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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Corruption in Alabama from the Top Down

Blogger Comments:  Outside agencies are busy weeding out corruption in Alabama.  The process is slow but will eventually make it to Morgan County.  Hopefully they will drain the Morgan County Swamp.  Perhaps a good name for our ordeal will be Morgangate.  

Federal charges could lead to Alabama's Watergate

I can't make people understand. The indictment of former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson - and his agreement to plead to conspiracy and bribery and cooperate with the feds - is bigger than him.
It's a bomb.
It's not just that some House member took cash to betray his poorest constituents. Sure, that's gross, but it's just the tip. In the grand scheme of this potential political unraveling, Robinson is the equivalent of the Watergate burglars.
Who were those guys again?
This - this is far bigger that Robinson. Or it could be. In his indictment, the feds point to Balch & Bingham and Drummond Co. as bribers. If proven, it'll be a body check to the very systems that run Alabama politics and fund the ugliest parts of them.
It just depends on what Robinson will spill to keep his sentence to a minimum.
It depends on what the unnamed co-conspirators at Drummond and Balch are willing to say, and whether the actions outlined in the federal documents can be quarantined.
Because these players - and those they associate with - provide the grease that makes Alabama run.
Drummond did not respond to questions about its involvement. Balch & Bingham says it is taking the Robinson allegations seriously, and is cooperating with authorities.
"Honesty and integrity are core values at Balch & Bingham, and they will guide us as we evaluate these allegations," firm spokeswoman Julie Wall said.
Balch & Bingham is one of Alabama's most powerful firms. You can't follow a political story - as the recent drama at the state board of education shows -- without tripping on a Balch lawyer or lobbyist.
Gov. Kay Ivey just appointed Balch lawyer Will Sellers - a longtime confidante - to the Alabama Supreme Court. And several Balch lawyers sit in positions to advise U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Balch and Drummond both contribute heavily to political campaigns inside and out of Alabama. Each gave more than $215,000 in last year's federal election cycle, which was enough to put them in the state's top 10 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But this is not just about those tainted by the Oliver Robinson scandal. This is about the way political money is spent.
Both Balch and Drummond have substantial ties to another Top 10 giver -- Southern Company, parent to Alabama Power.
Alabama Power owns the building that houses part of Balch & Bingham's Birmingham office, and partner Eason Balch is a registered lobbyist for Alabama Power.
Years ago, when federal reporting rules required utility companies to tell exactly how they spent money on politics and lobbying, Alabama Power paid Balch hundreds of thousands a year for political work. In 1999, for instance, it paid Balch $829,601 for political work, along with $922,054 to Perkins Communications, run by strategist Joe Perkins of the political dark arts group Matrix.
Federal rules have changed, so Alabama Power no longer must report that. Political spending is now filed under the umbrella "Certain Civic, Political & Related Activities," which the company has said includes money for "a wide range of community and nonprofit organizations" as well as for politics and lobbying.
Still, Alabama Power spreads that money around in a volume that dwarfs many utilities. In the last six years the company spent $126 million on civic and political activities, or more than $21 million a year, according to data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest power company in the U.S., spent $11.4 million in that category last year.
Alabama Power has been adamant that the money comes out of shareholder pockets, and not that of customers.
It is unknown how much Alabama Power money continues to go to Balch & Bingham.
What is clear is that money from entities supportive of coal and power - and other interests - have flowed through Balch and into the hands of those who change opinions. Balch has employed Perkins' Matrix group, which worked with entities such as the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), which lobbied hard in 2013 to prevent the Public Service Commission from holding formal utility rate hearings - which Alabama Power opposed.
Understand, Alabama. What happened in north Birmingham is not about Birmingham. What happened to Robinson is not just about Robinson.
Alabama's political status quo is at risk. For the first time in a long time.
That's a good thing.

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