drummond Coal and Great Southern Wood, likely wouldn’t be illegal, but they do raise questions of ethics and influence. That’s why Marshall’s campaign has returned donations from entities involved in AG’s office investigation – because of the appearance of impropriety.
Additionally, there is no law preventing the companies in question from donating directly to Marshall’s campaign.
Marshall was appointed as AG last February following Luther Strange’s resignation and appointment to the U.S. Senate.
Jim Lambert is chief investigator for Alabama AG’s Office not Chris Carden.