Alabama's campaign finance laws are set up to hide the money trail. There are few limitations on contributions and those contributions are often laundered by unlimited money transfers from one PAC to another so you can't tell who is giving what to whom. I knew all that and was properly outraged, but I didn't realize SoS Beth Chapman's office is just a glorified stenography service for campaigns and PACs with no ability or responsibility to check the accracy of reports.
An Alabama agency that oversees political action committees failed to see a $460,000 reporting error in a PAC formed for presidential candidate Mitt Romney....
The Secretary of State's office only posts the information online and doesn't review them for errors, said Robert Johnston, an attorney for the agency.
"The secretary of state does not audit these," he said. "We don't have any enforcement authority on that. We just make it available to the public."
Most of Commonwealth PAC's money came from outside Alabama and was spent outside Alabama -- they just used us as a kind of Swiss bank account because our rules -- and enforcement -- are so lax.
How outrageous is the corrupting influence of PAC money in Alabama? Big PACs spent over $70 million on Alabama elections in 2006, according to a Gannett News Service analysis. That's about $28 for each of Alabama's 2.5 million registered voters. Talk about the finest government money can buy!
For example, Milton McGregor, owner of VictoryLand, a greyhound racing track in Shorter, donated $603,000 on Nov. 1, 2006, to the Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education.
The same day, the teachers' PAC gave $603,000 to Fund for Alabama's Children and Education, which on the same day gave $503,000 to Alabamians For a Better Plan. That group donated $947,000 to Lucy Baxley's gubernatorial campaign committee on Oct. 31 and another $1.1 million to Luc Media, which buys TV advertising, mostly for Democrats.
McGregor declined comment on his contribution.
"(The practice) reduces accountability in government very severely," said William Stewart, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Alabama. "We the citizens need to know who's financing what candidate."
For 6 years now, the Alabama House of Representatives has passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Jeff Mclaughlin (D, Guntersvillle) banning PAC to PAC transfers and for 6 years the Alabama Senate has killed it. The House passed Mclaughlin's PAC to PAC transfer ban for the seventh time (on a 103 to nothing vote) last week.
Now the ball is in the Senate's court (Heaven help us!) so please, contact your state senator and urge them to pass this much needed legislation to clean up election funding in Alabama, and to do it without introducing loopholes to make the bill meaningless. The watering down is already well under way in the Senate:
McLaughlin’s bill is simple: it bans all PAC-to-PAC transfers, except when a PAC transfers money to a campaign committee of a candidate. According to McLaughlin, the bill would give Alabama one of the toughest PAC campaign money transfer laws in the country. Simple enough, right?
Simple — until one examines a Senate version of the bill. Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, introduced a “reform” bill that does not define political parties and political committees as PACs. Because of that, according to the Associated Press, parties and committees could raise money from PACs, mix it together and then make a donation to a candidate, which would make it almost impossible to determine the original sources of the money. That sounds like window dressing for maintaining the status quo.
Use the "Find Your Legislator" feature in the left margin of this page to find both your State Senator and State Representative. If you already know your Senator's name, click on it in this list for contact information. They've held this up for 6 years and they'll do it again unless the people demand better behavior. Honestly, we really do get the government we deserve and the only way to make it better is to get involved.
Related: Why PAC to PAC transfers need to be banned