By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Documents recently uncovered by the Alabama Political Reporter appear to show that Business Council of Alabama (BCA) C.E.O. Billy Canary has personally profited through private ownership of a favored lobbying firm while acting in his official capacity to represent the association’s membership before the State Legislature.
For years, Montgomery’s chattering-class echoed with rumors that lobbyist Dax R. Swatek and Canary enjoyed a profitable business partnership. The recently discovered document reveals there is real substance to the story and now suddenly it appears there is more evidence on how BCA has run their powerful lobbying efforts for more than a decade.
Documents from Experian, the credit reporting agency, show Canary as an ownershow Canary as an owner of Dax R. Swatek and Associates LLC. Other business-reporting agencies also show Canary as the “Owner” of Swatek and Associates. If these reports are accurate, and there is no reason to doubt them, then Canary has, for years, shared in the profits of the Swatek firm, Dax R. Swatek and Associates.
Beyond mere speculation that the duo profited from their previously undisclosed relationship, this revelation may further add to the deterioration of BCA’s once-heralded success as a business lobby. BCA’s legislative influence has declined dramatically over the last two years, culminating in a devastating defeat with Canary’s failure to pass a gasoline tax to support infrastructure improvements in 2017. Canary’s ham-handed efforts have also resulted in public scorn and ridicule from the Senate floor by Republican members who now see BCA as a shameful replacement for the once-loathed Alabama Education Association.
Several reports from reliable sources speaking on background say that in 2017, the Alabama Road Builders Association (ARBA) and at least nine of its leading members wrote checks totaling about $250,000 to help with the passage of HB487, also known as the “Infrastructure bill.” Additionally, sources state that the Road Builders Association and the Alabama Asphalt Paving Association (AAPA) wrote checks totaling $100,000 to one of Swatek’s lobbying interests, Swatek, Howe and Ross (SHR), to push the legislation.
SHR reports ARBA and AAPA among its clients on its 2017 lobbyist filings. Dax Swatek lists Dax Swatek and Associates and SHR as his sole clients. This type of arrangement is often used by one lobbying group to pay another to help service its client base. This allows for money to freely flow without direct disclosure of who is actually doing the work.
After Canary’s epic fail in 2017, many of these various associations are asking what happened to all the money that went into attempts to pass the infrastructure legislation last year. Why did the ARBA and the AAPA have to pay any money at all to help move the bill? Perhaps the picture is clearer now.
During former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s public corruption trial, it was revealed that Canary and Swatek both were key members of Hubbard’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” which met weekly during the legislative session to determine which bills passed and which ones died. Canary no longer profits from such meetings, but his business interest with Swatek may be providing other incentives, or as some suggest, even give the pair a reason to take a client up to the goal line but never cross into the end zone.
Some members of the Road Builders Association say privately they believed during last year’s session that Canary, at times, actually seemed to have been working against the passage of their bill and that he was, in fact, putting up roadblocks. Sources tell APR there was an agreement that if the bill did not pass last session, that another round of large donations would be coming to pave the way for passage in this session or a future session. Obviously, if the infrastructure bill had passed in 2017, there would be a real lost opportunity for profitable work down the road.
For decades, it would seem the close association between BCA and its legislative agenda with the Swatek firm could have been driven by a profit motive – profit for Canary, personally.
Canary, a once feared player, is now himself fearful that his crippled leadership and perhaps his secret business interests will be his undoing according to those who share his confidence.
For months, Alabama’s Republican Senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby has voiced his wish to see Canary removed from BCA’s leadership. Similarly, according to APR sources, Alabama Power’s top executives have called for Canary’s replacement. Perry Hand, chairman of Volkert, Inc., reportedly has received the message that it’s time for Canary to go.
These latest reports of Canary’s business alignment with a lobbyist who directly profits from BCA’s membership dues is said to be the final nail ensuring his exit.
In an email on Monday morning Swatek wrote: “The only “Owner” or “Partner” in Swatek & Associates since it’s inception (i.e. ever) is myself, Dax Swatek.”