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Monday, November 9, 2009

Republicans Try to Shoot the Messenger on Corruption in Alabama

Alabama Republicans, predictably, have tried to discredit GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Johnson after his statements late last week that current governor Bob Riley received millions of dollars in campaign funds from Mississippi gambling interests in 2002.

A Riley spokesman said Johnson, a former member of Riley's cabinet, never was involved in campaign fund-raising and therefore could not know about such matters. The chairman of the Alabama Republican Party called Johnson's claims "a joke."

But the Riley defenders forget one inconvenient truth: This story hardly originated with Bill Johnson.

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, then chaired by Republican John McCain, reported in 2006 that disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff told a tribal leader that Mississippi Choctaws had spent $13 million to help get Riley elected and protect their market by keeping gaming out of Alabama.

Here's how the Associated Press reported it at the time:

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee issued a lengthy report that quotes William Worfel, former vice chairman of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, as saying that Abramoff told him that Mississippi Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin had spent the money "to get the governor of Alabama elected to keep gaming out of Alabama so it wouldn't hurt . . . his market in Mississippi."

In February 2008, Sam Stein of Huffington Post reported that McCain left information out of his committee report that showed how Riley was targeted by Abramoff's influence-peddling scheme. An e-mail exchange between Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, who both have confessed to federal crimes, showed that Riley was to be part of the plan to keep the Poarch Creek Indians from moving forward with a gaming plan in Alabama. Wrote Stein:

An official with the Mississippi Choctaws "definitely wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek operation," Abramoff wrote, including his announcing that anyone caught gambling there can't qualify for a state contract or something like that."
You can check out the contents of the e-mail at the end of this post. So it's pretty hard for Alabama Republicans to deny, with a straight face, that Riley received some kind of assistance from the Mississippi Choctaws.

Did the funds come directly to the campaign? Johnson says they did. Could that mean criminal activity was involved and could the allegations against former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman pale in comparison? Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor for Harper's, addressed those questions in a 2007 post:
Moreover, let’s compare the allegations against Siegelman with Abramoff’s funneling of millions in campaign contributions from Native American tribes in Mississippi into the political coffers of Siegelman’s opponent—Alabama Governor Bob Riley—going on at just this time. In exchange, Riley was expected to intervene to shut down the gambling aspirations of some of his own Alabama constituents. And Riley did just as he was bade to do. Now that’s corruption.
Yep, that is corruption. And Alabama GOPers surely know it. Our guess is that they are ticked at Johnson not because of his message, which they have to know is true, but because of his methods for sending it. Johnson made his statements at a pair of press conferences, one in Montgomery and one in Dothan, and did it in a way that even the somnolent Alabama press could not ignore.

Consider this dismissive comment about Johnson from Alabama GOP chairman Mike Hubbard:
“His role, during both campaigns, was basically to oversee distribution of yard signs, bumper stickers and brochures,” said Hubbard, who lives in Auburn.
Translation: "Dammit Johnson, we've had the lazy Alabama mainstream press snowed for almost eight full years, and you have to go and grab their attention by stating publicly what most any rational citizen knows is true."

If any rational citizen doubts Riley's connections to the Choctaws, Abramoff, and Scanlon, they should check out this e-mail exchange:

Abramoff e Mail Bob Riley

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