Alabama corruption ads come under scrutiny

Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)
Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)

MONTGOMEERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama’s chief election official has asked the state attorney general to review campaign ads from a former Republican state senator’s foundation to see whether they violate campaign finance laws.

Former Sen. John Rice of Opelika said the ads from his Foundation for Limited Government don’t violate the law because they are focused on ending government corruption in Montgomery, not on influencing the upcoming state elections.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said state law requires nonprofit organizations to disclose their donors to the secretary of state’s office if they run ads 120 days before an election that contain the name or image of a candidate and are designed to influence the outcome of an election. The ads from Rice’s foundation shows Marsh’s picture and use the photo and name of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, both of whom are up for election June 3.

“When you start putting people’s names and faces on it, it’s electioneering,” Marsh said.

Marsh wrote to Secretary of State Jim Bennett, asking him to review the foundation’s ad to see whether it violates the state’s campaign finance laws since the foundation has not disclosed its donors to Bennett’s office. Bennett wrote back that based on his review the foundation “may be engaged in electioneering communications.”

In an interview Thursday, Bennett said he sent Marsh’s complaint to Attorney General Luther Strange and asked him to review it because enforcement power rests with the attorney general’s office.

“It seems to be coloring outside the lines when you have a nonprofit acting like a political action committee, but that will be up to the attorney general,” the Republican secretary of state said.

Bennett and Marsh said they have heard nothing from the attorney general. Joy Patterson, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said he had no comment Thursday.

Rice said he had lawyers review his foundation’s ads and he’s not concerned about Marsh’s complaint. He said the focus of the ads is to get politicians to sign an anti-corruption pledge that includes term limits and restrictions on gifts to officeholders. He said 30 Democratic, Republican and independent legislative candidates have signed the pledge so far.

The ads from Rice’s foundation say officials in Montgomery have not done enough to end corruption. The ads started running before Republican Rep. Greg Wren of Montgomery resigned his office Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ethics violation.

Marsh also has a foundation that is running an ad criticizing the state teachers’ organization, the Alabama Education Association, and accusing it of getting liberal candidates to slip in the upcoming primary election posing as conservatives.

Marsh’s Foundation for Accountability in Education hasn’t filed a list of donors with the secretary of state’s office either, and he said he doesn’t have to. “I never mention any single candidate or any political party in that ad,” he said.

Rice declined to comment on the ad by Marsh’s foundation.

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