And get this: The legislators just happen to be Democrats. What a shocker!
Does this amount to the state's largest newspaper conducting a political-payback campaign on behalf of a "conservative" governor? Sure looks that way from here.
Let's recall the substantial doo-doo that has leaked out from under the Riley administration in recent days. First, we had the governor signing a $13-million no-bid computer contract with Paragon Source, a Virginia-based company that has no headquarters, no business phone listing, and no Web site. Then, we had a former member of Riley's cabinet stating that the governor's 2002 campaign received millions of dollars from Mississippi Choctaw gambling interests, who were represented by disgraced GOP lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.
You might think that a real newspaper would want to follow up on those stories. But The Birmingham News long ago proved that it is a Republican Party house organ, not a real newspaper. So we get a story stating that three state legislators--Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville), Rep. Mike Millican (D-Hamilton) and Rep. William Thigpen (D-Fayette)--formed two nonprofits in 2006 that have not yet been audited as required by law.
According to the report, the nonprofits have received $800,000 in state coal-severance tax funds but have not undergone a required yearly audit by the Examiners of Public Accounts.
Is this story worthy of being on the front page of The Birmingham News for two of the past three days? Something important could come out of it. But the News itself reports today that the audits haven't been done because of a lack of resources--a problem probably exacerbated by the Bush recession. The chief of the Examiners of Public Accounts says they will be done by the end of 2009.
Doesn't sound like much of a story, so far. But the News is treating it with utmost seriousness. In a sternly worded editorial, the paper intones:
At best, this looks like a case of ever-more-creative lawmakers finding a new way to steer taxpayer dollars to their districts for pork projects. Regardless, state examiners are correct in planning to audit the nonprofits quickly.
At worst, well, this is the sort of thing federal prosecutors, in particular, take note of. That's not to suggest anyone has done anything illegal. But with so many questions about the nonprofits and how they are spending taxpayer dollars, it is easy to think the worst in a state where public corruption convictions of late are as common as a cold.
Bedford, Millican and Thigpen have some explaining to do. They owe the public some thorough answers, starting with a to-the-penny accounting of how the two nonprofits have spent $800,000.
Ah, the newspaper brings up the old federal-prosecutor angle--but it's not suggesting that anyone has done anything illegal!
Are we talking about a double standard here? Consider that the News is aflutter about an audit involving $800,000. But it doesn't seem to care a whit about the $13 million Riley shipped off to a virtually unknown company in Virginia, owned by a mysterious woman named Janet Lauderdale.
The News' editors could see the double standard clearly--if they would bother to read their own newspaper. On page B3 of today's paper is a story from Bob Lowry of The Huntsville Times about the Paragon Source deal.
Turns out a lawsuit over the contract has been put on hold. Why? Lowry explains:
A judge in Montgomery hasn't set a hearing yet in a suit over a $7 million no-bid computer contract for the state Finance Department because officials can't find the company or its CEO.
State Rep. Alvin Holmes filed suit on Oct. 29 to block the contract with Paragon Source, an Oakton, Va., company that has no corporate address, business phone listing, fax number, e-mail address or Web site.
Tyrone Means, the attorney representing Holmes and the Legislature's Contract Review Committee, said Monday the lawsuit is stalled because law enforcement officials in Virginia have been unable to locate Paragon Source and its CEO, Janet Lauderdale, to serve the complaint.
You read that right, folks. Paragon source, and its CEO, are so obscure that law-enforcement officials can't find them to serve a lawsuit! But The Birmingham News isn't investigating the company and the $13-million contract it is about to receive. Wonder why not.
Here's something else that will make you go, "Hmmm." Bob Lowry seems like one of the few legitimate reporters in Alabama. But his latest story, curiously, changes the amount of the Paragon Source contract to $7 million. Every other report I've seen says it was for $13 million.
I've found no explanation for the new $7 million figure. Call me paranoid, but it makes me wonder if Bob Lowry's editors are tampering with his figures to make the Paragon Source story seem less serious.
Are Alabama newspaper editors trying to drum up a Democratic "scandal" in order to take attention away from the blatant corruption surrounding our GOP governor? I certainly would not put it past them.