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August 22, 2014

Fact-checking AEA's claims against Anniston Senator

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Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 6:40 pm | Updated: 9:29 pm, Thu May 22, 2014.

Did Del Marsh funnel state funds to a family member?

Truth Rating: 1 of 5

The claim: In a direct mail advertisement sent out earlier this month, A-VOTE — a PAC affiliated with the Alabama Education Association — claims state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, "voted for a loophole that lets a family member's company receive millions from the state." Variations on the claim have appeared in several A-VOTE ads in recent weeks.

Summary: Marsh voted for a bill that allowed Sarrell Dental Center, an Anniston-based nonprofit dental clinic, to expand its service to kids on Medicaid. Marsh's daughter works as a lobbyist for the nonprofit, but doesn't own or run it.

Analysis: The AEA claim is simple. Some of the group's ads say Marsh "used his power to give taxpayer funds to a family member." Others say Marsh "handed millions from the state to his daughter's employer, tripling their income."

The ad cites a 2011 vote on a bill to allow nonprofit organizations to operate dental clinics. Reports from The Star at the time of the vote show that the bill was intended to clarify the legal status of Sarrell Dental Centers, an Anniston-based nonprofit.

For years before the bill, Sarrell operated clinics across the state that provided dental care for children on Medicaid, the state-and federal health insurance program for people in poverty. Advocates for the center said Sarrell was providing dental care to patients who otherwise wouldn't get it, but Sarrell ran into opposition from some dentists, who claimed the center, as a nonprofit, couldn't legally operate a clinic. The 2011 bill passed the Senate 28-0, with Marsh among the "yes" votes.

"The House bill that passed unanimously in 2011 helped provide access to care for Alabama's at-risk children, who are the beneficiary of that legislation," Sarrell CEO Jeffrey Parker said in an email Thursday.

Marsh's daughter, Christine, is on the Sarrell staff as a lobbyist. In that sense, Sarrell is "her company" — but she doesn't own Sarrell, and Sarrell isn't a for-profit business.  

There's little doubt that the center is getting state money, in the form of payments through Medicaid. Most of the money in the program is federal, but the state does kick in a significant amount — $615 million this year —  to keep Medicaid going. Dental care is just a small part of that.

It's not clear whether Sarrell's income has tripled in the past three years, but it wouldn't be surprising if it had. In the five years leading up to the 2011 vote, according to press reports, the center expanded from a single clinic serving 3,500 children a year to 12 clinics serving 80,000 kids.

"I thought what they had was a great program," Marsh said.

Did Marsh fail to report $5 million in investments?

Truth rating: 1 of 5

The claim: A-VOTE's ads claim Marsh "failed to disclose over $5 million in personal investments."

Summary: Marsh's filings with the Alabama Ethics Commission don't paint a full picture of the senator's personal wealth, but that seems to be due, largely, to the limitations of the reporting system. Marsh sought an opinion on his filings from the Ethics Commission and was told he's in compliance with the law.

Analysis: Marsh's filings with the Ethics Commission show him as the owner of three parcels in Alabama, each worth at least $250,000.

That may sound odd for a man like Marsh, the former owner of an aerospace company, who is widely believed to be one of the wealthier men in the Senate.

A-VOTE claims Marsh hasn't come clean about the real estate he owns.

Ed Still, a lawyer for AEA, sent The Star a packet of documents that indicates that Marsh personally owns at least two out-of-state properties, in South Carolina and Colorado. Still's documents also list more than $4 million in property owned by entities created by Marsh, including the Marsh Family Limited Partnership.

Still later told the Star he was no longer authorized to speak on behalf of AEA. Attempts to reach AEA spokeswoman Amy Marlowe were not successful.

Marsh said the partnership is a family trust he set up for the benefit of his children. He told the Star he doesn't believe he's required to report properties held by the trust, or other similar entities, on the state's ethics forms. He also said he didn't believe he was required to file out-of-state properties on those forms.

The point of the ethics law, he said, isn't to disclose the net worth of public officials. It's to disclose conflicts of interest, he said.

"I have no leases with a governmental entity in this state," he said.

Attempts to reach Ethics Commission counsel Hugh Evans for comment on the matter were unsuccessful. The commission often declines comment on specific cases, but Marsh has a letter from Ethics Commission director Jim Sumner, dated May 8, that indicates Marsh is within the bounds of the law.

"You have not failed to disclose your investments; on the contrary, you have disclosed them correctly in full compliance with the requirements of the Alabama Ethics Law," the letter states.

