Wherever he goes in Alabama, David Bronner likely is the smartest guy in the room. The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), under Bronner's direction for the past 38 years, probably is the best-managed entity in our state.
Wherever Leura Canary goes in Alabama, or any other state, she likely is the most corrupt person in the room. As U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama during the George W. Bush years (and two years of the Obama administration), Canary is best known for ramrodding the Don Siegelman case, which is likely to stand as the most notorious political prosecution in American history.
So why would a smart guy like David Bronner want to hire a slime ball like Leura Canary to work in RSA's legal office? Our guess is that Bronner actually wants no part of Leura Canary. But since Republicans took over the Alabama Legislature in January 2010, they have been trying to get their grimy hands on an RSA investment nest egg that reportedly tops $32 billion, making it the 43rd largest pension fund in the United States.
If Canary actually winds up joining the RSA staff in January 2012, as was recently reported in The Montgomery Independent, it almost certainly will have nothing to do with her legal skills, which appear to be pretty much nonexistent. Instead, it will represent Bronner's effort to compromise with Republican thugs and keep them from pilfering Alabama pension funds.
How thuggish have Alabama Republicans been acting toward Bronner? The answer appears to be "pretty darned thuggish," even by GOP standards. And that makes us wonder if we should take a second look at a curious death connected to David Bronner, one that we generally have not included in our coverage of mysterious deaths that have darkened the political landscape in Karl Rove's Alabama.
Montgomery journalist Bob Martin wrote about Canary's likely hiring at RSA--a story that originated with the Inside Alabama Politics (IAP) newsletter--and noted the pressure that Bronner was facing:
Bronner told IAP he will hire Canary in January to “beef up” his legal department and because she will bring courtroom experience to his legal staff and replace the retiring Lindy Beale, who has handled legislative and legal matters, and Bill Kelly who will transfer from the legal office to handle another RSA Division.
Two capitol observers told me they believe Canary is being hired because of other reasons; one of them being that Bronner needs to improve RSA’s relations with the Republican-controlled legislature.
Readers who have followed the Siegelman case quickly will note something curious in Martin's last sentence. It strongly hints that Leura Canary is seen as a political figure who will do the bidding of certain Republicans. Did the bogus prosecution of Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy help her earn that reputation?
Martin does not disclose other possible "reasons" that Bronner would hire Canary. But Martin's words suggest that such a hire would be made while Bronner holds his nose to ward off an overpowering stench. Martin's words also suggest that, figuratively speaking, Republicans have a gun cocked and pointed at Bronner's head--and the big losers could be Alabama pensioners and anyone with investments in RSA.
Why would Alabama Republicans resort to thuggish tactics? For one, it's in their DNA; they can't help themselves. Second, with Mississippi Choctaw gambling funds seemingly drying up, they need another source of revenue for their underhanded political endeavors. RSA represents a $32-billion pot of gold that could make certain GOPers very powerful--and very rich. Third, and most importantly, Republicans have not been able to infiltrate RSA through the legislative process.
Almost from the moment they took over the legislature, Alabama Republicans started pushing a pair of bills that would have given politicians more control over RSA. Here is how an editorial at al.com explained it:
Two bills that were unsuccessful in the recent session, HB524 and HB525, would have drastically changed the makeup of RSA's two Boards of Control--one for retired teachers and one for retired state employees. Generally, the bills would have required more board members to be appointed by the governor and other politicians, and fewer members to be elected by the retirees.
Bronner fought the bills and has come out the winner--so far. But what kind of price has he had to pay. The Bronner family suffered a tragic loss earlier this year, shortly after Republicans took over the Alabama Legislature and began a full-court press on David Bronner and RSA funds.
Allison Bronner, David Bronner's youngest daughter, was found dead at her Birmingham home on March 3, 2011. Allison Bronner, 25, was a third-year student at the University of Alabama School of Law and reportedly worked at a Birmingham firm and planned to focus on securities law. She was described as an outstanding student--bright, energetic, and engaged in numerous charitable and community activities. She reportedly had received multiple job offers in Washington, D.C.
Is there any firm information that points to suspicious activity connected to Allison Bronner's death? We don't know of any at the moment. But when someone dies unexpectedly and has connections to Alabama's power structure--given our state's toxic political environment over the past 10 to 15 years--questions should not be summarily dismissed.
As for the GOP's RSA-related bills, they failed to pass in the 2011 legislative session--in fact, they did not come close to passing. But it appears GOP leaders have not given up on the idea of sticking their hands in the RSA cookie jar. We suspect that's why Leura Canary might wind up on the RSA payroll--for her "legal expertise," of course.
Does Bronner have strong feelings about the possibility of mixing politics with control of RSA? Yes, indeed. Consider this July 2011 article on the subject from al.com:
Bronner said allowing political appointees “will have a devastating effect on the RSA.”
“It potentially opens the funds to criminal activities like those that have occurred in Illinois, New York and California,” Bronner wrote in the July edition of The Advisor, his monthly newsletter to RSA's 330,000-plus members. “Much less looking back at some of the past Alabama governors, who would have used the RSA as their political piggy bank.”
Bronner is known as opinionated guy who doesn't pull punches. You can see how he earned that reputation.
Was Bronner thinking of former GOP Governor Bob Riley when he referenced those who might use RSA "as their political piggy bank"? I think you can bet on that. After all, Riley is famed as the beneficiary of $13 million in Mississippi gaming funds that were laundered through GOP felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.
Abramoff has admitted in his new book, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist, that he spent $20 million in Alabama to protect Mississippi Choctaw interests.
Gee, I can't imagine why Bronner would be concerned about the Alabama GOP engaging in "criminal activities."
So why does Bronner want to hire Leura Canary, who long has been one of Bob Riley's staunchest allies? Answer: he doesn't. But for now, Bronner probably sees it as the best way to ensure that Republicans don't steal pension funds intended for Alabama teachers and state employees.
Alabama pensioners, and investors from around the globe, would be wise to pay attention to this story. Our guess is that the GOP is trying to pull off a political version of the Enron scam. David Bronner is doing his best to fight them off.