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A curious case of Canarys

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

It has become common to hear lawmakers say “BCA is the new AEA.” This statement refers to the fact that, under the leadership of convicted felon, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, the Business Council of Alabama has risen to control the State’s Legislative agenda, much like the Alabama Education Association did in years past.

So egregious is BCA’s CEO Billy Canary’s latest behavior that he is receiving widespread criticism not only in Montgomery but in Washington DC, as well. High-level operatives and agents say Canary is no longer welcome in some Senate and Congressional offices. Lawmaker’s in the Nation’s Capital, as well as Montgomery, are set on isolating him until the BCA Board sees the light.

Even with Hubbard awaiting prison for 12 felony counts of public corruption, Canary still struts the halls of the State House like a little Napoleon. From Common Core to Second Amendment rights, Canary manipulates lawmakers by threat or promise to kill or enact Legislation he favors. But, Canary’s actions are now under the microscope as law enforcement agencies scrutinizing his actions. Also, efforts by his wife, Leura, who serves as General Legal Council to the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), have garnered attention from law enforcement. Officials are keen to understand the circumstances that resulted in over $90 million dollars in retirees’ money being loaned to a company that once employed Hubbard as a lobbyist.

During the last Legislative Session, Canary met resistance from lawmakers who have grown tired of his bullying leaving BCA with little success on its Legislative agenda. Canary further infuriated friend and foe with his “bare knuckle fight” against providing insurance to families with Autistic children. So petty was Canary’s response to defeat on the Autism bill, that he uninvited its sponsor to BCA’s lavish soiree in Point Clear.

The Canarys have grown wealthy off of retirees and business interests. On top of the hundreds of thousands BCA pays Billy, his wife Leura makes over $225,000 at RSA, placing her in the upper echelon of management pay.

But for all of their accumulated power and wealth, the couple remains politically unpopular among many in government, as well as rank and file Republicans.

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Hubbard’s trial revealed that BCA’s Canary was a member of Hubbard’s so-called “kitchen cabinet,” an exclusive club of lobbyists who decided which bills should pass and which should fail. Canary has lost that power, but continues to caress and cajole House and Senate leadership.

In March, State Senator J. T. “Jabo” Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) testified before a Federal Grand Jury in Birmingham concerning the 35th Avenue Superfund site. The inquiry focused primarily on a joint resolution condemning EPA actions in Jefferson County according to those with knowledge of events surrounding his testimony. Perhaps, not strikingly, the conversations among investigators have turned to BCA’s possible involvement and Canary’s role in the matter.

In an Op-Ed written in June 2015, Canary once again may have linked the reputation of BCA to the growing public corruption scandal as he did in the Hubbard trial. In his opinion piece, Canary attacked the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts in Jefferson County. Former State lawmaker Rep. Oliver Robinson accepted a plea bargain to Federal charges of fraud, bribery, corruption, and tax evasion. Robinson allegedly took over $300,000 in bribes from the Balch Bingham law firm to persuade Birmingham residents to resist the EPA’s inspection of their property.

In racist tinged code-speak, Canary accused the EPA’s project to remove tons of toxic soil from a predominately African-American community as, “a social engineering experiment.”

Canary also praises efforts to halt any clean-ups saying, “With the combined efforts of the Governor, the Attorney General, the Legislature, and the State’s Congressional delegation, Alabama can be successful in beating back the attempted usurpation of authority and force the EPA to operate within the established rules and guidelines that govern it.”

At the time of Canary’s comments, Robert Bentley was Governor, Luther Strange was Attorney General and Mike Hubbard was Speaker of the House. Bentley and Hubbard have left office in disgrace and Strange’s perceived corrupt bargain to become US Senator has tainted his career.

Canary cites the “combined efforts” of these men along with the legislature and Congressional delegation as a joint force to stop initiatives to ensure that citizens are not poisoned by the businesses that pay his salary or fill their campaign coffers.

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Canary’s statement in his opinion piece published in various news outlets across the State speaks to “coordination,” which is a subject of interest to both Federal and State Grand Juries currently impaneled in the Magic City.

As for the Leura Canary, an investment by RSA into SiO2 has been questioned by pubic corruption investigators.

SiO2 is owned by Robert Abrams. Hubbard was convicted on several charges related to his association with Abrams. It was not publicly known before Hubbard’s indictments that he was working as a consultant for Robert Abrams d/b/a CV Holdings, LLC. It was known that Abrams had contributed liberally to Hubbard’s and former Gov. Bob Riley’s 2014PAC and that he also had business before the State, as well as RSA.

Around 2010, Abrams began to seek investments in SiO2, which develops and manufactures “silicon-oxide coated containers” utilizing “plasma glass coating technology” for medical products.

CV Holdings, LLC., needed $90 million to build the SiO2 research and manufacturing facility in Auburn. In 2012, they received $78 million in a loan from RSA to realize that plan.

In March 2012, Bentley, Hubbard, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, RSA Chief Dr. Bronner and others announced the development of the SiO2 facility and a reported 300 jobs that would be created as a result of the project.

According to RSA records, the SiO2 loan was secured by “37 patents and other intellectual property, covering the company’s developments, a pledge of stock, and all other assets of the company at an interest rate of 8 percent.” The loan according to the last meeting of the RSA board meeting has ballooned to $90 million. Abrams spoke to the board at its most recent gathering. When asked if SiO2 was profitable he answered, “No.”

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It is believed by those inside RSA and state government that hiring Leura Canary was the price Bronner needed to pay to keep Hubbard from ousting him at RSA. Over the years, Br

onner has fended off many attacks, but Hubbard and his cronies were committed to his overthrow until Canary was hired as General Council. Was SiO2 part of the bargain as well?

Hubbard was convicted over his dealings with Abram’s companies, and the Grand Jury in Lee County is still active.

What is now coming into focus is that Canary’s leadership style at BCA is becoming a noose around BCA’s neck.

It is presently unclear how much longer the Canarys can hold on to power, but many are now reciting an old Southern expression, “They’ve worn out their welcome.”


Update: After publication APR received a letter from Dr. Bronner by email in which he expressed his confidence in his General Counsel Leura Canary and the future of SiO2. He also said that while Hubbard had dealings with Bobby Abrams as revealed in his trial and conviction that RSA dealt with a different company owned by Abrams. 

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Dr. Bronner said that RSA investment was sound and has been joined by, three other major investors, “including the #1 investor in the world of drug start-ups.” He further states SiO2 will be, “a major winner over the next 3-5 years, [and if not] “blame me and no one else.”

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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