1 year ago

Alabama Sec. of State: ‘Why do we pass ethics laws and employ an ethics commission if we do not intend to enforce the rule of law?’

In the 2015 Alabama Legislative Session, the Legislature passed legislation that required all county candidates and political action committees running for public office to file campaign finance reports with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office.

The 2015 legislation did not change the requirement for all state candidates to file with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office. This 2015 filing process was to be accomplished through the electronic filing portal made available by the Secretary of State at this link.

This legislation gave candidates until the 2018 election cycle to become familiar with the law. Beginning with the 2018 election cycle, the Secretary of State’s Office was required to issue civil penalties to candidates who did not meet the campaign finance filing requirements. Those who received a civil penalty can either pay a civil fine or appeal to the Alabama Ethics Commission.

The review and appeal process was put in place to allow for expungement in specific instances in which the Commission felt the candidate had extenuating circumstances which prevented them from meeting the standard deadline applied to all candidates for public office.

All committees, regardless if it is a candidate or Political Action Committee, are required to file yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, and major contribution reports to show Alabamians the source of all contributions, expenditures, and loans. The 2015 law required the Secretary of State to issue civil fines as listed below:

–1st Offense 10% of contributions or expenditures or $300 (whichever is less)
–2nd Offense 15% of contributions or expenditures or $600 (whichever is less)
–3rd Offense 20% of contributions or expenditures or $1,200 (whichever is less)
–4th Offense and all proceeding penalties are the same as the third offense but this activates our requirement to report the Candidate (PCC) or Political Action Committee (PAC) to the Attorney General and the District Attorney in the judicial circuit in which they reside.

When a committee files a report late, a comprehensive review process takes place to ensure that each penalty is legitimate and that the report in question is a required report for that candidate.

Step one involves one staff member of the Elections Division reviewing the late reports and preparing a file documenting the required reports and the violation number for the candidate or committee. That employee then delivers the penalty files to Clay Helms, the Assistant Elections Director and Supervisor of Voter Registration. Mr. Helms then reviews the files and corrects any errors before delivering the penalty files to John Bennett, Deputy Chief of Staff, who then reviews each penalty and checks the math on the amount of the civil fine. Once Mr. Bennett completes his review, he then delivers the penalty files to David Brewer, Chief of Staff, who then completes a final review. After Mr. Brewer’s review, he then delivers the penalty files to Brent Beal, Deputy Attorney General. Once signed, the letters are scanned and emailed to the email address on file for the PCC or PAC, and the original is mailed to the candidate via certified letter to ensure delivery.

This intensive review process ensures there is a system of checks and balances to protect candidates from unwarranted claims of impropriety.

As previously noted, a campaign committee can request an appeal if the committee believes extenuating circumstances caused them to not meet the deadline for filing their report. The appeal is reviewed by the Alabama Ethics Commission at their quarterly meetings.

The Ethics Commission held its first quarterly review of the fines against committees who had requested an appeal in December, and has held subsequent reviews in April and June. During each of those meetings the five member Ethics Commission voted to overturn all of the 54 requests for appeal that were submitted to the Commission for review for a total of 113 civil penalties. The fines were overturned based on concerns from the Commission that this law was a new law which campaigns could not be held responsible for accountability at this time.

The appeal process is in place for a candidate or committees first offense for which someone does not meet the standard as prescribed in state law. If they are a repeat offender, the law requires a monetary penalty be issued by the Secretary of State’s Office.

My question to members of the Ethics Commission, members of the media, and the people of Alabama is why do we pass ethics laws and employ an ethics commission if we do not intend to enforce the rule of law?

Further, the law was not established to function as an expensive, tax-payer funded, reminder to candidates who fail to timely file, but it was created to provide transparency on campaign contributions and expenses for all Alabamians to see and serve as a deterrent to candidates who wish to deceive voters by not providing evidence regarding the source of their campaign donations or expenditures.

Simply put, the Alabama Ethics Commission, like all other state agencies should follow the law, or ask the legislature to change it!

John Merrill is a Republican and the Secretary of State of Alabama

19 mins ago

2019 Yellowhammer ‘News Shapers’ series continues with second rural broadband installment

Join the Yellowhammer News team Tuesday, September 17 for a “Yellowhammer News Shapers” event in Dothan.

Entitled, “Connecting Alabama’s rural communities,” the event is Yellowhammer’s second on rural broadband this year. This latest installment will focus on building partnerships and community awareness.

The event will feature a networking reception followed by a live forum on expanding broadband access and technology across the Yellowhammer State.

Confirmed forum panelists include State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva); Brad Kimbro, CEO of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative; Jimmy Copeland, director of special projects for Troy Cablevision, Inc.; Dr. Carmen Lewis, associate dean of Troy University’s Sorrell College; and Sean Strickler, vice president public affairs of the Alabama Rural Electric Association.  

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Areas of focus will include exploring partnerships that work, implementation obstacles and best practices, community awareness and future needs and next steps for program advancement.

The event will be held in Everett Hall on Troy University’s Dothan campus: 502 University Drive, Dothan, AL 36303.

The reception will begin at 5:00 p.m., with the moderated forum to follow at 5:20 p.m.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Please contact courtney@yellowhammernews.com for more information.

The legislative edition of Yellowhammer News Shapers kicked off 2019’s series and was followed by the rural broadband edition on July 18 in Guntersville, “Prepare for Launch” in Huntsville on July 31 and “West Alabama and the coal industry” on August 8 in Jasper.

More Yellowhammer News Shapers events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.

52 mins ago

Limestone County sheriff’s attorney blasts ‘draconian’ ethics act after indictment

After it was announced on Thursday that longtime Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony “Mike” Blakely has been indicted on 13 state ethics counts, separate press conferences featuring his personal attorneys and the spokesperson for the sheriff’s department pumped the breaks on those looking to equate Blakely merely being charged with actually being guilty.

