The Strange contract was revealed in IAP's report about an ongoing investigation into the awarding of service contracts at ASU and whether the university received a fair value for the services provided under the contracts. Also at issue are allegations of kickbacks involving fees paid for legal services by the university.
State Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) either has been or is about to be indicted by a federal grand jury in Birmingham, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) is under investigation by the FBI, IAP reports.
Perhaps the most intriguing portion of the IAP report involves Luther Strange. From the newsletter's April 8 issue:
Interestingly, Republican Attorney General Luther Strange convened a grand jury in Montgomery several months ago to look at consulting contracts. It has since been revealed that Strange himself received thousands of dollars in contracts from ASU to study education in India. As a result, Strange may be in the unique position of investigating his own contracts with Alabama State.
All of this is reminiscent of the federal prosecution against former State Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) under the George W. Bush administration. Schmitz was employed in a state-funded job and allegedly did little or no work in return. Alabama Republicans hailed the effort to root out "corruption" at the time, especially after Schmitz was convicted and sent to prison. The GOP might start to rethink the Schmitz charges if some of their own, including Luther Strange, wind up in federal cross hairs.
The revelations about Strange raise a number of obvious questions:
* What did Strange do in return for his contract to study education in India?
* What does a lawyer, who was running for office as the state's chief law-enforcement officer, know about education in India?
* Why would ASU, a historically black university with a support base that certainly leans strongly Democratic, offer a contract to a Republican such as Strange?
* Perhaps most interesting of all, why would Strange seek a contract from ASU?
How did apparent corruption find fertile soil at Alabama State University? IAP provides the background:
The allegations involving questionable contracts issued by ASU first arose last December when then-ASU President Joseph Silver reported to the board of trustees: “In reviewing the financials, contracts and other pertinent information of Alabama State, I discovered some items I considered questionable and troubling, at best, and a conflict of interest at the least.” Within days of making the allegations, Silver was terminated as president after only three months on the job.
In the aftermath of the Silver scandal, two audits of ASU contracts were ordered, one by Gov. Robert Bentley and the other by the ASU board. The results of those two audits are still pending.
As for the Hubbard investigation, federal law enforcement seems to be taking the matter seriously. Reports IAP:
A former newspaper reporter who covered the State House and Alabama politics and who requested his name be withheld, confirmed to IAP that he has spoken with special agent William Kinnaird about Hubbard both in person and in a number of telephone conversations. When contacted, Kinnaird denied he was “investigating” Hubbard, but walked that back slightly when he pointed out that what the FBI considers an “investigation” and what may be an investigation in lay terms are two different things.
A spokesman for the FBI in Mobile told IAP that as a matter of policy, the FBI neither confirms nor denies that it is engaged in an active investigation. IAP sources say at least two others have been interviewed by the FBI, including an out-of-state political consultant and a Montgomery political blogger.
Meanwhile, citizens should be on the lookout for results of the audits at Alabama State. Those reports might reveal uncomfortable truths about the way politics, business, and education are intertwined in our state.