Even if Marsh had reported every property on A-VOTE's list, disclosure documents wouldn't give a full picture of the value of those holdings. That's because properties worth more than $250,000 are reported as just that — properties of "at least $250,000." Thus a property worth millions wouldn't look any different than, say, a sizable two-story house.

"The only way I could report $5 million in property is to report 20 properties worth at least $250,000," Marsh said.

AEA dropped the $5 million claim from television ads after Marsh's lawyers sent a legal warning, along with the Sumner letter, to television stations in the Birmingham market.

Print ads with the claim continued to arrive in Anniston-area mailboxes as late as this week.


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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Rabbittownman posted at 1:30 pm on Sun, May 25, 2014.

    Rabbittownman Posts: 10

    If the readiness of the students have been going down, Common Core is not going to help. The standards adopted are lower than what they replaced. And no, the state and locals can not change the standards. They are copyrighted. The state was lured in to accept the CC standards when they applied for a grant and waiver from the no child left behind nd opportunity for race to the top funds. Alabama was left holding an empty bag because we got no grant money. If you don't know much about why the CC is so bad, do a little research. Start here and do more of your own.
    If you are okay with data mining from your children and passing that info on to someone unknown, suggesting sexual suggestive literature for extra reading, math teaching method that is more concerned with HOW you got your answer than if the answer is correct, and using assignments to push liberal ideology then just pass this message on by. If that is an issue for you, don't elect anyone who supports CC. Your vote on June 3rd should be an informed one.

  • truthisgood posted at 6:03 pm on Sat, May 24, 2014.

    truthisgood Posts: 2

    Dr. Cynthia McCarty is a very respected member of the faculty at JSU and for 20 years she has been teaching at the college level. During those 20 years, she has seen a real decline in the readiness of high school graduates to do the required work at the college level. She knows that CC is not some federal plot to take over the schools. She may or may not have been "hand picked for the State School Board position by Marsh" as Rabbittownman asserts, but she still has to be elected by the people on June 3.

  • truthisgood posted at 5:53 pm on Sat, May 24, 2014.

    truthisgood Posts: 2

    About Common Core -- take a look at this:
    Common Core is merely a set of standards that detail what students should know and be able to do when they go from grade to grade in school. States and local districts have ALL the power about what is taught and how.
    Del Marsh believes that the State Superintendent and School Board should make the big, important decisions in education. Not the Legislature. So we should trust him and let things work as they should. Del's been in Montgomery since 1998, the first 12 years doing his best to work in a Democratic super-majority. If you will take the time to do any research at all, you will see what has really been done in the past three years in our state and not just what the AEA and many legislative democrats want to try and make you believe.

  • Rabbittownman posted at 1:19 pm on Sat, May 24, 2014.

    Rabbittownman Posts: 10

    Ir you like Common Core (the federal take over of Alabama schools) then Del Marsh is your man. The BCA and the Chamber of Commerce want CC and sent him the message not to repeal it. He gladly listened to them instead of his constituents and the rest of the Republican Party the voted for a resolution almost unanimously calling for the repeal of CC. Also supportive of CC is Cynthia McCarty. She was the hand picked candidate by Marsh for the State School Board position. Her commercials try to make her sound as if she opposes CC when the opposite is true.

  • juauar posted at 7:06 pm on Fri, May 23, 2014.

    juauar Posts: 33

    [smile] Star: thanks for helping clear the (foul) air on this subject. I believe Del Marsh to be a dedicated public servant and appreciate his sacrifice to serve. And I would challenge any of the naysayers to put up (give themselves to service) or shut up.

  • JChampion posted at 10:53 am on Fri, May 23, 2014.

    JChampion Posts: 1

    Sad to say that if you check him out with Monsanto [sad] you may find out even more[wink] cause i know what he tried to get me to do during the Monsanto Lawsuit:P

  • lily2009 posted at 10:24 am on Fri, May 23, 2014.

    lily2009 Posts: 2

    The ethics law the Republicans passed under Bob Riley according to a Montgomery County Grand Jury are so full of loopholes it's virtually impossible to prosecute. Marsh has a letter from Ethics Commission director Jim Sumner, dated May 8, that indicates Marsh is within the bounds of the law. Without even viewing the contracts Jim Sumner is quoted as saying Mike Hubbard contracts were within the law so I don't put much confidence in Jim Sumner and his opinions.


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