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Powerhouse political donor Stan Pate steps up ad campaign, plans to file ethics complaint against Luther Strange

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

With a week to go in the US Senate special primary election for Alabama’s junior senator seat, millions of dollars have been dumped into the state in an attempt to influence voters, and even more cash will soon be dolled out.

Millionaire Tuscaloosa developer Stan Pate has already been blanketing social media with pointed ads directed at Sen. Luther Strange, alleging that he made a deal with former Gov. Robert Bentley to get appointed to his Senate seat in exchange for a get out of jail free card.

With three ads out on Facebook and more to come, Pate’s PAC, Swamp Drainers, has already racked up nearly 700,000 video views in a primary that is expected to draw less than half a million Republican voters. There’s no way to tell how many of those views are in-state and how many are repeats. But his ad campaign is making waves, drawing the ire of Strange himself who has denounced the ads as baseless allegations.

Pate’s third ad, “The Interview,” hit the interweb Monday. “Unspoken words tell the story. Bentley goes free, and Big Luther goes to the Senate,” the ad says, repeating a refrain common among the three ads.

I don’t think Luther Strange cares one iota about the citizens of the state of Alabama. It’s only about himself,” Pate said. “The absolute disqualifier is when the chief prosecutor, the elected top cop, is even willing to take an interview with a criminal about a Senate appointment.”

Pate still has more planned. He and his people are gathering information ahead of a potential TV and radio ad buy as next week’s primary quickly approaches. He said he wants to give the people the information they need to be a “jury” seated to judge Strange.

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But the social media and broadcast ad buys may not be the most notable development. Pate told APR that he’s in talks with attorneys about filing an ethics complaint against Strange with the Alabama Ethics Commission. He alleges that Strange accepted a thing of value from Bentley in the form of a Senate seat, which would be a violation of Alabama Ethics Law if proven.

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

“If Pate is against him, it’s clear that Sen. Strange is the right person to help President Trump clean up Washington,” said Shana Teehan, a Strange campaign spokeswoman, after the first round of ads went public. Strange’s campaign didn’t respond to APR‘s request for comment by the time of publication.

The biggest hurdle for Pate’s potential ethics complaint might just be Strange’s new job. Ethics complaints against US Senators would generally be handled by the US Senate itself, which is extremely unlikely. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s powerful PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, is a stout backer of Strange. The PAC has spent millions on ads directed against Strange’s two chief opponents, Rep. Mo Brooks and former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

But the ethics complaint would likely cover actions Strange took while still the sitting Alabama attorney general, potentially lending jurisdiction to the Alabama Ethics Commission even though Strange has moved on to a national political position.

Pate spent hours in a comprehensive meeting Monday exploring the possibility. He told APR that he believes the Ethics Commission would have jurisdiction.

“I think everybody knows it’s a violation of ethics. But does the ethics commission have any authority or jurisdiction?” Pate said. “So far I believe they do.”

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Pate formed his PAC in June. But that isn’t his for foray into politics. He’s spent thousands of dollars on political campaigns since getting involved in Guy Hunt’s campaign for governor in 1986.

Chip Brownlee
Written By

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.