3 years ago

“Strange for Senate” Explains Campaign Finance Questions

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (Photo: Facebook)

This week in Montgomery, questions emerged regarding the “Strange for Senate” campaign’s compliance with Alabama’s state campaign laws.

The issue in question was one of funds that were moved from Luther Strange’s U.S. Senate campaign account to his Alabama Attorney General campaign account. Specifically, transfers between campaigns can’t exceed $1,000 and the two transactions in question totaled $1,418.27, fueling the questions about whether or not Alabama’s campaign law was broken.

Upon hearing these rumblings, Yellowhammer contacted the Senator’s campaign office. They connected us with Megan Newton and Ben Ginsberg, lawyers from Jones Day that are tasked with ensuring the Senator’s compliance with Federal Elections Commission laws. Mrs. Newton explained that the actions in question were actually steps the Senator took to comply with federal campaign laws.

As she pointed out, Senator Strange’s U.S. Senate campaign purchased two domain names from his state Attorney General’s campaign. Federal law requires that such purchases be recorded, and that’s what occurred. In other words, it wasn’t a transfer of contributions between campaigns, it was an accounting entry for a transaction, which the federal law requires.

Yellowhammer also contacted Alabama’s Secretary of State, John Merrill, who provided us with the following statement:

The Alabama Secretary of State’s Office is the agency tasked with receipt and collection of all campaign finance filings from state, county, and certain local officials. Once these reports are collected, Secretary of State staff review the reports for errors, issues, or concerns. When issues are identified, a request for a formal review is forwarded to the Alabama Ethics Commission or the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

At the completion of the review performed by our team, potential concerns with Senator Strange’s filing were identified. As is our normal practice, it was reported to the appropriate agency. This referral does not attempt to assign, insinuate, or indicate guilt nor act as an indictment of Senator Strange’s actions regarding the filing of his report.

Senator Strange and his team believe Federal law preempts contributions to his Alabama Principal Campaign Committee for Attorney General. With that said, in the Secretary of State’s Office, we have a responsibility to follow the law and will continue to address issues and forward items of concern as they are identified.

Our office will refer any future questions regarding this issue to the Alabama Ethics Commission as the body tasked by the Alabama Legislature to rule on these matters.

While the response from the Ethics Commission is unknown at this time, Mr. Ginsberg further explained that federal law supersedes state law and the transaction took place to keep the Senate campaign in compliance with federal law.

As he stated: “It is legally incorrect for anyone to suggest that a violation of law has occurred here. Senator Strange’s campaign closely followed federal law by purchasing two web domains at fair market value from his state campaign committee.  This was an asset purchase, not a contribution.  In fact, not only was this purchase legal, it was required under federal law to avoid his Senate campaign receiving a prohibited contribution from a non-federal source.  Federal law preempts state law for all matters involving campaign contributions and expenditures.” 

28 mins ago

VIDEO: Face mask ordinances seem inevitable, Alabama schools will be back this year, Trump will not campaign in state for Tuberville and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Governor Kay Ivey put forth a statewide mandatory mask ordinance, or will we be looking at a large number of cities and counties implementing them?

— How many Alabamians will send their kids to schools, and how many will be keeping them home in the fall of 2020?

— Why isn’t President Donald Trump coming to campaign for former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, and what does it mean for the July 14 runoff?

Jackson and Handback are joined State Representative Neil Rafferty to discuss the rising coronavirus pandemic, Confederate Memorial Park compromises and a potential special session of the Alabama legislature.

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Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at people who refuse to wear masks, even though President Donald Trump has made it clear that there are times when it is appropriate for everyone to wear them.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

3 hours ago

Walmart announces 8,000 veterans hired in Alabama through Welcome Home Commitment

Walmart announced this week that it had hired 266,260 veterans since 2013, including more than 8,000 in Alabama.

First announced on Memorial Day 2013, the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment (VWHC) guaranteed a job offer to any eligible, honorably discharged U.S. veteran. The initial goal was to hire 100,000 veterans by the end of 2018. Two years later, the company expanded that goal to 250,000 by the end of 2020.

