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Research reveals UA was unnecessarily dragged into the Bentley-Mason scandal

University of Alabama quad (Photo: University of Alabama)
University of Alabama quad (Photo: University of Alabama)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The complex web of financial dealings that has emerged in the wake of the Bentley-Mason scandal ensnared the University of Alabama in recent weeks, but a more in-depth look at the university’s financial relationship with Jon Mason, a Bentley administration official and the husband of the governor’s former senior advisor Rebekah Mason, reveals that for perhaps the first time in this story, things are more innocent than they may have initially appeared.

A series of AL.com headlines have portrayed Jon Mason as a highly paid consultant, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to his company, JRM Enterprises, from the university for murky reasons.

“Jon Mason refuses to explain $245,600 from UA,” one headline reads. “UA used PayPal to ‘expedite’ $45,450 payment to Jon Mason’s company,” added another one. “UA paid Rebekah Mason’s husband’s company another $29,000 via PayPal in March,” a third one declared.

Yellowhammer’s research reveals that Mr. Mason’s professional relationship with the university began long before Bentley was ever elected governor. The payments to Mr. Mason, which at first blush seem enormous, are actually for billboard advertising. The way the process typically works is a media buyer — in this instance, Mr. Mason — places ads with a media company and pays for them on behalf of the client. The buyer works out a deal with either the client or the media company to keep a percentage of the buy as his payment, typically in the neighborhood of 15 percent.

In this particular case, Mr. Mason’s company was paid by the university strictly for the cost of the billboards. He then worked out his commission with the billboard company.

The university issued the following statement to Yellowhammer in response to questions about the payments:

The Office of University Relations at The University of Alabama has done business with Tuscaloosa-based JRM Enterprises for seven years. University Relations makes purchasing decisions on behalf of UA as the primary unit responsible its marketing and advertising needs. JRM has leased billboards for student recruitment purposes at the direction of the University Relations office since January 2010, handling production, installation and rental agreements.

Payments made to JRM for billboard advertising have totaled $274,600 over seven years. There are two additional invoices pending in the amount of $39,150 for billboards in Alabama that were finalized February 25, 2016. The billboards were installed, photographic confirmation has been received, and these invoices are being processed for payment. Some payments made for the cost of billboards have been made by check and some by credit card. This is a common practice based on the vendor’s request.

We have no knowledge of any commission arrangement between JRM and the billboard companies. According to industry standards, a sales agent placing the billboards would typically earn a 15 percent commission from the billboard company.

In short, there are plenty of other bizarre, unusual, and perhaps even nefarious angles to the Bentley-Mason scandal. The University of Alabama’s long-held process for purchasing billboards is not one of them.