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As special election heats up, millionaire prepares to go to war against Luther Strange

Chip Brownlee | The Trace



By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

Establishment forces in Washington have come out in force in support of Sen. Luther Strange in next month’s US Senate special election but an Alabama political powerhouse is prepared to go to war with Strange’s campaign.

Tuscaloosa real estate developer and resident millionaire, Stan Pate, is preparing a vigorous ad and information campaign against Strange, whom he plans to paint as a “Washington swamp creature.”

Late last month, Pate formed a new political action committee, Swamp Drainers Foundation, with the Federal Election Commission. He plans to use it to fund an effort to unseat Strange by filling the internet and the airwaves with the suggestion that Bentley and Strange “made a deal” over now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated US Senate seat.

Pate, who has spent thousands of dollars on political campaigns since getting involved in Guy Hunt’s campaign for governor in 1986, is not a stranger to political messaging. His PAC’s first ad — a 17-second animation of Bentley and Stranges — guides viewers through what he said was a conspiracy to get Bentley off the hook for corruption and get Strange the prestigious Senate appointment.

“They don’t have to spend much time wondering why Luther Strange got the appointment,” Pate told APR. “At the end of the day, Luther Strange needs to be held accountable.”


Pate said more than 200,000 people have already watched the ad, currently floating around on social media and the PAC’s website, But he has no plans to stop online. The millionaire said he will do whatever it takes to make sure “anyone but Luther” gets the Senate seat.

“There is a lot more to come,” Pate said. “There will be more.”

Pate alleges that Bentley and Strange made a deal and “exchanged a thing of value” in the form of the Senate seat, to which Bentley appointed Strange in May. What Bentley got in exchange was the chance to appoint his own attorney general — the chance to get dampen a long-term investigation Strange’s Attorney General’s Office was conducting into Bentley’s actions as Governor, Pate said.

“The governor ultimately went home with a little community service, claiming himself to be the greatest governor of the history of the state of Alabama,” Pate said. “It’s really simple, certainly if Strange had any ethics, he shouldn’t have accepted the appointment.”

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Only months before accepting the post, Strange began questioning and denying the generally accepted notion that his office was investigating Bentley’s conduct and his relationship with a former top political aide, Rebekah Mason. Around the same time, in December of 2016, he began interviewing with Bentley for the post.

Earlier in the year in October, Strange sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, requesting they put a hold on their active impeachment investigation because it would conflict with “necessary related work” his office was conducting. The impeachment remained stalled until March of the next year.

Ultimately, Bentley accepted a plea deal with prosecutors appointed by Strange’s Bentley-appointed successor, Attorney General Steve Marshall. He pled guilty to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations that resulted in several thousand dollars in fines and 100 hours of community service. He resigned as part of the plea deal and agreed to never run for public office again.

The deal was reached after Strange resigned, and on the day of his appointment to the Senate, Strange still denied any knowledge of an active investigation despite his previous letter to the House and media reports to the contrary. Pate said he doesn’t believe Marshall nor the special prosecutor put in charge of the investigation were part of any deal.

Strange and Bentley have denied any wrongdoing and have said there was no conflict of interest surrounding the appointment.

“If Pate is against him,” said Shana Teehan, a Strange campaign spokeswoman, “it’s clear that Sen. Strange is the right person to help President Trump clean up Washington.”

Pate isn’t convinced.

“He should have politely told the governor, ’I’m investigating you. This is inappropriate,'” Pate said.

Pate’s plump advertising resources and his eager desire to unseat Strange could be a welcome turn for Strange’s two closest opponents, Congressman Mo Brooks and former Chief Justice Roy Moore, both of whom Pate said he would prefer over Sessions.

“I would prefer anybody other than Luther,” Pate, who has typically supported Republican candidates, said.

Pate said he expects Moore to come first in the primary by drawing an eager voter base, but he doesn’t believe he will win without a runoff. He expects Strange or Brooks to be the No. 2 in the primary.

Throughout his history as a donor and activist, Pate has supported Republicans such as Guy Hunt and even Sessions during his campaigns for Alabama attorney general. He has run campaigns against Republicans in the past, though typically from farther right.

He helped finance a campaign against former Gov. Bob Riley’s plan to increase tax revenue by $2 billion after promising in his campaign for governor not to raise taxes. In 2010, he financed ads calling for Riley’s impeachment.

The primary has largely been defined by Brooks and Strange battling over who is more loyal to Trump, who won by large margins in Alabama. Brooks parted with Trump Wednesday when he criticized his complaints about Sessions’ work as attorney general. Pate recently donated more than $8,000 to Brooks’ campaign.

Since the donation, Strange’s camp has tried to link Brooks to Pate and his anti-Trump message.

Ahead of the presidential primaries in Alabama, Pate paid for an anti-Trump message to be flown over college football games in January 2016. Pate said he had a “good relationship” with Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2016 presidential campaign, meeting with Rubio twice in person, one-on-one.

But he said if he agrees with Trump on anything, it’s his promise to “drain the swamp.”

Strange, he said, is a prime example of a “swamp creature” who has profited off politics in Washington. Before returning to Alabama in 1994 to work as a lawyer at the powerful Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm, Strange spent nearly two decades a lobbyist in D.C. for the Alabama-based natural gas company Sonat Offshore.

“He’s going back to Washington and is sitting in Washington, D.C., right now carrying out an agenda for those who have paid him for a living for many many years,” Pate said.

Now, Pate said those same people are financing attack ads against Brooks, who is perceived as Strange’s most capable rival. Strange has received backing from the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, an establishment PAC that has accused Brooks of being anti-Trump, too liberal and of being a Washington insider himself.

So far, the PAC has paid almost $3 million for TV ads in the state in support of Strange.

Pate hopes to counter that.

“Now the voters have the opportunity to be the jury,” Pate said. “They’ll be a jury as to why Mitch McConnell and the Washington insiders — Luther’s former clients when he lobbied for many many years — are interjecting themselves into Alabama politics in an attempt to decide who the next United States senator is.”

Strange will face off against Brooks and Moore, along with seven other Republican hopefuls, next month in the special primary election set for August 15. Pate is expected to ramp up his advertising campaign in the weeks before the election.

Email Chip Brownlee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.


In Case You Missed It

Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

Brandon Moseley



Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.

“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.

Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.

It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.


Tuberville said he would ban that practice.

A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.

President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.

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The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.

Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

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In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley



By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.


Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

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The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.


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In Case You Missed It

Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison



By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.


Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

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Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison



By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.


The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

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Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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