A progressive advocacy group received a letter in early August that outlined charges of fraud and other misconduct against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its leader, Tom Donohue. The letter was forwarded to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation, and a little more than one month later, an Alabama business advocate was dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Was the recent death of Ralph Stacy, senior vice president at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), connected to the whistleblower letter about Tom Donohue? Did Ralph Stacy write the letter? Did someone think Stacy had written the letter and decided he must face serious consequences?
Kevin Zeese, an attorney for Velvet Revolution, wrote about the whistleblower letter in an article last week at OpEd News. The article is titled "Can Anyone Stop Rove's Crime Against Democracy While It Is In Progress?" The piece focuses on GOP strategist Karl Rove and his efforts to misuse tax laws to help Republicans take back Congress through organizations such as American Crossroads.
Zeese notes that a watchdog campaign, Protect Our Elections, already has put up $100,000 for information leading to the arrests and convictions of Rove and Donohue. Then, Zeese writes:
On August 4, 2010, we received a letter from a purported Chamber of Commerce insider who compares Tom Donohue to Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and Bernie Maddoff, alleges fraud, campaign finance violations and financial impropriety. In a letter on behalf of our coalition I urged the FBI and DOJ to conduct an investigation of Tom Donohue and the Chamber based on this letter.
Zeese did not waste any time in alerting law-enforcement officials about the contents of the letter. You can check out his letter at the link below:
Re: Chamber of Commerce Whistleblower Letter
We do not know the whistleblower's identity at this point. But Stacy certainly would qualify as a Chamber of Commerce insider. We wrote recently about his roundabout ties to the chamber:
Ralph Stacy was a senior vice president at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), and his death apparently took place at BCA headquarters. But Stacy also was president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama (CCAA), whose membership dwarfs that of the more nationally connected BCA.
The two organizations formed an alliance called The Partnership in 2003, not long after Republican Governor Bob Riley took office. But a source tells Legal Schnauzer that, with Riley stained by scandal and his term coming to an end in January, ties between the two groups were splintering.
Why did Stacy have clout with the chamber? Because Donohue and BCA head Bill Canary have a long-standing alliance, which also involves Karl Rove, dating back to their days with the American Trucking Association. Perhaps more importantly, Ralph Stacy was a popular guy among small-business owners across Alabama and he had strength in numbers:
Why would Canary even care about Stacy and his many small-town constituents? Well, Stacy's organization has almost 60,000 members, while Canary's BCA has only about 5,000 members. That discrepancy, our source says, had long gnawed at Canary, Donohue, and Rove, who has deep roots in Alabama from his successful efforts in the 1990s to turn Alabama appellate courts over to Republican control.
Canary's desire to gain control over CCAA's members, and their fees, led to formation of the Partnership in 2003. But it took awhile for the alliance to fully take hold. It was not until December 2009 that the two groups held their first joint annual meeting, featuring Tom Donohue as featured speaker.
As we reported recently, Stacy appeared to be excited about The Partnership and even moved into BCA headquarters in January 2010. Here are his words from a CCAA press release:
“The Partnership, a formal working relationship between the CCAA and BCA, has accomplished many great things in its short history, and recruiting a speaker of Tom Donohue’s stature to our Annual Meeting is one of them,” CCAA President and CEO Ralph Stacy said. “Our national economy is evolving, the direction of our country is in question and Washington is locked battle over our health care system. The U.S. Chamber and its leader are at the epicenter of each of these debates, and all of us are looking forward to his take on the events at hand.”
After moving into BCA headquarters, did Ralph Stacy come across information that soured his attitude about The Partnership and its ties to the U.S. Chamber? Did that insider's knowledge help lead to Stacy's mysterious death?
It's too soon to answer those questions. But this much is certain: Both law enforcement and the mainstream press in Alabama seem to be doing their best to make sure Stacy's death remains a mystery.
Stacy died on September 14, and other than a bare-bones, sketchy report the next day, the Montgomery Advertiser has written nothing about the case. Police officials have declined to provide details. And a source with connections to the Alabama medical-examiner's community tells Legal Schnauzer that officials are being extraordinarily tight-lipped about the Stacy case.
Much of Stacy's professional life was spent in Greenville, and that town's weekly newspaper ran an editorial about his death. Other than that, the Alabama press has been eerily silent--even though Stacy led an organization with some 60,000 members, and he reportedly had friends from one end of the state to the other.
The U.S. Chamber and its affiliates have spent millions of dollars in an effort to influence elections over the past 15 to 20 years. In the wake of Ralph Stacy's death, citizens should be demanding answers to serious questions about the individuals who lead the chamber.
Is the U.S. Chamber so corrupt that someone actually could die because he dared to raise questions about the organization?
As the days pass with utter silence from the Alabama press and law enforcement, that question resonates more and more.