As Hubbard's criminal trial gets set to take flight today in Lee County, it might be time to reconsider that question. That's especially true in light of new evidence that indicates perhaps the two most corrupt politicians in Alabama history have been charged with . . . well, nothing--and they aren't Mike Hubbard.
Will these two alley cats finally get the law-enforcement attention they so richly deserve? Will they both testify in the Hubbard trial and be, at least partially, unmasked? Well, they have proven slippery so far.
We are talking about current governor, Robert Bentley, and his predecessor, Bob Riley. In an article that (surprise!) proves al.com actually is capable of producing meaningful journalism, reporters Kyle Whitmire and John Archibald show that a Tennessee real-estate mogul has a history of dumping money on Riley and Bentley and then receiving favorable treatment.
The interactions between Franklin Haney, of Chattanooga, and the Alabama governors--as described by al.com--smell an awful lot like the kind of quid pro quo ("something for something" deal) that constitutes federal bribery--and certainly could trump the state ethics charges Hubbard faces.
The Haney Cash Caravan started with Bob Riley, who after receiving lots of Tennessee dough, suddenly started pushing for a deal regarding the old Social Security Building in Birmingham--a deal that proved awfully sweet for Mr. Haney (not to be confused with the lovable greaseball character from Green Acres).
Archibald spelled it out in a February 2014 article, which I missed the first time around because, by golly, I was in jail--thanks to Bob Riley's son, the unlovable greaseball Rob Riley. Come to think of it, substantial evidence suggests Attorney General Luther Strange and his paramour/campaign manager, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, played a major role in my incarceration, the wrongful foreclosure on the house my wife, Carol, and I had owned for 25 years--or both.
That helps explain, in part, my tendency to think Bentley, Riley/Riley, and Strange/Garrison all are more corrupt than Mike Hubbard. Without question, though, it's a close call.
Back to the Archibald piece of two years ago, which introduced Alabamians to Franklin Haney and his cozy relationship with our state's governors:
Let's start with former Gov. Bob Riley.
Haney, a big Democratic donor over the years who in the last election gave $2 million to the Obama re-election campaign, put a load of cash into Alabama Republican politics in 2006, and Riley got a bunch of it.
Haney, according to the Alabama Secretary of State's office, passed at least $130,000 to Riley through PACs run by noted PACman Clark Richardson, much like he did last year with the Birmingham City Council. . . .
Riley, later, would become a big advocate for Haney and the Birmingham building.
One of his last acts as governor was to sign a lease that would consolidate Jefferson County's Department of Human Resources and move that agency into 290,000 square feet of Haney's building. Annual rent on that building began at $1.2 million a year, according to the lease, but rises this year to $5 million for the remainder of the term, plus possible extra costs for operational expenses.
That's higher than any of the 63 state tenants in any of David Bronner's newer and shinier RSA buildings, according to state records. It appears to be the highest rental rate for any state agency.
Riley not only signed the lease as he left office, he lobbied for Haney in Birmingham.
Haney has resurfaced under the Bentley regime. This time, Haney dumped cash on Bentley--possibly even helping support a slush fund to pay Bentley's mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason--and wound up getting support for a project involving a partially built nuclear reactor in northeast Alabama. Haney also got more support for his office building. Write Whitmire and Archibald, in an article dated May 13, 2016:
Just the traceable donations from Haney's businesses to Bentley's last campaigns total about $300,000, much of which moved into Bentley's campaign account after the last election was over. Again, that's only what's easily traceable. That campaign account subsequently paid the salary of Rebekah Caldwell Mason, the governor's senior political advisor with whom he is accused of having an affair.
Meanwhile, the governor has helped Haney, too, finalizing a state lease in Haney's Birmingham office building which costs the state $5 million a year.
And more recently, the governor threw his support publicly behind the sale of a partially built nuclear power plant currently owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority north of Scottsboro.
Haney's name reportedly is familiar to investigators examining money funneled into a non-profit organization that helped pay Mason. Haney, however, does not seem anxious to discuss the situation. Reports al.com:
In the most recent election cycle, Bentley's re-election campaign received at least $200,000 through such transactions — $75,000 of which moved to Bentley after the election, when the governor was raising the money he'd later use to pay Mason's salary during his second term.
Haney's name has popped up repeatedly in recent months as investigators and lawmakers have sought to learn more about the money paid into ACEgov, a shadowy 501(c)4 that also was used to supplement the pay of Mason.
Asked this week if he contributed to ACEgov, Haney referred questions to his lawyer.
"You'd have to ask Roger Bates," he said. "I don't do political contributions."
Attempts to reach Bates, a lawyer at Hand Arendall and a lobbyist for the Alabama two-year college system, failed.
Could Haney wind up as a central character in the scandal that is engulfing the Bentley administration? It's probably too soon to say, but al.com provides insight into the scope of the investigation:
Whether Haney's money has gone to pay Mason's salary remains to be seen. Currently, Bentley is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, United States Attorneys, U.S. Postal Inspectors, the Internal Revenue Service and the Alabama Ethics Commission. Some questioned by investigators say Haney's name came up in those conversations.
Haney said he has not received a subpoena nor heard of any inquiries into his activities.
The Mike Hubbard trial might prove to be the warm-up act for a corruption case that carries an overwhelming stench. If such a case includes Robert Bentley, Bob Riley, Rob Riley, Luther Strange, Jessica Garrison--or any and all of the above--you can bet it will have a foul smell.