When I first arrived in Montgomery as a reporter many years back, those lobbyists who frequently entertained legislators, governors, and important state officials were called “honey trees” or “honey bees” by some.
There was no such thing as PACs (political action committees) to legally pass money for favors. It was usually done in cash hand-to-hand or left in a satchel at a pre-determined location. Those who are smart still do it that way.
The sting this week against 11 lawmakers and political players in the state was made possible by phone taps which elicited enough information for the FBI and the Justice Department to charge, but not likely enough to convict, all of the named individuals. My sources say more indictments will come next week.
Those indicted included casino owners, legislators, and lobbyists who federal prosecutors say formed a network to buy and sell votes in the Legislature. But the defendants called the indictment an overtly political move designed to influence the outcome of the Nov. 2 elections.
Doug Jones of Birmingham, a former U. S. attorney, now representing Country Crossing owner Ronnie Gilley, said politics are behind the indictments. “The Department of Justice killed the (lottery) bill back when it was in the Legislature. Now 30 days before an election they hustle up these indictments,” Jones said.
Of those elected officials indicted, all are Democrats except one who switched to the Republican Party a few months back and one who is currently running as an independent.
Montgomery lawyer Joe Espy, speaking for the legal team representing VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, had this to say: “The government basically alleges that a 71- year-old grandfather who has never been arrested for so much as jaywalking chose this point in his life to engage in a criminal enterprise. The facts do not support this view, and we are confident we will prove that Mr. McGregor is innocent.”
“This is an outrage,” state Sen. Harri Anne Smith said following her arrest. “This is a nakedly political move, coordinated by prosecutors in cahoots with the governor’s office to deny the people of Alabama their right to vote and their lawful representation.”
The 39-count, 65-page indictment charges that McGregor and Gilley conspired with some lawmakers and lobbyists to buy the votes of legislators on a bill that would have let voters go to the polls in November to decide whether to allow electronic bingo. The Senate passed the bill in March, but it died in the House after federal investigators attempted to intimidate the legislators by telling them of the corruption probe.
Those other than McGregor and Gilley charged this week include:
State senators Larry Means, James Preuitt, Quinton Ross Jr., and Smith; Montgomery lobbyists Bob Geddie Jr., Tom Coker, Jarrod Massey, and Jarrell Walker Jr. Also charged was Joseph R. Crosby, an analyst for The
Legislative Reference Service,
who federal prosecutors say prepared legislation and was paid by McGregor.
After reading the 65-page document it appeared to me that, aside from one or two charges what the government alleges is the way things have been done for decades in Montgomery. The feds obviously don’t understand that good or bad PACs are legal in Alabama and it is the PAC that legally makes a political contribution, not a contributor to the PAC.
And if it is a bribe to ask a legislator’s position on a bill before making a contribution to him or her, we wouldn’t have enough room in all the jails in the United States to hold the violators.
State Democrats are livid at the Obama Administration for permitting Leura Canary, the U. S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, based in Montgomery, to remain in office almost two years after Obama became President. They believe Canary and her spouse, Bill Canary, head of the Business Council of Alabama, and their buddy Karl Rove have engineered both this investigation over bingo and the Siegelman probe to discredit Democrats.
Legal scholars would likely conclude that the intrusion by the U. S. attorney and the FBI in the affairs of the Alabama Legislature violates the broad principle of federalism, a longstanding line drawn between laws of the nation and the laws of the states.
The feds in the instant case seem to rely on statutory law that gives them authority to investigate based on the fact that the state received more than $10,000 per year in funds from the federal government in the form of grants, contracts, subsidies, loans, and other forms of federal assistance.
I believe it is a blatant disregard of state’s rights under the United States Constitution and suggest that our attorney general become involved to protect the interests of our republican form of government.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The
Montgomery Independent. E-mail him