The powerful Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is holding its lavish “Governmental Affairs Conference” with state government officials at the upscale Grand Hotel Marriott Golf Resort and Spa in Point Clear. However, one state government official was left off the invitation list, State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R).
Zeigler said that he has been omitted from the BCA conference for all four years he has been State Auditor.
“Maybe they were going in alphabetical order and ran out of invitations before they got to the Z’s,” Zeigler said. “I wear it as a badge of honor when I am left out of things by Montgomery Insiders. I have been left out of meetings, polls, political analyses, and campaign contributions.”
The annual conference includes some complimentary receptions, dinners, and hotel rooms for the invited elected officials.
Zeigler has been critical of what he terms “waste and mismanagement in government” since he took office in January 2015. Zeigler was an early critic of Governor Robert Bentley (R) and his special relationship with married staffer Rebekah Caldwell Mason. It was Zeigler and former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George (R) who filed ethics complaints against Bentley. The Ethics Commission agreed and found that Bentley likely committed ethics and campaign finance law violations. Bentley resigned five days later when the House Judiciary Committee began hearing on impeachment and agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance violations. Bentley has recently expressed interest in running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Doug Jones (D) in 2020.
“I would like to pay my own way and go to the BCA conference as a speaker rather than as an attendee. I could explain to them some things that are wrong in state government and how they need to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” Zeigler said.
Zeigler’s efforts were noticed and Bentley dramatically cut the budget of the state Auditor’s office. Bentley’s allies in the legislature agreed to the dramatic slashing of the state Auditors 28.5 percent and cut the Auditors staff in half.
More recently, the Legislative Council forced Zeigler’s auditors out of the Alabama State House where they have historically had offices. Zeigler has been found new space with the State Ethics Commission in the RSA Union Building.
The BCA has become very controversial in recent years. The state adopted the controversial Common Core aligned College and Career Ready Standards at BCA’s insistence. Test scores have plummeted so badly since that decision (which cost taxpayers tens of millions for new Common Core aligned textbooks). BCA has still not admitted that was a mistake. BCA has been demanding that the legislature pass tax increases for roads. The roadbuilders much like the text book companies contribute heavily to BCA. The Mike Hubbard trial revealed that the BCA was meeting weekly with the disgraced Speaker of the House and his staff before every legislative week. BCA officials acknowledged doing a number of personal favors for Hubbard including arranging job interviews with potential corporate clients.
Because of the growing perception of corruption and issues with how BCA is organized, several major companies including: Alabama Power, Protective Life, and Regions Bank have withdrawn from the BCA in order to force the organization to reform. BCA President and CEO Wiliam J. “Billy” Canary left the organization to accept a position with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last month.
Despite the widespread criticism, 95 percent of BCA backed candidates advanced through their party primary to the general election. BCA’s primary political action committee, Progress PAC, spent $2,221,941 in the primaries to help their preferred candidates advance to the general election.
While taking two legislators to lunch and picking up the tab is a violation of the state’s ethics law; inviting most of them to a lavish weekend at a resort with all meals provided is legal under Alabama law.
Zeigler is seeking reelection. He faces Miranda Karrine Joseph (D) in the general election on November 6.