The case of Steve Marshall and the $735,000 in illegal campaign contributions will finally be heard by the Alabama Ethics Commission on Wednesday.
Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King told APR on Tuesday that he had received a notice from the Ethics Commission that afternoon notifying him that the complaint he filed against Marshall, the state’s current AG, would be heard at 9:30 a.m.
King said he found it more than a bit concerning that he received the notice less than 24 hours before the hearing, which is being held six days before Christmas when many people are preoccupied and out of town.
“I have great respect for some members of the Commission, and I think they want to do the right thing, but I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t disconcerting to receive this notice at 2 p.m. today,” King said. He told APR that a Commission employee informed him a mistake had been made and the notice had been mailed to the wrong address previously.
King filed the original complaint against Marshall when the two were vying for the Republican nomination for state AG. Specifically, King took issue with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that Marshall accepted from the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA).
Under a 2010 law passed by Republicans in the Alabama Legislature, it is illegal for candidates to accept donations from political action committees (PACs) that mask the original source of donations by donating between PACs. Such a setup would allow, for example, a casino owner to contribute to a PAC, along with dozens of other donors, and those funds be donated to another PAC, which would then donate to the candidate.
By the time the funds made it to the candidate, they were so co-mingled and mixed up that it would be impossible to tell the original source of the funds.
Democrats in Alabama challenged the law, and the AG’s office, headed by Marshall, defended it. In a case that landed in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Marshall submitted a brief that called the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban one of the last lines of defense for Alabama citizens against a “quid pro quo government.”
The fund from RAGA — nearly three-quarters of a million dollars worth — were at least partially mixed together with funds that were transferred from one PAC to RAGA’s PAC.
In early July, King filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission over the donations. Later, he attempted to get a circuit court judge in Montgomery to block Marshall from using the funds.
The Ethics Commission slow-walked the complaint, and King said that at one point an employee of the Commission told him that it didn’t want to affect the outcome of the elections. King’s restraining order also failed, as the judge determined he didn’t have sufficient standing to rule on the matter.
“Everyone knows what the outcome of this should be,” King said. “The language is plain. It’s right there in black and white for anyone to read.”
Marshall’s defense has generally centered on some version of: RAGA is a federal PAC and is not subject to Alabama laws.
Of course, King and others argue that the law applies to the candidate, who has a responsibility to adhere to Alabama campaign finance laws. Under the PAC-to-PAC ban, there is a specific requirement of candidates who receive donations that violate the ban — they have 10 days to return the donations or face criminal penalties for each offense.
Marshall should face at least five penalties, including for donations he accepted from RAGA after King filed his original complaint.
Of course, the ultimate decision will be left to the Ethics Commission, and most insiders around Montgomery are skeptical — given the events that have transpired so far — that the Commission will find Marshall violated the law.
“I would just ask the Ethics Commission to be very careful with this ruling, because it has the potential to completely annihilate the PAC-to-PAC ban,” King said. “And they would be doing so by completely disregarding the plain language of the law. It is clear what the right thing is.”