Thursday, October 12, 2023

Daniel Wims, president of Historically Black Alabama A&M, paid $220,000 to a lobbying firm to help him hang out with Tommy Tuberville and other GOPers

Tommy Tuberville (left) and Daniel Wims (center)

The president of Historically Black Alabama A&M University has paid $220,000 to a White-owned lobbying firm allowing him to pal around with U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and similar MAGA Republican political figures, according to a report from Donald Watkins, longtime Alabama attorney and leading voice in online journalism. Why would A&M President Daniel Wims pay that kind of money for the "privilege" of hanging around Tuberville and other MAGA types? The answer to that question is unclear at the moment, but it seems Wims has forgotten, or never cared about, the heritage of the university he leads. That might be one reason Watkins has called for his ouster, by firing or forced resignation.

Under the headline "Alabama A&M’s Daniel Wims Paid Lobbyist $220,000 to Pal Around with MAGA Extremist Tommy Tuberville," Watkins writes:

Between October 2, 2021, and August 8, 2023, historically black Alabama A&M University paid Tripp Skipper’s lobbying firm, Skipper Group, $220,000 to pal around with MAGA extremist Tommy Tuberville and other MAGA politicians of his ilk. Tuberville, whose lips drip with racist comments about Black Americans, is one of the most despised politicians in the United States.

Dr. Daniel K. Wims, who is Alabama A&M’s MAGA-wannabe president, doled this money out at the rate of $10,000 to $30,000 per month for the joy of hobnobbing with Alabama’s loudest circle of MAGA politicians on campus and elsewhere.

Before going into politics, Tuberville made his living as head football coach at four universities (Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas Tech, and Cincinnati), with rosters filled predominantly by Black student-athletes. Still, Tuberville has developed an ugly habit of making public statements that drip with racism. But that does not seem to bother Dr. Wims in the least. It does, however, bother Donald Watkins:

Tuberville is best known for his racist remarks in October 2022 about reparations for descendants of slavery ("they think the people who do crime are owed that") and his May 2023 open embrace of white nationalists in the armed forces (“I call them Americans”).

Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s brand of racism has caused his own brother, Charles Tuberville, to distance himself from the Senator.

Yet, Alabama A&M’s President Daniel K. Wims continues to pay Skipper Group big bucks to maintain his place within Tuberville’s MAGA political orbit. In addition to his proud displays of racism, Tuberville is ostracized in Washington because of his blockage on high-level military promotions that require Senate confirmation. The leaders of both political parties in both Houses of Congress view Tuberville as a political buffoon. Tuberville is also universally regarded in Congress as ineffective and ignorant.

U.S. Senator Katie Britt (R-Alabama) is three times more effective than Tuberville in bringing direct federal dollars to Alabama. Alabama is set to have more than $304 million in “congressional directed spending,” or earmarks in the U.S. Senate’s fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill. Of this amount, $232 million or 76%, was attributed to Sen. Britt. Only $72 million came from the efforts of Tuberville.

Watkins raises THE question at the heart of this post: What Does Alabama A&M Get for the Money It Spends on Skipper Group? The answer? Apparently, not a whole lot. Writes Watkins:

Skipper Group, which is headquartered in Auburn, Alabama, bills itself as a “government relations, business development, and public affairs firm. Its website claims that Skipper Group is “forward thinking, well connected, and cross-trained in multi-practice areas.” The lobbying firm also offers “targeted media relations and opinion leader education.”

Dr. Wims has bought $220,000 worth of lobbying services, targeted media relations, and opinion leadership education from this two-man firm, which was founded in 2013 by Tripp Skipper. Skipper is a former Congressional aide who worked in Alabama for devoted MAGA Congressmembers Mike Rogers (R-Alabama), Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama), and former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). He only worked as a Congressional aide in Washington for 2 years (1998-2000).

Tripp Skipper was a member of Tuberville's transition committee in 2020 and remains a "close advisor" to the Senator.

Skipper Group lists 20 clients on its website, including the Tommy Tuberville Foundation and Take Back Our Republic, an all-White group of conservative GOP election law reform activists.

Noticeably absent from Skipper Group’s website is any reference to historically black Alabama A&M as a client, even though the university is larger in size and asset value than listed Skipper Group clients like the Alabama Business Council and Take Back Our Republic.

According to the firm's website, Skipper Group has only raised $6.2 million in contracts for its group of 20 listed clients since 2017.

Alabama A&M has received some significant government funding in recent years, but published reports indicate that had nothing to do with Tuberville -- or Skipper Group, Watkins reports:

While Alabama A&M announced an $8.1 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant on July 1, 2023, to upgrade the Bulldog Transit System, this money came from President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Tuberville vigorously opposed. Alabama A&M has won millions of dollars in other federal government grants this year through the hard work of dedicated university employees and without any help from Skipper Group.

Finally, Skipper Group also helped Alabama A&M get favorable news articles published in Yellowhammer News, which is considered the unofficial online news site for Alabama's MAGA Republicans. Yellowhammer simply repackages and republishes soft news stories and photos that appear on the university’s social media platforms.

Yellowhammer has not published one article about the U.S. Departments of Education's September 18, 2023 letter to Gov. Kay Ivey that put the state on notice about its $527,280,064 debt to Alabama A&M based upon the state's chronic underfunding of the university over the past 30 years. 

