Indian gambling funds totaling at least $200,000 helped the Republican Party take over the Alabama Senate in 2010. The funds went to GOP candidates who generally claimed to be opposed to gambling in all forms.
Eleven Senate races were targeted for the funds, according to a report late last week from Bill Britt, of the Alabama Political Reporter. Who was behind this hypocritical effort, using gambling funds to elect candidates who supposedly were against gambling? Britt points a finger squarely at Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), who was chairman of the Alabama GOP at the time.
Could the ALGOP's actions go beyond hypocrisy to criminality? Britt states several times in his post that the answer is no, but we say the answer is yes. More on that in a moment.
First, some context. Britt's post is the most recent of several reports over the past six weeks--in both non-traditional and mainstream news outlets--showing that Alabama Republicans have been taking gambling money on one hand, while telling voters they were opposed to gambling on the other.
First, we learned that Luther Strange's campaign for attorney general received $100,000 from the Poarch Creek Indians, funneled through the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) between July 15 and August 4, 2010. Then we learned that the anti-gambling group Citizens for a Better Alabama received $100,000 from the Poarch Creeks, funneled through the RSLC and Rob Riley (son of former "anti gambling" governor Bob Riley) on June 10, 2010. For good measure, we learned that $3,500 in Poarch Creek funds went to State Sen. Bryan Taylor, of Prattville, in the same general time period.
That adds up to at least $203,500 that can be traced from the Poarch Creeks to supposedly anti-gambling GOP interests. But the actual total clearly is much higher than that. We know, for example that the Poarch Creeks gave $350,000 to the RSLC in 2010, and the RSLC gave $850,000 to the Alabama Republican Party for the 2010 election cycle.
The possible mound of cash grows even higher with Britt's report last week that $1.273 million went from the RSLC to various Republican PACs in Alabama--and Mike Hubbard has been a prime user of PAC-to-PAC transfers.
Hubbard has said, "We were assured that none of our contributions came from gambling sources." Britt, however, clearly is not buying it, especially in light of recent reports that State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) made two trips to solicit funds from the Poarch Creeks. Writes Britt:
How does that statement remain believable when Hubbard’s closest ally, then finance chairman Marsh, took money from the PCI, that was then transferred from the RSLC to PACs controlled by Hubbard? Is it credible to believe that the author of “Storming the Statehouse” did not know that gambling money was coming into the campaigns of GOP senators?
Marsh, according to those who spoke on conditions of anonymity—because of fear of retribution—have said that Marsh went to see the Tribe in Atmore on the behalf of someone else. Who else would Marsh take marching orders from except then ALGOP Chairman Mike Hubbard?
Until last week, reports about the flow of Indian gaming money to the ALGOP focused on summer 2010. But Britt's latest report shows funds changing hands in fall 2010, specifically in the October 10-15 time frame. The largest amounts went to the following GOP Senate candidates:
Robbins and Joyner lost their races; the other four Republicans won. Britt raises questions about Hubbard's motives in distribution of the gambling funds:
Questions remain as to why Hubbard and Marsh would give large sums of gaming funds to freshmen GOP who had strong personal beliefs against gambling.
Could there be a nefarious motive to later reveal to these naive senators that they have the taint of gambling money within their campaigns? Could this have been used to keep them in line should they cross party hierarchy?
Britt makes a powerful case that Mike Hubbard is a blatant phony:
Speaker Mike Hubbard dedicated a great amount of his book “Storming the State” to his fundraising efforts. However, there is no mention of campaign contributions from the PCI or any other gaming interest. This oversight in Hubbard’s biography again suggest the type of cover up that has plagued the Alabama GOP for years.
While there is no apparent illegal activity, the deceptive practice of hiding gaming money from voters does seem to discredit the premise that brought the GOP to power in Alabama.
In our view, Britt is too quick to discount the possibility of criminal activity on the part of Mike Hubbard and the ALGOP. Britt is correct in pointing out that the mere act of accepting campaign contributions is not illegal. But if the contributions were based on an agreement that Republicans would fight non-Indian gaming to help benefit their Indian benefactors, that could point to bribery under federal law.
We know from our reporting on the Don Siegelman case that the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has broken with precedent and found that an explicit agreement is not necessary to prove a federal bribery case. Rather, a jury can infer that an illegal quid pro quo ("something for something") deal existed based on circumstantial evidence--such as apparent attempts to hide the source of funds via PAC-to-PAC transfers.
Is this story dripping with irony? Mike Hubbard repeatedly has trumpeted the federal prosecution of Siegelman, which led to the former Democratic governor now being housed at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana. But mounting evidence suggests that Mike Hubbard has engaged in the very behavior that the government claimed was criminal in the Siegelman matter.
Bill Britt has performed a valuable public service by reporting on ties between Alabama Republicans and Indian gaming money. But based on current Eleventh Circuit law, it might not be just a matter of hypocrisy; it might be a matter of criminality.