By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Ethics Commission is still investigating Sen. Luther Strange, but the inquiry has been slowed by multiple complaints and parallel investigations being conducted by other law enforcement agencies, sources familiar with the Ethics Commission investigation have told APR.
A formal complaint was filed by Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill last spring regarding transfers of campaign funds that Strange made between his various campaign accounts. The issues were similar to the charges filed against former Gov. Robert Bentley, leading to his conviction and resignation.
The Ethics Commission was expected to take up the matter by late summer but it still hasn’t found its way onto an agenda. There was plenty of speculation about the cause – with most guessing the Commission was bending to political pressure, since Strange was facing a Republican primary in a special election this fall. That speculation grew when the Ethics Commission mysteriously delayed its July meeting until a day after the primary.
But multiple sources familiar with the Ethics Commission’s investigation say it was additional allegations that led to the long delay. Those allegations run the gamut, including that Strange violated ethics laws by accepting the appointment to the U.S. Senate from Bentley, that he broke multiple campaign finance laws and that he used his office for personal gain in several instances.
The allegations also have tied Strange to the ongoing bribery scandal surrounding the north Birmingham superfund site. However, U.S. Attorney Jay Town, earlier this month, stated that no elected officials other than Oliver Robinson were being investigated in that matter.
The sources also said at least two of the allegations against Strange had been investigated by other law enforcement agencies, or were tied to ongoing investigations. In such cases, the Ethics Commission typically steps aside and allows the agencies first crack at witnesses and evidence, which would also delay the Commission’s investigations.
“I would have thought, given the nature of the complaint that we filed, that we would have received that answer (from the Ethics Commission) before now,” Merrill said on Thursday. “But if that’s the case (that numerous allegations have slowed it), that makes a lot of sense.”
The complaints against Strange could be heard as early as December, but a source said that the Commission is currently not ready to move forward.
Merrill said that to his knowledge his office has not been contacted by any law enforcement agency concerning the complaint he filed against Strange.
The flood of complaints against Strange were prompted by his decision to accept a U.S. Senate appointment from Bentley, who Strange’s office was investigating at the time.
State lawmakers have also tied Strange to a scam to undermine the EPA superfund site in north Birmingham. As AG, Strange, unprompted and with no official role in the matter, wrote two threatening letters to the EPA seeking to block action that would have forced Drummond Coal to pay millions in cleanup costs and would have expanded the cleanup area. Within days of writing the letters, Strange received two $25,000 donations into his campaign account.