In 2006, Robert Bentley, recently re-elected to a second term as a state representative, had words of advice for his new colleagues. “The one thing in Montgomery is money,” Bentley said. “Almost everything boils down, directly or indirectly, to money. The education people say it’s about the children. It’s not about the children. It’s about money. The business people say it’s about bringing business in. It’s about money.”
We wonder today if Gov. Bentley feels so strongly about money and its impact on state government. How should Alabamians react to the news that Bentley earlier this year appointed a generous campaign contributor to a state board? If “almost everything boils down” to money, what role did it play in the governor’s appointment of Landon Ash to the Alabama Homeland Security Advisory Task Force?
Ash, his company Xtreme Concepts and a political action committee affiliated with his company have given at least $15,000 to Bentley’s 2014 re-election campaign as part of more than $100,000 donated to Republican politicians in Alabama. Included in all this giving are $2,500 contributions to two state lawmakers — Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Arab, and Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood — who sit on the legislative panel that approved Bentley’s nomination of Ash to the homeland security panel earlier this month. Both Scofield and DeMarco voted to approve Ash.
There’s nothing to see here, say the recipients of Ash’s donations who have spoken with Anniston Star reporter Tim
Lockette. The Bentley administration is standing by its man, citing “Ash’s experience in training law enforcement agencies and working with federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.”
Scofield said a question about Ash’s confirmation to the homeland security panel and his campaign contributions was “extremely offensive.”
“Not all politicians are like that,” Scofield said to an Anniston Star reporter.
Indeed, not all are like that, Sen. Scofield. Yet, telling the difference is not always that easy. Under a system where candidates rake in outrageous sums of money from well-heeled contributors, these sorts of questions are bound to arise. Scofield and his colleagues in Montgomery and the financiers of their campaigns cannot avoid the age-old questions: What did they get? What did they give?
Questions like this do not and should not convict either the giver or the taker of wrongdoing. They do reveal the flaws in a democracy that allow candidates to collect campaign cash from a few while promising to look out for the interests of the many.
After all, according to a Bloomberg News analysis in 2013, President Barack Obama nominated at least 26 contributors for U.S. ambassadorships who had given a combined $13 million to Democrats. Don Siegelman sits in a federal prison today for something that many politicians regularly do — appointing a generous contributor to a government board.