The general rule in Alabama politics for the past 12 years or so has been that a Democrat can be sent to federal prison for a "crime" that does not exist under actual law, while a Republican can participate in all sorts of malfeasance without drawing a second glance.
Multiple news reports last week show that a grand jury in Montgomery has issued subpoenas for the records of House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). Does this signal a major shift in the Alabama political landscape, and if so, why is it happening?
Bill Britt, of the Alabama Political Reporter, broke the story last Thursday. From Britt's report:
A Special Grand Jury has subpoenaed records concerning Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). According to three sources with intimate knowledge of the investigation, a Special Grand Jury led by the Public Corruption Unit of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office is gathering documents related to Hubbard’s time as Chairman of the ALGOP. . . .
Hubbard, who is credited with being the architect of the 2010 takeover of the State House, has recently come under fire in press reports related to quid-pro-quo arrangements between campaign contributions and Hubbard-owned businesses.
It is not certain exactly what the Grand Jury is looking for, but sources speculate that it has to do with Hubbard’s business dealings, as well as money that was filtered through the RSLC.
George Talbot, of al.com in Mobile, followed with a report last Friday titled "Alabama GOP Finances Under Investigation, Chairman Tells Party Leaders." Talbot focused on a GOP steering committee meeting last Wednesday and the words of Bill Armistead, who succeeded Hubbard as party chair:
The committee convened in a conference room at the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association building near the state Capitol, and the meeting kicked off with an unexpected bang. Bill Armistead, the party’s chairman, told the group that he’d received a subpoena from the Alabama Attorney General’s office seeking GOP financial records.
Reading from the document, Armistead said the order was part of a grand jury investigation into campaign finance activities in the 2010 election cycle, according to three committee members who participated in the meeting. A fourth committee member recounted similar remarks but said he did not recall a specific reference to a subpoena.
Brian Lyman, of the Montgomery Advertiser, produced a piece on Saturday titled "Alabama GOP To Release Report Monday On Controversial Hubbard Transaction." Hubbard tells Lyman that he welcomes release of the report--some have called it an audit--about his actions as party chair. But Hubbard and Armistead appear to be at odds about the report's contents:
Ala. GOP chairman Bill Armistead said in an interview Friday the steering committee of the state Republican Party had held the report for over a year.
“The reason it wasn’t released earlier is we didn’t want to embarrass Speaker Hubbard with what was there,” he said. “We want unity in the party, not divisiveness.”
However, Armistead said he and members of the steering committee felt Hubbard had been “blasting us” over previously reported accounts of the report.
The committee, Armistead said, decided Wednesday to release it.
Both the report, and the grand-jury inquiry, apparently focus on a GOP contract with Florida-based Majority Strategies, which subcontracted much of the work to Hubbard's company in Auburn. That could lead to scrutiny for the Birmingham consulting firm of Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross. Hubbard has claimed that one of the firm's partners, John Ross, negotiated the deal with Majority Strategies. At the time, Ross was executive director of ALGOP and Hubbard's second-in-command. From Britt's report:
Ross is now a partner in the high-powered lobbying group Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross. According to Hubbard’s book “Storming the State House,” “[Ross] continues to work closely with the members of newly-elected Republican majority and is assisting with the efforts to help preserve those majorities in 2014.”
Ross along with Dax Swatek, and David Azbell are key lieutenants of Speaker Hubbard and have been reported as receiving lucrative contracts from state government.
What is going on here? Have Alabama Republicans suddenly taken a genuine interest in honest government? Our sources say that is unlikely and point to the current unrest as an example of political jockeying for the 2014 elections.
One source says U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is contemplating retirement, and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange wants to be among the first to throw his hat into that possible ring. Strange reportedly has recused himself from the Hubbard investigation, but he is letting it move forward. Our source says Big Luther wants to be seen as "the guy who cleaned up Montgomery," in order to enhance his political resume. If that involves taking down a few of his GOP comrades, so be it.
Another source says Mobile lawyer Bradley Byrne is pondering another run at the governor's office, after losing to Robert Bentley in the 2010 primary. Byrne sees Hubbard as a rival for the governor's job, one source says, and probably is working behind the scenes to help take down the speaker.
Here is the irony: Strange, Byrne, and Hubbard all belong to the political family tree of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley and his son, Homewood attorney Rob Riley. The Swatek consulting firm is closely aligned with the Rileys. Could this be a case of Republican snakes turning on one another? It certainly looks that way.
One source points to a possible scenario that could lead to the airing of serious GOP dirty laundry: What if Mike Hubbard, distressed that the Rileys do not ride to his rescue, decides to tell what he knows about the rampant ugliness in Bob Riley's political machine?
We might be a long way from that point, but that certainly would be an interesting outcome.