Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Don Siegelman: "Christian" conservatives, who torpedoed 1999 education lottery, now are turning to a lottery to fix a budget crisis of their own making

Don Siegelman
How deep is the irony that "Christian" conservatives now are proposing an Alabama lottery to prop up the state's general budget, which is cratering largely because of Medicaid expenses? It's real deep, and nobody knows that better than former Governor Don Siegelman. After all, Siegelman resides at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, because of a political prosecution that grew from his efforts to establish an education lottery in 1999.

Consider these ironies:

* Christian conservatives defeated Siegelman's lottery, driven largely by roughly $20 million funneled in the state by Mississippi casino interests who feared any form of gaming competition next door?

* Business leaders supported the lottery in 1999, but now they are being asked to support a proposal from Gov. Robert Bentley, who has become a national embarrassment because of his affair with a former senior advisor, plus related abuse of public resources.

* Republicans, who now dominate every branch of Alabama government, are largely responsible for the state's budget crisis.

Siegelman knew Mississippi casinos were fueling the opposition to his lottery proposal. And he knew that presented challenges. From a statement Siegelman released this week about Bentleys lottery plan:

Knowing I had a fight on my hands, I asked Alabama business leaders to kick in the lion’s share of money needed to pass the lottery referendum. Business leaders knew how Alabama would benefit from an educated workforce, and generously supported the lottery campaign.

On October 12, 1999 the Mississippi casino owners and states surrounding Alabama won. The majority of voters were duped by some good meaning Christians and a few preachers, politicians and the ‘Christian Coalition’ who were bought by millions from Mississippi casinos. I can forgive those who came after me, but I’ll never forget or forgive those who put their greed for money and power ahead of the lives of our children.

Among the CEO’s I had asked to give or raise money to pass the lottery referendum was HealthSouth’s Richard Scrushy. HealthSouth ended up raising $250,000. I asked CEO Mr. Scrushy, to rejoin a nonpaying board to which he had been appointed by three previous governors and from which he had recently resigned. My political enemies charged that this was a bribe.

Siegelman and Scrushy were indicted almost one full year after the statute of limitations had expired. The indictment itself was so vague that the defendants essentially went to trial without knowing what they had allegedly done. No evidence of bribery was presented at trial, but a jury voted to convict anyway, and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit has, inexplicably, upheld the verdict on appeal. Writes Siegelman:

Months after the referendum had been defeated, months after I had re-appointed Mr. Scrushy to the state board, HealthSouth gave $250,000 to pay off a debt that had been incurred by the Democratic Party during the lottery campaign. Eight months after the lottery had been defeated I agreed to be on a bank loan to help pay off the lottery debt. Obviously, there would have been no way for anyone to have foreseen a lottery debt at the time I made the appointment of Mr. Scrushy but that didn’t stop the prosecutors from alleging I had profited from ‘a deal to appoint Mr. Scrushy.’ It was so ludicrous that my lawyers didn’t even press the point.

The trial judge, Mark Fuller, would not allow us to tell the jury that the U.S. Attorney’s husband had been paid by my opponents to defeat me. My judge, Mark Fuller, who had been on the Republican Executive Committee and had opposed the lottery, told the jury that a contribution to the lottery campaign could be considered ‘a thing of value’ to me because I supported the lottery referendum, even though I did not personally benefit by a single penny.

I had been indicted one month after I announced I would run for reelection. Then I was brought to trial one month before my primary election in 2006. The US Attorney’s husband was the campaign manager for my general election opponent, Bob Riley, while Riley’s former staffer, Mike Scanlon, funneled millions of dollars from the Mississippi Choctaw casinos into Alabama to benefit Mr. Riley’s campaign.

Should Alabamians be skeptical of the new lottery proposal? Yes, says Siegelman:

So now some of these same people who fought the lottery in 1999, whose greed or lust for power cheated our children out of a better life, want Alabama voters to bail them out.

First, please remember, Medicaid would not be in trouble in the first place if elected Alabama politicians had accepted the billions of dollars that came along with the Affordable Care Act. They foolishly looked that gift horse in the mouth, yelping political criticism at President Obama trying to curry political favor. Shame on you!

Secondly, some hypocrites who opposed the lottery before now want to be bailed out from having to pass tax reform to force large foreign corporations, out of state, multinational corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Hundreds of companies make billions of profits in Alabama but don’t pay a penny. Foreign corporations which own nearly 30% of our timber land, pay only pennies in taxes compared to our neighbor, Georgia.

Finally, for goodness sakes pass true “Home Rule” to allow school boards to propose…propose ballot initiatives to allow citizens to vote to raise money for their local schools.

Today, I am not even sure how much money a lottery would yield, but I do know this, whatever it might raise should go to educate our children and voters should not let the Governor or Alabama Legislature get their hands on a penny of it.

So I say, ‘Maybe a lottery, but not this lottery.’


Anonymous said...

Those GOP types refuse to take federal funds for Medicaid, and then are amazed when state faces a budget crisis? Geez, can we ever elect a few folks with some gray matter between their ears.

Anonymous said...

We now have a Mike Hubbard acolyte as Speaker of the House, so the beat goes on.

Anonymous said...

Don Siegelman is a modern day PPOW: Politico Prisoner of War

e.a.f. said...

Those "good Christians" were neither.

For years Catholic Churches raised money for their schools via bingo games. No one went to hell and no one died prematurely. I do know a lot of kids got a chance to go to a good school complements of the bingo money.

As a child in the 1950s people bought tickets to the Irish Sweepstakes in Canada. It was illegal, but the Irish sold those tickets all over the world and they had a first class medical system.

Canada got in the lottery game back in the 1970s. Provincial governments use the money for any number of things including paying for community projects. Has it harmed our country? Not so much and it has not been reported that anyone went to hell either because of it.

IN Alabama, it was simply a case of greed and getting even and Siegelman is simply some one they keep in prison to remind others what can happen when you piss off those with the money to control the power.

Now of course the state is in very bad trouble/. When governments don't collect taxes, they defund their operations and sooner or later the voters will notice. The state might want to consider making foreign corporations pay their fair share of taxes and implementing a lottery. It makes life better for children. Healthier, better educated children always are more cost effective in the long run. Don't worry though in B.C. they don't tax the foreign corporations that much either, they give them money. A billion here, a billion there and before you know it, a government can owe corporations tens of billions of dollars.

legalschnauzer said...

A very astute Canadian analysis, e.a.f. It's a shame Alabamians have allowed themselves to be conned by the whole "sinful" argument against a lottery. Of course, Alabamians have elected "Christian" phonies like Roy Moore and Robert Bentley, so we have a history of such shortsightedness.

Anonymous said...

I've played the lottery in other states as I've traveled through them. Mostly, the lottery just seems to be a way to lose money. And several states with the lottery, like Ohio, still face educational budget crises. So, my main complaint against the lottery in Alabama is how it is portrayed as the magic snake oil salesman panacea for all of the state's problems. If they would propose the lottery for the sake of having a lottery just because, I'd be more in favor of it. But, this hogwash of let's pass the lottery to cure all of our state's problems forevermore is just that, hogwash.