Three things I know about Jo
Editor’s note: I live in Georgia, but I’m from Alabama. I married a beautiful Alabama gal, and graduated from the University of Alabama in 2005. I have roots there and care about its future.
Please read the extended editor’s note posted at the end of this article.
I’ve learned some interesting things since I began digging deeper into the questions I had about Rep. Jo Bonner’s new job at the University of Alabama System.
In no particular order:
1) Rep. Jo Bonner received a combined $64,600 in campaign contributions from people connected to UAS.
To see the spreadsheet listing these contributions in detail, click this link: UAS to Bonner List.
The spreadsheet I’ve developed lists $64,600 in individual contributions from UAS Board of Trustee members and employees. When you factor in contributions from the political action committee affiliated with Board of Trustee Emeritus Garry Neil Drummond, the dollar amount climbs to $86,600.
More on Drummond in a second.
The number that stood out to me the most was the $10,500 in contributions from University System Chancellor Robert Witt, donations that began before Witt became chancellor. Witt’s most recent contribution to Rep. Bonner was in February, records from the FEC website show.
I’ve given this information to media outlets and I’ve received the cursory shrug of the shoulders. The response usually goes something like, “Well there’s nothing wrong with giving to candidates.”
Yes, giving on its own isn’t improper. But these donations didn’t just come from Judy Bonner, who you would expect would donate to her brother’s campaign.
These donations came from the man who hired Jo Bonner for a $350,000 a year job.
In my mind, it raises questions about whether Witt had a conflict of interest that would have disqualified him from participating in the hiring process.
At a minimum, it calls into question the transparency of this process.
Kellee Reinhart, spokeswoman for UAS, told the Crimson White student newspaper that other candidates were interviewed for the job Jo Bonner received.
Reinhart told the CW she didn’t have a list of candidates, which I think is an odd thing to say when you’re claiming the system conducted other interviews.
If we’re giving Reinhart the benefit of the doubt, can we ask if the other candidates were also the recipients of contributions from members of the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Witt? If they weren’t, wouldn’t that make the process inherently unfair to these other candidates, whoever they are?
The board has policies covering both conflicts of interest and political giving by UAS officials. Read them by clicking here. The relevant sections are on pages 43-46 and 81-82. Did the board and chancellor adhere to these policies? Because if they didn’t, the board’s own rules say Rep. Bonner’s hiring would be void.
The university system asks us to take its hiring of Jo Bonner, the brother of the sitting University of Alabama president, at face value. Failing to disclose information like this makes that difficult, to say the least.
As for Drummond, some of you may know about the Drummond Company’s desire to begin mining property the university system owns along the Black Warrior River, aka the Shepherd Bend Mine project. Environmental advocates are concerned the mine would contaminate Birmingham’s drinking water.
Will Jo Bonner play any role in deciding whether that project goes forward and would the $23,000 in contributions from Drummond be a conflict of interest? Does Rep. Bonner, as a member of Congress, have any oversight of the mine project?
2) A member of the U.S. Congress filed a lawsuit against Jo Bonner two days before he began interviewing for the UAS job.
I’ve uncovered a few things that call into question the university system and Jo Bonner’s depiction of the events leading up to the announcement that he would resign from congress.
Jo Bonner told the Montgomery Advertiser that Robert Witt first called him about the job on April 24.
I thought it a strangely specific date. When I began checking on it, I found something interesting on Pacer.gov.
Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-NY, sued Jo Bonner on April 22. Rangel, as you might recall, was censured in 2010 on the recommendation of the House Ethics Committee for alleged violations of ethics rules. Rangel filed a lawsuit to overturn the censure ruling, which is even more unusual than censure itself.
Rangel’s lawsuit accused Republicans on the committee of meddling with the ethics process for political purposes. Jo Bonner was ranking member of the House Ethics committee at the time of Rangel’s censure and later became chairman. He is a key figure in the events described in the lawsuit.
Here are all relevant documents I have related to this lawsuit. I doubt you’ll get these from anyone else, though not for lack of effort on my part.
The lawsuit implies there is additional evidence of meddling by members of the Ethics Committee. Presumably, that would come out in trial if the lawsuit made it that far. If the lawsuit drags on until 2014, it could be a distraction for Rep. Bonner and the GOP as a whole during an election year.
Rep. Bonner also has the distinction of being one of the few members of Congress to vote against the 2006 extension of the Voting Rights Act.
