Hidden money is politics as usual

Published 7:16 pm Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prior to the Alabama Republican primary in June, a then-unknown group called the Conservative Coalition for Alabama began running ads criticizing gubernatorial candid¥ate Bradley Byrne’s record as a legislator and chancellor of the two-year college system.

In a classic case of providing half the facts, the ads claimed Byrne took a 500 percent raise while in office — but they failed to point out that this was because he went from being a part-time legislator to a full-time chancellor.

Most Alabamians had never heard of the Conservative Coalition for Alabama. Because it did not endorse either candidate, it was not required to register with the Secretary of State as an advocacy group. Thus, no one knew from where its money originated.

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However, the Conservative Coalition did register with the IRS as a tax-exempt political information group. Recently, the IRS made public the donor that financed the ads — the Alabama Education Association.

The day after the Conservative Coalition was created, the AEA gave it $750,000. When the election was over, $711,000 had been spent criticizing Byrne. …

In Alabama, that secrecy is maintained.

In this state, so long as an organization does not actually endorse a candidate or call on voters to reject someone running for office, it is considered to be simply providing information, even if that information is slanted toward or against a candidate. Organizations providing information are not required to register with the Secretary of State and report their donors. As a result, voters can’t find out which groups support which candidates until after the election.

It’s unfortunate that neither party seems anxious to end this travesty. Why? Because this travesty’s beneficiary usually wins, and winners do not want to change the system that elected them.

Until candidates begin rejecting secret money and vow to change the way the sources of these contributions are hidden, this will be politics as usual in Alabama.

The Anniston Star.