Anti-Byrne attack ads cause Ala. GOP accusations

Published 11:25 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A Republican leader who worked with a top Democratic Party figure to run ads against GOP gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne has resigned his post, but a new group has taken up the anti-Byrne ads in the Republican runoff.

The ads try to brand Byrne as a former Democrat who hasn’t changed political stripes, but the GOP leader who conceived them, Andy Renner of Linden, was viewed by top Republicans as too close to Democrats himself.

Under pressure, Renner stepped down as chairman of the Marengo County Republican Party after the primary June 1. He said he has no connection to the Conservative Coalition for Alabama, the new group running ads blasting Byrne in the advance of the Republican runoff Tuesday.

“I don’t even know who they are,” he said Wednesday.

Neither do state election officials. The group has not filed an organizational statement with the secretary of state showing who organized it and where it is getting its money.

Byrne called on the state attorney general Wednesday to investigate whether the group has violated state campaign laws.

State Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard called for Renner’s resignation as the Marengo County party chairman after Renner formed True Republican PAC, a political action committee that reported spending more than $1.4 million in the primary campaign to criticize Byrne. The PAC’s ads emphasized that Byrne was once a Democrat who supported President Bill Clinton.

Campaign finance records show much of the money received by True Republican PAC came from the state teachers’ organization, the Alabama Education Association, through a series of PAC-to-PAC transfers. AEA is headed by two vice chairmen of the Alabama Democratic Party.

The Conservative Coalition for Alabama is running similar ads against Byrne in the runoff.

AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert, who helped fund Renner’s ads before June 1, declined to say Wednesday whether his organization is involved with the Conservative Coalition.

“I know about it, but that’s all I’ll say about it,” he said in an interview.

Byrne, who faces state Rep. Robert Bentley in the runoff, insisted AEA is involved. “Robert Bentley has carried the water for AEA in the House of Representatives ever since he got there. Now they want him to do it from the governor’s office,” Byrne said at a news conference.

Renner said he raised the initial money for True Republican PAC because he wanted to portray Byrne as a RINO — a political term for a “Republican In Name Only.”

While RINOs were Renner’s target, he chose an ad firm with lots of Democratic ties, Media Strategies and Research of Denver. Its clients have included Hillary Clinton. Renner also has Democratic ties. His mother-in-law is the Democratic probate judge in Marengo County.

While Renner’s target was Republicans In Name Only, some GOP leaders say Renner’s county party was functioning as GOP in name only.

One of Alabama’s top Republicans, Republican National Committeeman Paul Reynolds, said he and other party leaders met with Renner after the primary, and they discovered the Marengo County Republican Party wasn’t having meetings or organizing activities in the heavily Democratic county in west Alabama.

“The Republican Party in Marengo County was Andy Renner,” Reynolds said.

For Reynolds, Renner’s involvement with AEA was party heresy because Hubbert and Joe Reed, AEA’s associate executive secretary, are vice chairmen of the Alabama Democratic Party, and they were supposed to be helping a Republican leader flush out RINOs.

“Does that compute?” he asked.

Renner said many leaders within the Alabama GOP are behind Byrne, and that’s why they wanted him out as county chairman. AEA has never made any secret about its animosity toward Byrne, who after switching to the GOP has been a chief critic of the teacher organization.

Greenville businessman Tim James, who finished a close third in the primary, said Wednesday the Byrne campaign falsely accused him of working with AEA on the critical ads in the primary, and now it is doing the same thing to Bentley in the runoff.

“I think this is unfortunate,” he said.