This lawsuit fits the mainstream Democratic narrative of the Republican Party and that’s a problem for the GOP on a national level.
Also, I doubt that Rep. Bonner didn’t know this lawsuit was coming. Rangel’s attorney had been in communication with Rep. Bonner and the Ethics Committee for months.
Here’s another interesting thing I found.
On April 12, Rep. Bonner entered remarks into the Congressional Record praising Robert Witt on his 10 years with the university.
I bet that looked real good on Rep. Bonner’s resume.
3) Attorney General Luther Strange’s son works for Jo Bonner.
The website Legistorm also reports that Luke Strange in 2009 traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel, on a trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation.
I learned this while checking into whether Rep. Bonner’s resignation is related to a report that state Attorney General Luther Strange has recently recused himself from an investigation into state House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
I was skeptical. The source of the report about Strange also has ties to the Alabama Education Association, the backbone state Democratic party.
If that investigation had anything to do with Jo Bonner, Strange would have to recuse himself because of his son’s employment in the congressman’s office. He certainly couldn’t give any legal opinions about whether it was appropriate for UAS to hire Rep. Bonner.
These are just a few of the items I’ve uncovered. I’ve shared much more with your state media, but I guess this story is not a high priority.
This information raises questions about conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency in Alabama politics.
I’m not the person who gets paid to ask them.
Editor’s note: Why I’m doing this
The truth about what’s happening in Alabama politics cannot wait for a slow unraveling or an eventual denouement.
Three top elected officials in our state are resigning to take private sector jobs: Jo Bonner, state Rep. Jay Love and Secretary of State Beth Chapman. I think at this point, we shouldn’t be surprised if more join them.
The fundamental question of all of this for me has been, “Why?” Why would senior ranking Republican officials leave before the ends of their terms? Why would three of them do so in less than three months?
I regret to say I haven’t solved that riddle. Not yet. Frankly, given my limited resources I may not be capable of doing so without help. I’ve tried to solicit that help by contacting every major newspaper company in Alabama that covers state politics: the Associated Press, Advance (owner of the Huntsville Times, Birmingham News and Mobile Register), Gannett (owner of the Montgomery Advertiser), and the Tuscaloosa News.
I gave these organizations countless records obtained on my own time and expense (more than $100 by my estimates), hoping they would step out of their shallow coverage and delve deeper into these issues.
Things are tough for Alabama media right now. I get that. Associated Press has three reporters responsible for covering the entire state. There’s only one reporter covering Alabama at the federal level. She works for Gannett. The Tuscaloosa News is a next door neighbor with the University of Alabama System, so I’d imagine pursuing a complex story about this would be a challenge. What Advance has done to Alabama’s three major newspapers is a travesty.
It’s challenging no matter what the circumstance. These things take time.
With all three of these politicians taking private sector gigs next month, time is running out. Once they leave their respective offices they will become murkier forces in our state’s politics and less accountable to the public.
Sometimes challenging circumstances force us to rise to the moment. For me that moment passed more than a month ago, the day Jo Bonner announced his resignation.
I’ve decided to act because this simply cannot wait any longer.
To be absolutely clear, I’ve uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing. What I’ve found are tantalizing clues, bread crumbs that have not been pursued with any urgency by our state’s media. Where these tidbits will lead I can only guess.
The facts I’m presenting here primarily concern Jo Bonner because that was the focus of my initial inquiry. Investigating the resignation of two other officials is something that would take way more time than I have to devote to it. But I’m certainly concerned that the other two resignations are somehow connected to this.
It is my sincere hope these resignations aren’t happening because something dark and ugly looms on the horizon. That would be a sad day for a state that practically wallows in its own political misery.
Alabama must change. For that to happen, its government must come out of the shadows. Even if the truth is not sinister, even if this effort reveals nothing more than the good ole boy crap that has been the staple of our politics for years, it’s still the truth.
Sometimes the truth can be so obvious, it escapes our notice.
About the data:
For your convenience, each data point will include documents and links backing up my assertions.
Some of this data was obtained through hours of digging blindly through state and federal records. Most of it was right there for anyone to see. I’ve primarily used records contained on Pacer.gov, a filing system for the federal courts; the Federal Election Commission, the body responsible for ensuring the transparency of our federal elections; and Legistorm.com, a service that sifts through data and compiles it for subscribers.