Transfer smacks of sanctimony

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 23, 2011

The late Hugh Rozelle – called Hugh Edward back in his Clay County home – had a way with words. When he sat on the district bench in Escambia County, he had occasion to pass judgment on the actions of a man he’d long known, and a contemporary of his son. Addressing him and his actions in his classic Southern drawl, he said, “Brother (name omitted), I have a minimum high regard for you. And if you ever come in my courtroom again, I’ll place you under the jail.”

That was Judge Rozelle’s way of telling the younger man he was disappointed in him. Yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder what Judge would say to a fellow Clay County native, Bob Riley, if he were still with us.

The former governor, who’s recovering from pretty serious injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident he had in Alaska, was accused yesterday of breaking an ethics law in March that he signed into law amid much fanfare in December.

You might recall that Riley called the newly-elected legislature into special session before his successor, Robert Bentley took office. It was a move many saw as a proverbial slap in the face for Bentley, while others believed Riley was positioning himself for a possible presidential bid, or at least a vice presidential nod, in the 2012 elections.

Among the much-ballyhooed laws resulting from the special session was one that banned transfers from one political action committee or PAC to another, a tactic typically used to hide campaign contributions.

Friday, state Democrats called on the attorney general to investigate the former governor, citing the transfer of $50,000 from a state PAC run by the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee to a PAC Riley chairs, the Alabama 2014 PAC. Later in the day, others involved in the PAC acknowledged the transfer and said it was made only because of confusion about when the PAC-to-PAC ban took effect. The money has been returned, they said.

Alabama 2014 was created on March 1 of this year. In an email obtained by the Alabama Democratic Party, Minda Riley Campbell, Riley’s daughter, wrote that House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, had asked her father to create a PAC to support “true Republicans” against primary challengers backed by “liberal special interests” in 2014. Both Hubbard and Marsh also have taken much credit for the state’s new ethics laws.

The actions makes one wonder whether any of the three truly oppose PAC-to-PAC moves, or were standing on sanctimony.

Either way, I think Judge Rozelle would have been disappointed in Clay County’s most famous denizen yesterday. But he’d have expressed it so eloquently. When I close my eyes, I can hear him.

Brother Riley, ….. <long pause for effect> … I have a minimum high regard for you.