“We’re forever grateful to our veterans for their service, and it’s an honor to offer them opportunities at Walmart,” said Doug McMillon, president and CEO. “To reach this goal so quickly says a lot about our company as a great place to work and build a career. I’m proud of the commitment we’ve made to veterans and their families, and I’m thrilled that so many have decided to join us. They are critical to helping us achieve a more diverse and inclusive future.”

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Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have a long history of supporting veterans, service members and their families by investing more than $40 million in programs that support job training, education and innovative public/private community-based initiatives.

The Military Spouses Career Connection program, started in 2018, has opened additional opportunities and support for military families. To date, the company has hired 19,045 associates and continues offering any military spouse hiring preference when applying for a job.

“We’re proud of our achievements and the opportunities presented to the talented service members who’ve honorably served our country,” said Brynt Parmeter, senior director for Walmart Military Programs. “Now, it’s our responsibility to continue preparing these men and women for meaningful futures with the Walmart community.”

Parmeter is now looking to the next chapter in Walmart’s commitment to veterans and the communities they serve. He says his team is taking an interest in employment, entrepreneurship, learning, health and wellness initiatives when looking to the future of Walmart Military Programs.

“This is such an important time for us,” he said. “Our company is committed to finding new ways that we can build relationships and engage with members of this community to advance and improve both economic opportunity and overall well-being.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

University of Alabama Theatre and Dance releases online performances, lessons

While live performances and instruction on the University of Alabama campus are paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UA Department of Theatre and Dance is releasing weekly performances and lessons through two new video series.

“In an effort to remain connected to our audiences, the chair and associate chairs of the department began brainstorming ways we could stay connected to our community throughout the summer while also contemplating ways to continue supporting the department’s social mission of making the arts accessible to everyone,” said Lawrence Jackson, associate chair of dance. “Presenting art virtually has become a crucial strategy for arts organizations and programs to keep audiences engaged during this time.”

The Virtual Black Box video series showcases theater performances on the department’s YouTube channel. New performances are planned for each Monday and Friday at noon.

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Jackson said the heads of dance, theater and musical theater selected works that represent the quality of work produced throughout the department.

The Movement Series will feature mini-masterclasses taught by the department’s world-renowned faculty. Lessons will be each Wednesday via Zoom. All sessions are free, but registration is required.

“At a time when in-person gatherings are no longer possible, we feel it’s more important than ever to encourage our audiences to stay engaged culturally and artistically while we weather important social distancing guidelines,” Jackson said. “Virtual arts presentations help lift our spirits during difficult times and keep us connected to our family, friends and colleagues from afar through collective concerts, online classes, workshops and seminars.

“We would like for audiences to understand that the benefit of having art in your life doesn’t have to disappear despite the current challenges we face. This season’s arts and cultural experiences aren’t going away. They just might be presented differently.”

For a list of upcoming Virtual Black Box videos and Movement Series lessons and registration information, visit theatre.ua.edu/virtual-series.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

Macon County organic farmer cultivates ambitions with ag startup

TUSKEGEE, Alabama – A startup, minority-owned organic farm in Macon County is expanding its crops and customer base, fueled by an ambitious vision to carry on the region’s rich history of agricultural innovation.

Lifetime Natural Organic Farm, which includes about 25 acres of raised-bed bio-intensive organic vegetables, this year invested an additional $500,000 to increase plantings and seek new business.

The move, which brought the farm’s total capital investment to $1 million, is paying off in a big way. Lifetime, already a supplier to Whole Foods stores in Alabama, recently began selling to the grocery chain’s Braselton, Georgia, distribution center that serves 400 locations.

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The farm also is now selling to Albert’s Organics, one of the largest organic produce wholesale distributors in the U.S. It also supplies Publix stores and has begun supplying Alabama schools, with orders for nearly 30,000 heads of organic lettuce for Elmore County Schools’ summer feeding program over the next two weeks.