 Yellowhammer appears to be a Republican mouthpiece -- with little or no interest in objective news reporting. That's because it is closely tied to GOP lobbyist/consultant Dax Swatek, who has aligned himself with some of the state's most dubious political figures -- former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, former Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary, and former Governors Bob Riley, and  Robert Bentley. Swatek also is tied as a lobbyist to scandal-plagued Alabama Power and Southern Company. He also has been a lobbyist for the Alabama Sports Council, which has played a central in reaching a new Magic City Classic contract, which appears to short-change the two Historically Black participants -- Alabama A&M and Alabama State.

Swatek, Riley, and Canary were among those named in indictments for Mike Hubbard's criminal trial -- along with Tim Howe and John Ross (both longtime members of Swatek's lobbying firm. Howe and Ross went on to become owners of Yellowhammer News.

If Swatek seems to have a knack for hanging around corruption, he comes by it honestly. His father, Pelham lawyer William E. Swatek, is both a slime bag and a lawyer -- and he gives people in both of those categories bad names. Bill Swatek is pretty much single-handedly responsible for the innumerable legal headaches the Schnauzer family has experienced. How low can this guy go? I tried to summarize it in a four-part series of posts, but still had to leave out a lot. (See here, here, here, and here.)

There is so much sleaze connected to Bill Swatek that it's hard to summarize it all. But here are a few highlights:

* He once sued a dead man in a dog-bite case;

* He was convicted of drunk driving in Pelham Municipal Court, but the conviction was overturned when Swatek appealed to Shelby County Court. How does that happen?

* He played a major role in my wife, Carol, being cheated out of the full ownership rights to her own home. That can't be done under the law, especially since Carol was co-owner, for 20-plus years, from the moment we bought the house. (Note: Former U.S. Judge Abdul Kallon, who was at the heart of the North Birmingham bribery scandal, played a big role in cheating Carol. That was before he gave up his lifetime position and bolted for Seattle.)

* Swatek once surreptitiously taped opposing lawyers and then lied about it to the Alabama State Bar. That led to a criminal trial for perjury, in which is defense was  that "he knew nothing about the hidden tape recorder that opposing lawyers discovered while they were trying to conduct a private meeting. Swatek said it was his client's idea to tape record the opposing lawyers." Do the facts support that contention? Not exactly. Swatek and his client, former Pelham cop Johnny Bailey, were caught on the tape discussing where to place the tape, and Swatek is heard saying, "Testing . . . one, two, three, four . . . five." So, they both knew about the tape, Swatek lied about it, and still was found not guilty. Again, how does that happen? You might call it a case of Swatek "lying in an effort to cover up lying" -- which would be an apt description of his legal career. Potential clients might want to take note: When pushed to the wall, Swatek tried to blame the whole mess on his own client. Charming.

* Swatek had his law license suspended for the perjury episode. He has been disciplined several other times.

* One of Swatek's former divorce clients, a woman, contacted me out of the blue and told me in detail about an affair she'd had with her supposedly "Christian" lawyer. She was quick to say she regretted what happened and noted that Swatek had done his best to ignore her when she needed help on other legal matters.

* My coverage of Bill Swatek includes one sad story involving his youngest son, Chace Swatek (also a lawyer), who was found dead near a construction site in Shelby County. I've heard from a number of people that Chace actually was  pretty likable guy. I feel bad about what happened to Chace and the fact he had to grow up with an ethically challenged father.

Let's return to the story of Dr. Daniel Wims and his penchant for hanging around MAGA Republican types. Writes Donald Watkins:

Although Skipper Group gets the big Alabama A&M lobbying bucks, Dr. Wims engages in just enough window-dressing to convince the university community that he is committed to black economic empowerment. Wims' so-called "commitment" is a mirage.

While Dr. Wims has paid Skipper Group $220,000 to lobby for the university, Washington-based Pine Street Strategies, has only been paid a measly $5,000 for lobbying. This money was paid on January 12, 2023. Pine Street is managed by Donald Calloway, a black lobbyist who has far more connections to Joe Biden's White House and Democratic-controlled Senate than Skipper Group.

Dr. Wims paid Dentons Global Advisors, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, $7,500 on August 29, 2023. This payment was made to reassure MAGA politicos in Washington that Wims is committed to the Republican Party and its agenda. Dentons assigned Ja’Ron Smith, a former deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and MAGA Republican, to serve as the firm's public face on the Alabama A&M’s account.

What impact does this have on Alabama A&M? It's not positive, Watkins writes:

Dr. Wims is on a journey to change the socio-political culture of Alabama A&M. This is why Wims hugs and French-kisses MAGA Republicans when no one is looking. This is also why Dr. Wims tried to end the Magic City Classic, as we know it today.

Dr. Wims' posturing for Donald Trump's MAGA movement is a misguided move by an elitist HBCU president who does NOT respect his board of trustees or university community.

Dr. Wims has hijacked Alabama A&M and is taking the university on a journey to a place where no historically black university wants to go -- Misery Land. As a people and as a university, we have been to Misery Land before. It was an awful place and a horrible experience.

Not one of Wims' paid-for new MAGA friends is going to help Alabama A&M University collect one dime of the $527 million that the state of Alabama owes the university! They see more value in building new prisons in the state with the $527 million owed to Alabama A&M.

Finally, in a classic display of 1950s-era second-class citizenship, Tripp Skipper will not even publicly acknowledge on Skipper Group's website that Alabama A&M is his firm's client. Tripp Skipper is merely taking big money from a historically black institution that is in the midst of a self-induced identity crisis.

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