Public records, however, indicate the Republican AG has committed the same "crime" he is alleging against a Democrat. It all suggests the political prosecutions that plagued our state during the George W. Bush years have not gone away--their point of origin simply has shifted from the U.S. Department of Justice to the state attorney general's office.
AG Luther Strange accuses former state senator Lowell Barron, in an April 19 indictment, of illegally transferring $58,000, plus title to a 2007 Toyota Camry, to former campaign staffer Rhonda Jill Johnson.
According to press reports, the charges stem in part from Barron listing his payments to Johnson as "administrative" expenses. But a review of Luther Strange's 2010 campaign expenditures show that he made 14 "administrative" payments to MDM 27 Holdings Inc., a company owned by his former campaign manager, Jessica Medeiros Garrison. (Strange's campaign expenditures, from 6/10/2010 to 10/23/2012, can be viewed at the end of this post.)
The administrative payments, when combined with three "consulting" payments, total $207,015.26 to MDM 27 Holdings.
If it is a crime for Lowell Barron to transfer $58,000 or so to a former campaign staffer, wouldn't it also be a crime for Luther Strange to transfer more than $200,000 to a company owned by a former campaign staffer?
We have a hard time finding a distinction between Barron's "crime" and Strange's "non-crime." If anything, Strange's actions look more fishy than Barron's. Strange's payments to Jessica Medeiros Garrison are almost four times those involved in the Barron case. And deception appears to be involved in Strange's payments, which went to a holding company rather to Garrison directly. Barron made the payments directly to Johnson, and he reported them as required by law. If deception is part of this alleged crime, it's hard to see where any was present in the Barron case.
Barron once was one of the state's most powerful politicians, spending six terms in the state house before losing his 2010 race. He reportedly maintains a sizable campaign war chest and is expected to attempt a political comeback in 2014.
Is that the real reason the attorney general's office targeted Barron? Is this another case of a Democrat being indicted for standard political behavior in the Deep South? Joe Espy, Barron's attorney, touched on those issues in a recent report at al.com:
Barron's attorney, Joe Espy, said there was no denying the transactions took place between Barron and Johnson because they were a part of Barron's campaign finance disclosures. The issue is the interpretation made by Strange, Espy said, that laws were broken in those transactions.
"How could we dispute the transactions not taking place when we publicly disclosed them?" Espy said "Sen. Lowell Barron and his campaign publicly disclosed every transaction we're talking about. We don't dispute them. We said, 'Hey, we ran a campaign, these are our expenses and we paid this lady.' That's about as simple as I can make it.
"Does it take two years to bring charges against a man who is not a public official . . . who has publicly disclosed everything they bring out? Does anything address your common sense and tell you something is wrong? Every smell test I know, it does not pass."