Lifetime is believed to be the largest USDA-certified organic farm in Alabama, and owner Nelson Wells wants to grow it even more, to the largest in the Southeast.

At the same time, he wants to deepen its roots in Tuskegee and Macon County. Wells was drawn to the area after one of his advisors invited him to Tuskegee University to watch a video about the institution’s history, its founder Booker T. Washington and the work of George Washington Carver.

Learning more about the famous African American scientist and inventor Carver – who developed hundreds of uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans and transformed U.S. farming practices during his tenure at Tuskegee – struck a chord with Wells and his own biracial heritage.

“That changed my heart,” he said. “It made me want to be a part of the rich history of Macon County and Tuskegee, Alabama. I’m half black and half white, and I saw how important it was to continue the legacy of what George Washington Carver was to the world. He was at the forefront of modern agriculture.”

GROWING RELATIONSHIPS

Wells isn’t your typical Alabama farmer. The 6-foot-6-inch California native is a vegetarian and former surfer who played football for the University of Southern California before he moved to Alabama to be closer to his family.

Promoting healthy living through clean eating has been a lifelong passion for Wells. He and his family have been involved in running another organic farm in Verbena, and he and his partners courted Tuskegee for several years with their plans for a commercial organic farm.

Carver’s imprint on the region was a big draw, as was the opportunity to collaborate with agricultural researchers at Tuskegee University. Wells has begun building relationships with professors and students.

Lifetime started last year as a joint venture with the Macon County Economic Development Authority. The MCEDA provided the land, a former hayfield purchased and owned by MCEDA as a potential industrial site, as a “proof of concept” farm.

That growing season went well, and this year, Lifetime expanded its farming area from 10 to 25 acres and tweaked its crop mix to match the demand of its existing and targeted customers. Products include all types of bell peppers, sweet peppers, watermelon, tomatoes and leafy greens.

GAINING ACCESS

Across Alabama, there are 20 to 25 certified organic farms and possibly another 100 or so that follow organic practices but are not certified organic, said Don Wambles, director of Agriculture Promotion for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

To his knowledge, Lifetime is the largest USDA-certified organic farm in the state, he said.

Wambles and his office assisted Lifetime with gaining access to markets and also provided direction on applicable USDA programs.

The state offers many advantages for all types of farmers, he said.

“Alabama has a great climate and abundant water resources to allow agriculture to be bountiful. We are a very diverse state, which allows producers to choose whether they want to grow organically or conventionally. We have an abundance of customers for either production system the farmer chooses and we support all farmers.

“With Lifetime’s commitment to grow even larger, they will be able to meet the demand for locally grown organic produce while creating jobs and assisting the economic health of their community and surrounding communities,” he said.

NEW GROWTH SECTOR

An organic farm isn’t a typical economic development project, but it’s one that is well-suited for rural areas, said Joe Turnham, director of the MCEDA.

“As economic developers, we’re all so programmed to go out and get industrial sites, and we should, but very rarely do we think about going out and getting a tract for an ag startup,” he said.

Lifetime has provided new jobs for 20 to 30 people in the community, and it represents new business for utilities and other local services, Turnham said.

Another notable benefit is that the type of products and processes involved in organic farming are not common in the South, so Lifetime is helping to forge a new growth sector.

“Our strategic plan has always called for an agricultural component of economic development in Macon County,” Turnham said.  “We’re the home of George Washington Carver, and we really wanted to have a purposeful, high-value project for that agricultural vision. This fits perfectly.”

In addition to the farm’s land, MCEDA has provided in-kind services and also helped the farm’s operators make valuable connections, such as those with state agriculture officials and others at Tuskegee University.

“Last year, they hit every milestone and had beautiful crops. It wasn’t quite what buyers wanted, but they proved they could do it. This year, they are growing to meet the demand profiles of Whole Foods and Publix,” he said.

Turnham said he is excited about the farm’s growth potential.

