The very sleaze that's at the heart of our Legal Schnauzer story now has infected Alabama public schools.
More than $13 million from the Alabama Department of Education has been paid since 2008 to a group with strong ties to the Alabama Republican Party--all without the approval of the state school board. And who is at the heart of this little scam? Why, none other than GOP operative Dax Swatek, who has ties to such conservative luminaries as Bill Canary, Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, and former Governor Bob Riley.
Also in the middle of it all is House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), a longtime Riley backer. Alabama Republicans have claimed that the Riley administration was untouched by scandal. This story, broken by Bob Lowry of The Huntsville Times, might lay that canard to rest.
And how is this for GOP hypocrisy? These are the same Republicans who claimed it was unethical for a Democrat to work at a two-year college while also holding a seat in the legislature. They even came up with a clever term for it--double dipping. The scam that involves Hubbard and Co. makes "double dipping" look like recess.
A group called the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) has received $13.1 million from an "at-risk fund" controlled by State Superintendent Joe Morton. And who handles lobbying efforts for CLAS? Why, it's the new Montgomery outfit called Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross (SAHR), whose members have held prominent roles in Alabama Republican politics.
The dirt bags behind SAHR are Dax Swatek, David Azbell, Tim Howe, and John C.H. Ross. Regular readers of Legal Schnauzer will recognize the Swatek name. William E. Swatek, Dax's father, is the ethically challenged Pelham attorney who started our legal headaches by filing a bogus lawsuit against me on behalf of our criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity.
SAHR was formed in January, promoted as a one-stop shop for lobbying and political affairs. With Dax Swatek at the helm, I wondered how long it would take for SAHR to be exposed as crooked. Well, it didn't take long.
How does the education scam work? Here is how Bob Lowry describes it:
The money, part of an "at risk fund" controlled by Dr. Joe Morton, state superintendent, was paid to the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS), which hired a Birmingham software company to provide an after-school learning program based on video games called Kids College.It appears that CLAS is used as an intermediary, to help hide where state-education dollars really are going. Reports Lowry:
The software company, Learning Through Sports Inc., was formerly a partnership between Brian Shulman, a former Auburn football player, and Auburn Network Inc., a multimedia company owned by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.
Hubbard, president of Auburn Network, sold his interest in Learning Through Sports in 2005 to Shulman, according to a letter on file at the Alabama Ethics Commission. Hubbard declined to be interviewed for this story. But he said in a statement that he trusts Morton's judgment in the matter.
Because public money is channeled through CLAS, a private group, state spending records don't show how much of the $13.1 million went to the software company and how much CLAS has retained to administer what Morton calls an innovative after-school learning program that the state can't otherwise offer.
Why has the state school board been kept out of the loop? Its members are asking that very question:
Several current and former members of the state school board said they were unaware of expenditures for the program or why the program is funded indirectly through the private group of school administrators such as principals and assistant principals.
Board members Betty Peters of Dothan and Ella Bell of Montgomery said neither the payments to CLAS nor the program had ever been presented to the board. A third board member, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the board had not been consulted.
"I feel like we're being kept in the dark," said Peters. "It's been kind of hard to get anything out of the department. Maybe what's hidden in the lining is we may find some money we can use for the children."
You can rest assured that Dax Swatek and his buddies are not interested in using money "for the children." They are interested in lining their own pockets. Veteran educators were stunned to hear about the kind of money flowing through the CLAS project:
Dr. Paul Hubbert, executive director of the Alabama Education Association, said he was "shocked that those kind of dollars are flowing to a private entity."
"There has to be something more involved," he said. "There's no education program that I know of that you send that kind of money to. I've been around schools for a long time and I've never heard of it."