Ken Hare In Depth: Like Democrats, GOP couldn't resist lure of g

Ken Hare In Depth: Like Democrats, GOP couldn't resist lure of gambling money

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

For some politicians, taking campaign money from gambling interests carries a huge political downside. Just ask those mostly Democratic state legislators who were indicted a few years ago when they were accused of taking funds from gambling moguls trying to get casino-style gambling legalized in the state. They were not convicted, but some of them still took huge political hits.

But the pots of money gambling interests seem all too willing to fill are just too big for many politicians to resist. 

Now it appears that about the time that some non-Indian gambling interests were wooing Alabama legislators with big campaign bucks, Indian tribal gambling interests were doing the same to protect their interests in the 2010 election cycle.

The Washington-based news organization Politico reported a few weeks ago that an internal memo from the Republican State Leadership Committee suggests that the RSLC, a national campaign committee, may have broken the law when it helped the Alabama Republican Party get donations from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates casinos in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore.

At the time, the state Republican Party was chaired by state Rep. Mike Hubbard, who is speaker of the Alabama House.

The flow of more than $500,000 from the Poarch Creek Indians to the RSLC and then back to the Alabama GOP has been reported before, starting back in 2011. 

But what had not been reported was the conclusion drawn by RSLC attorneys in the memo first reported by Politico.

The memo raised the possibility that laws were broken when the money was routed to the national RLSC and then back to Alabama.

"If these events are made public, the resulting media frenzy will be a political disaster for Alabama Republicans, a disaster with which RSLC will forever be associated," the report said.

It also said that it was "common knowledge and wisdom in Alabama that taking a contribution directly from the tribe is political suicide for a Republican candidate or public official."

The report then stated, according to Politico: "Here RSLC appears to have served as both a recipient of the funds in question and as a donor of the funds back to Alabama, thereby permitting Mike Hubbard to do indirectly that which he could not do directly."

 

The then-president of the RSLC, Scott Ward, denied that he had an arrangement with Hubbard to funnel money back to Alabama and also denied the conclusions of the RSLC report. Politico reports that Ward is no longer connected to the RSLC. Current RSLC officials and Hubbard also deny such an arrangement existed. 

So what does this all mean politically back in Alabama? 

Despite the predictions by RSLC lawyers that it would be "political suicide" for GOP candidates to be shown taking political contributions from Indian gambling interests, I doubt if going forward the allegations in the RSLC memo will have much overall political impact on the Alabama GOP. Too much time has passed. For most candidates who received the money, any political harm already has been done. 

Also, because many Alabama Democrats have their own history with non-Indian gambling money flowing to their campaigns, they are not well-positioned to take full political advantage of the allegations.

But there is one Republican who could take a hit from the RSLC revelations -- House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Hubbard recently survived a strong challenge in the GOP primary, but he still faces an ongoing Lee County grand jury investigation that already has resulted in a guilty plea by former Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, and a perjury charge against Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, who is fighting it.

Under normal conditions, I would think that the politically savvy and powerful Hubbard could shrug off the allegations in the RSLC memo. But coming on top of the Lee County investigation, they could hurt him politically. The latest allegations have even raised the possibility that he will have trouble retaining his role as House speaker.

Usually dependable sources in and around the Legislature are unusually mum about Hubbard's political future.

Personally, I believe that Hubbard's political fortunes -- and possibly the political fortunes of a couple of other legislators -- all boil down to that Lee County grand jury. If the grand jury issues indictments, then all bets are off. But if it doesn't, the odds are in favor of Mike Hubbard surviving as a political power in the state.

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Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at khare@wsfa.com.

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