“We have a gentleman’s agreement that once they’re really profitable, maybe there will be a small rent or royalty that comes back to MCEDA that we can put toward helping the next company.”

BUILDING ON A LEGACY

Along with expanding its existing customer base, Lifetime aims to do more in promoting organic farming from its home base in Macon County.

The farm is participating in Sweet Grown Alabama, a new marketing effort by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to promote farmers and products across the state.

“Our goal is to have a vegetarian restaurant here in Tuskegee, and we would also like to do farming and cooking demos here,” Wells said. “We want to increase the understanding of the importance of healthy eating and its effects on the body and mind.”

Beyond that, Wells wants to continue growing ties with Tuskegee University and collaborate on research involving organic farming.

“My dream is to continue the legacy of George Washington Carver and Tuskegee University that was the forefront of modern agriculture at one time,” he said.

“This could change the world in organics.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

8 hours ago

Herds and the policy response to COVID-19

Governments implemented strict policies to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The widespread response suggests that governors and presidents saw COVID-19 as an unprecedented public health threat. Or did it? The economics of herding suggests possibly not.

The “Wisdom of Crowds,” also the title of James Suroweicki’s excellent book on this subject, implies this interpretation. Experts in each state reviewed knowledge on the virus, its potential lethality, and vulnerabilities of their state. Each lockdown decision provides evidence of a perceived threat.

Independent, informed evaluations represent our best way to approach the truth. The argument is not that voting establishes truth; experts can be wrong even if they all agree. The consensus of experts is more likely to be correct.

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The policy response could reflect other factors. We should remember that safety is a luxury good; as people and nations become wealthier, we spend more on safety. The potential for say 100,000 deaths from a pandemic will be far less acceptable today than 50 years ago. Yet crowds are not always wise; the “Madness of Crowds” is another possibility. The independence of expert judgments affects whether we gain wisdom or create a herd.

Training in public health affects experts’ independence. Experts in any field receive years of specialized, intensive training, in law school, graduate school, or medical school. Academic disciplines have a dominant paradigm or way of making sense of the world. Different public health experts may share the same way of thinking and make the same mistake on COVID-19.

“Information cascades” pose another problem, often seen in business. A group of managers assembles to discuss opening a new retail store. After independently assessing the merits and demerits, most of the managers see the new store as a mistake. Yet the first manager argues that the new store will be wildly successful, and the others agree. After the store fails, the managers all recall their initial misgivings.

What happened? Each manager knows her personal assessment of the venture could be wrong and revises her assessment based on others’ opinions. Managers do not want to appear incompetent – the only one unable to see the new store’s great value.

The visibility of errors also matters. There’s (allegedly) a saying among investment advisors that “no one ever got fired for recommending IBM.” Suppose an advisor recommends a stock no one else likes. If correct, the advisor’s clients make lots of money. If wrong, the advisor will need to find a new job. By making the same common recommendation, no advisor signals below average investment acumen.

An economy or business needs to encourage occasional deviations from the herd. We need contrarian investors and thinkers. In markets, profit rewards correct contrarians. And some people are naturally contrarian. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears the beat of a different drummer.”

Does the policy response to COVID-19 reveal herding? The policies involved – business and school closings, stay-at-home orders – are called nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPI). NPI have their critics; a 2019 World Health Organization review found the evidence for the effectiveness most “limited.”

A divergence of opinion suggests herding was unlikely. If proponents of NPI won out in debate, this suggests that governors and presidents found them more promising. Vigorous debate usually improves decisions.

Our elected executives, I think, face a bias to action, worsened by the 24-hour news cycle and running tallies of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Yet the nearly 50 million jobs lost since March are also highly visible. Our inability to observe deaths without a lockdown ironically makes the benefits appear larger; perhaps millions have been saved.

Eight states never issued stay-at-home orders and nations like Sweden eschewed lockdown policies, so we have not witnessed complete herding. More likely the bias to take action resulted in excessive policies, and lockdowns imposed too early in some states.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.