First, Mark McDaniel, the lead attorney for Blakely’s defense, emphasized that the sheriff would be entering in a plea of “not guilty” on all counts and looks forward to trying the case in a court of his peers.

WHNT carried McDaniel’s comments to the media, in which he emphasized that a large part of the defense will be challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s ethics statute.

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“Virtually anything you do as a public servant now under that act is illegal, so we’ll be contesting the constitutionality of the ethics act also,” McDaniel said.

He called the ethics act “draconian” and added he will file a motion asking the court to strike it down.

Asked what about the ethics act they will be challenging, McDaniel responded, “A lot of things.”

McDaniel specified that one of those things will be how overly “broad” the statute is.

“You don’t even know what you’ve done [wrong],” he added, saying that the public should stay tuned to see their motions “attacking” the ethics act’s issues.

In a press conference shortly afterwards, Limestone County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Stephen Young stressed that Blakely continues to serve as the sheriff and that the department’s operations will not be affected by the ongoing legal situation.

Young also cautioned people about utilizing indictments as indicators of guilt.

“A grand jury indictment is not a conviction,” Young advised. “In fact, it’s the process typically used when an agency cannot obtain enough probable cause to obtain its own warrant. As Sheriff Blakely once told me, ‘You can indict a ham sandwich.’”

Watch:

Blakely served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as an Alabama State Trooper before becoming the county sheriff in 1983. He has also served as an officer in the Alabama National Guard.

McDaniel said it is an “honor” to represent the sheriff and that he is “proud” to defend Blakely against the charges.

The attorney noted that Blakely “absolutely” intended to continue serving. The sheriff was back at work immediately after posting bond on Thursday.

A Democrat, Blakely is the longest-serving sheriff in state history. He won the statewide “Bobby Timmons Sheriff of the Year Award” as recently as 2017.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Alabama postpones 50th anniversary tour over singer’s health

Country band Alabama says it is postponing the remainder of its 50th anniversary tour as lead singer Randy Owen battles health complications.

The group announced Wednesday that the 69-year-old Owen is suffering from migraines and vertigo, and doctors say he needs more time to recover.

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The news comes after a string of already-canceled shows due to the singer’s health.

Bass player and vocalist Teddy Gentry wrote in a statement that though he and the rest of the band are disappointed, Owen’s recovery is the priority.

The 50-city tour was scheduled through Nov. 23, where it would have ended in Salisbury, Maryland.

Rescheduled dates will be released in the coming weeks.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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How Alabama’s Iron Tribe Fitness sets the standard for group workouts

Iron Tribe Fitness, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, is leading the way for workout programs across the nation. Ranked as one of the top five workouts in the nation, this 45-minute HIIT group workout class offers participants exciting and effective workouts in a time frame that works with any kind of schedule.

Recently, the gym hosted Coach 201, a weekend training session for their instructors in their downtown Birmingham corporate location. This session brought together all of Iron Tribe’s local coaching staff to review training guidelines and program goals.

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In hosting this training, Iron Tribe is living out their core value of delivering a consistent experience. Forrest Walden, Iron Tribe’s founder and CEO says this training session taps into the heart of what the program does — which is creating communities that change lives.

“It’s always great to see the entire team come together to fellowship and dive deep into why we do what we do every day,” Walden said.

During the training, Iron Tribe coaches were given the opportunity to learn more about the classes they teach and strengthen their relationships with each other. As a result, the coaches are empowered to return to their home gyms and lead their athletes with renewed skills and confidence.

“Kyle Sottung, our director of product development, is extremely thorough and talented at what he does. To see him lead our Birmingham coaches is always such a blessing. Our coaches are more empowered now than ever to pour into the Birmingham community,” Walden stated.

According to Walden, Iron Tribe is successful because the program is more than just a workout, but a way to strengthen the communities they serve.

“Iron Tribe stands on a list off essential core beliefs. These beliefs steer what we do every day, both inside and outside the gym. It’s our hope that by continuing to develop ourselves that we can be exceptional coaches and role models within our communities,” Walden said.

Ready to get in the best shape of your life? Learn more by visiting irontribefitness.com.

4 hours ago

Limestone County sheriff indicted, arrested on 13 financial theft, ethics charges

Attorney General Steve Marshall on Thursday announced that Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony Blakely has been indicted and arrested on several ethics charges.

Blakely, 68, surrendered to authorities and was later released on a $49,000 bond, according to the attorney general’s office.

The indictment includes 13 charges that cover a range of conduct over multiple years.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” Marshall said in a statement. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm. My office—working with our federal and state partners—is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law.”

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Specifically, the first four counts charge Blakely with four separate thefts from his campaign account that total $11,000.

Counts five through 10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from his illegally taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.

Count 11 charges Blakely with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate other than in the ordinary course of business.

Finally, counts 12 and 13 charge the sheriff with using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. Count 12 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. Count 13 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

“I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its investigative assistance in this case,” Marshall added. “Anyone with information regarding corrupt practices by public officials is encouraged to contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office at reportcorruption@ago.state.al.us.”

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division.

“While the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those who corrupt the operations of government rob their communities—their friends and neighbors—of the fundamental right to honest government, and we must insist on absolute honesty, integrity and trustworthiness from everyone,” FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. commented.

“I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you,” he advised. “If you have information, call my office’s Public Corruption Tip Line at (844) 404-TIPS, share what you know, and join in the fight against corruption.”

Blakely, as is the case with all indictments, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.

Blakely’s attorneys held a press conference emphasizing that he will plead not guilty to all counts, per WHNT.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn