By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Nearly 50 prominent conservatives and far-right lawyers have penned an open letter to the media, asking reporters not to use statistics and information gathered by the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
The letter was penned by leaders of fundamentalist and conservative groups, many of which are listed as anti-LGBT hate groups on the SPLC’s Hate Map. The signers call the SPLC a “discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a ‘hate group’ label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.”
Since 1990, the SPLC has tracked hate groups like the Klan, Neo-Confederate, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, and black separatist groups. And the SPLC often partners with and reports those statistics to the FBI and the Department of Justice, which do not independently track domestic hate groups.
The SPLC’s “Hate Map,” which lists and locates more than 917 hate groups currently operating the U.S., was used widely by the media in the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Virginia, terrorist attack to identify white nationalist and KKK groups nationwide. No other organization has such a comprehensive list of domestic hate groups.
Hate groups, according to the SPLC, have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
But in the letter, signed by leaders from such groups as the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the Heritage Foundation, the critics say the SPLC falsely slap the hate group label on groups that hold “traditional values” on hot-button issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
The signers blame the SPLC for a shooting in 2012 at the offices of the Family Research Council, during which a building manager was shot and injured. The shooter, Floyd Lee Corkins, said in a police interrogation that he chose the building because the AFA had been listed as an anti-LGBT hate group by the SPLC.
“We believe the media outlets that have cited the SPLC in recent days have not intended to target mainstream political groups for violent attack, but by recklessly linking the Charlottesville melee to the mainstream groups named on the SPLC website — those that advocate in the courts, the halls of Congress, and the press for the protection of conventional, Judeo-Christian values — we are left to wonder if another Floyd Lee Corkins will soon be incited to violence by this incendiary information,” the signers wrote in their letter.
The SPLC was founded in 1971 and began litigating civil rights cases, including many cases against the KKK and other white nationalist groups that resulted in payouts for victims. The SPLC has in recent years been the leading legal group battling discrimination against LGBT groups in the court system, which has drawn the ire of anti-LGBT conservative groups.
“We’re not the least bit surprised that hate groups don’t want the media to listen to us,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which publishes the Hate Map. “We expose them for what they are: organizations that spread divisions among Americans with dehumanizing rhetoric and lies. Our hate group list has been widely cited by journalists and academics since we began publishing it in 1990, and the groups we include there deserve the label.”
Last month, the Fort Lauderdale-based D. James Kennedy Ministries sued the SPLC over being labeled as an anti-LGBT hate group on the SPLC’s Hate Map. In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Montgomery, the group said it is being slandered and that it is not a hate group. Other anti-LGBT hate groups on the list include the Liberty Counsel, whose founder Mat Staver defended former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in his case before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.
Frank Wright, the CEO and president of D. James Kennedy Ministries, and Staver both signed on to the open letter against the SPLC. Staver has called gay rights activists “demonic” and likened them to terrorists. He also called for a “new revolutionary war” or “civil war” when the Supreme Court issued its Obergefell v. Hodges decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry, which are listed by the SPLC as reasons why the organization is a hate group.
Seven of the nine anti-LGBT groups on the SPLC’s Hate Map explicitly prohibit violence by their members, according to a report by Fox News.
But the Hate Map isn’t just about physical violence, the SPLC has said.
Another group that signed on to the letter against the SPLC, the Alliance Defending Freedom, also made it onto the SPLC’s Hate Map. It defended a French law in the European Court of Human Rights that required the sterilization of transgender citizens seeking recognition of their gender change. In other cases, the ADF has argued, like it did in the EU, that anti-discrimination protections do not extend to LGBT groups.
The American Family Association, another group on the hate list that signed the letter, has called Islam a religion of war and violence and their officials have blamed LGBT people for Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, despite the fact that that group was one of the targets of Hitler’s persecution. The group has published films advocated conversion therapy, a now discredited technique used to “treat” gay people, and has said more than 80 percent of gay men have sexually transmitted diseases.
Either way, the groups say the SPLC is an “attack dog of the political left” and that anti-LGBT views do not amount to hate and should not be lumped into a list populated by skin heads, white supremacists and the KKK.
“To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable, and represents the height of irresponsible journalism,” the letter reads. “All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC’s descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices.”
In Alabama, the SPLC has fought successfully in court against prison overcrowding and inadequate medical and mental resources in the state’s prison system.
Last month, the SPLC came under fire after an article in The Weekly Standard highlighted the group’s investments across the globe including $69 million the group has invested in offshore equities and other investments, which amounts to nearly 20 percent of its $320 million endowments. The remainder of their endowment is invested domestically.
The SPLC has said it invests its money in a way that is common for universities, foundations and other non-profits that also have portions of their endowments invested in off-shore funds. Groups that have endowments use the payoff from dividends as income to fund their activities.
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.
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.
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.
House passes General Fund Budget
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.
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.
Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday
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.
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.
Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor
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.
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.