House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) made news recently with reports that he plans to write a book called Storm in the State House, about the Republican Party's 2010 takeover of the Alabama Legislature.
A followup report, from Bob Martin of The Montgomery Independent, indicates Hubbard might want to change the name of his tome. Scam in the State House probably would be a more appropriate title.
If Hubbard's ethics looked shaky in the initial article, they look positively Nixonian in the followup.
We learned in the first article that since 2007, the year Hubbard became Alabama Republican Party chair, about $136,000 of taxpayer funds have been used for what appear to be purely partisan activities. The money went to David Azbell, of the Montgomery lobbying firm Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross (SAHR), with at least $80,000 going for public-relations work on behalf of the House Republican Caucus. An undetermined portion of the total appears to have gone for Azbell's work in "helping Hubbard with research, writing, and editing" on Storm in the State House.
Particularly curious is the fact that Azbell's monthly check shot from $2,000 to $8,000 in March 2011, about the time Hubbard began to express interest in writing a book.
All of this raises troubling questions:
* Why is it OK, ethically or legally, for taxpayer dollars to be used for partisan PR work? Azbell's work apparently did not promote the work of the Alabama House as a whole; it promoted the interests of the House Republican Caucus. How does that promote of the interests of Alabama taxpayers?
* Why is it OK, ethically or legally, for taxpayer dollars to be used for production of a book on a partisan subject--the GOP takeover of the legislature?
* Could these actions, if proven, constitute violations of state and federal laws?
We learn in Martin's second report that Hubbard seems to be running the State House with a form of "boss style" politics that would be fitting in Richard Daley's Chicago or Tom Pendergast's Kansas City.
Hubbard is also president of the Auburn Network, which is owned by IMG College and was recently purchased from ISP Sports. State records and other reports I have seen show that since State Fiscal Year 2008, over $4 million in state funds have been spent on advertising with the Auburn Network or its parent company. This is the firm which has the contract to broadcast Auburn football games and other Auburn sports events . . . and, of course, sell advertising for those events.
It is the observation of most Goat Hill regulars that Speaker Hubbard has a virtual iron grip on the passage or failure of legislation before the House. Therefore is there any state agency with legislation and budgets before the House who would not want to please the Speaker by patronizing his business? I doubt it.
Is Hubbard running a "pay to play" scheme? It sure sounds like it--and that's not just The Legal Schnauzer talking. Writes Martin:
Some Capitol observers have suggested that the very nature of these transactions between Hubbard or Hubbard’s business and state agencies amounts to “silent intimidation.” Some have used stronger language.
Martin proceeds to list state agencies that have spent serious bucks with Hubbard companies--in an apparent effort to gain favor with the speaker:
The Alabama Department of Public Health has purchased the greatest amount of that $4 million-plus in advertising, nearly $2.2 million.
The Alabama Secretary of State has spent $135,000.
The Alabama Department of Public Safety, Alabama Department of Human Resources, The Emergency Management Authority, The Forever Wild Trust Fund, and the Board of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors started purchasing ads after the 2010 General Election when Hubbard was elected Speaker.
The Department of Human Resources paid $15,000 from the Public Welfare Trust Fund to the company in December of 2010; the Department of Public Safety $63,000 in February of 201l; and the Forever Wild Trust fund $60,000 in September of this year.
If you have a conscience, this information might make you want to wretch. If that won't do it, this piece of propaganda from Mike Hubbard's personal Web site surely will:
"Serving as a Member of the Alabama Legislature has been an honor and a privilege," Hubbard said. "I have consistently worked for the betterment of District 79 as well as to restore honesty and integrity to government and to make those charged with your tax dollars accountable."
You were going to "restore honest and integrity," and you were going to "make those charged with your tax dollars accountable"?
Exactly how are you doing that, Mr. Speaker?