|Robert Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason|
The notion of payoffs for positive coverage of Bentley and his relationship with senior adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason might be the flip side to reports that the administration used state resources to conduct retaliatory investigations of Donald Watkins and yours truly -- the two online journalists who reported on the Bentley-Mason story for roughly seven months before the mainstream media (MSM) took serious notice.
John Archibald and Chuck Dean, of al.com, were among the MSM reporters who largely ignored the scandal -- and even attacked me, as the journalist who broke the story -- until audiotapes surfaced, proving the affair and making it impossible to ignore. Were Archibald, Dean, and their news organization paid to look the other way on the "Luv Guv" Bentley story?
That is one of several interesting questions raised by APR's latest report, from editor Bill Britt. Here is another: Why is Gov. Kay Ivey continuing to use state dollars to fund Bentley's defense?
Officially, the fund in question is called ACEGOV, but insiders have come to know it as the "Girlfriend Fund." Reports Britt:
Known in political circles as the "Girlfriend Fund,” because it paid money to Bentley’s alleged girlfriend, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, ACEGOV is a 501(c)(4) set-up in Feb. 2015, by Bentley’s then-General Counsel Cooper Shattuck to promote Bentley’s political agenda.
A team of lawyers from Maynard Cooper and Gale, led by Harvard educated attorney, John C. Neiman Jr., represent Bentley with the state footing the ever-growing legal bill.
Why is information about ACEGOV's financial backers so sensitive? Britt addresses that question:
Over a year ago, when it became clear that Ivey would replace Bentley as governor, a member of Ivey’s inner-circle approached Collier with a suggested promise of a resolution. However, since taking office, Ivey’s administration has spent hundreds of thousands to defend Bentley. . . .
Why Ivey changed her position on a resolution with Collier is unknown, but those close to the lawsuit believe certain individuals and companies that supported ACEGOV don’t want to suffer the humiliating blowback from their names being exposed by Collier’s lawsuit.
Collier was fired from his position at ALEA after he refused to follow Bentley’s order to lie to prosecutors in the Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard criminal case. . . .
Collier’s firing grew out of actions taken by Hubbard’s attorney Lance Bell, who in January 2016, contacted ALEA to arrange for attorney and radio host Baron Coleman to issue a complaint accusing prosecutor Matt Hart of leaking grand jury information. Bell’s actions are recounted in an affidavit by Hal Taylor, current ALEA Secretary.
Does ACEGOV, in many ways, represent the underbelly of Alabama politics? Britt suggests the answer is yes, and those who helped support the fund apparently know it:
Not only does Collier’s lawsuit raise questions about the state’s choice of representation; it also unearths a long suspected question as to why Gov. Ivey would go to such great lengths to protect Bentley.
Collier is asking the court to compel Bentley to identify donors he solicited to fund ACEGOV or those who contributed to the fund of which he has personal knowledge. It is widely suspected that a who’s who of business owners and corporate entities funded the non-profit to curry favor with Mason, who was Bentley’s close adviser.
Suggested payoffs to news outlets and radio talk show hosts for favorable coverage of the Bentley administration is also believed to have been part of ACEGOV’s secret mission.
According to Bentley’s state-funded legal team, “Collier’s motion makes baseless assertions that are not supported by the evidence.”
Perhaps the bigger question being asked in Montgomery is why is the Ivey administration so doggedly defending Bentley instead of putting the matter to rest?