Solve the Mystery the Alabama Media Won’t Touch: Who is X?

TV image of FBI investigation

This is an image from a report aired June 16 by Phoenix station 12News, about the FBI investigation into millions of dollars in “Dark Money” spent by the Arizona Public Service Co., which is that state’s main power company.

 

Starting in the summer of 2013, the Arizona media —  first print, then television and smaller publications — began aggressively pursuing stories about millions of dollars in so-called ‘Dark Money’ flowing from secrecy shrouded non-profits and into advertising and public relations campaigns that so happened to promote the interests of Arizona’s main electricity provider, the Arizona Public Service Co. 

In March, the Arizona media reported that the FBI is investigating the use of Dark Money to influence Arizona elections and has subpoenaed the records of Arizona Public Service Co. and the Arizona Corporation Commission, as that state’s public service commission is called.

And on Tuesday — as in, August 2 — the corporation commission announced that it had engaged a high-powered Maryland attorney well-known in the utility regulatory community to determine if  the “Dark Money” campaign was used to gain an “uneven influence or advantage” in the setting of electricity regulation by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

In that same year, 2013, a similar if more smear-driven Dark Money campaign began here in Alabama, it too characterized by millions of dollars flowing into shady non-profits which used the money to exert influence on the actions and campaigns of the Alabama Public Service Commission. This started, but did not end with, the effort to destroy the reputation of Terry Dunn, the PSC commissioner who dared oppose Alabama Power.

In Arizona, as a result of the dozens of news stories, columns and editorials — and especially, investigative reporting — the public knows what’s going on, and the FBI is investigating. 

In Alabama, the public hasn’t a clue.

 

Author’s Note (Aug. 4, 2016): This post has two purposes. The first is to report substantial amounts of new information related to the two-year “Dark Money” campaign by Alabama Power to remove commissioner Terry Dunn and raise the rates of Alabama residents and businesses; and to use that information to prove, beyond any doubt, that the cash that fueled the campaign came from Alabama Power.

The second is to examine the ever-evolving Alabama political media, including but not limited to how it figures into the campaign against Dunn. I like to think that people who follow Alabama politics, whether interested in the Public Service Commission or not, will enjoy my analysis of Yellowhammer News and the Alabama Political Reporter, as well as what’s said about the relationship between those new kids on the block and the state’s “mainstream media.

This post and a companion post that lays out the chronology of the two-year campaign  (The Rock Star, and the Coal Jobs Count Con) are assuredly too long read in one sitting, but they’re not going anywhere. I’ve always believed in the old adage: Show, don’t Tell. I certainly do some telling, but as you will see, this post, like others on the site, contains substantial amounts of supporting documentation, including public records, photos and other evidence in support of the allegations made here.

I see this post, like the rest of the site, as a resource for the media, law enforcement, and even Alabama Power, such as for those employees and board members responsible for policing company ethics.

If anyone finds errors or matters on which they can provide greater clarity, don’t hesitate to call me at (251) 454-1911; e-mail me at, eddcurran@aol.com; or, by mail, to Eddie Curran; 133 Silverwood, Mobile, AL 36607.

Here’s today’s menu (the media items highlighted):

  • Who is X?
  • Tweedledee and Tweedledum: The Money Bags of X’s Dark Money Campaign
  • X won’t say, but I say $6 million: Here’s why
  • Another year, another big lump of cash for Matrix-connected APCO shill ‘PACE’ 
  • PAL, Vote Alabama lone sources of ’14 contributions to JobKeeper Alliance
  • Yellowhammer-related shill groups funded by PAL, Vote Alabama
  • Finally, if barely, Al.Com reports Yellowhammer News’ connection to Hubbard and Swatek firm
  • $60K to Catrena Carter’s ‘Women of Will,’ but for what?
  • Two-year tally for scandal-plagued 60 Plus tops $1.3 Million
  • Bankrolling the Alabama Coal Association’s ‘War on Coal’ and ‘Coal Jobs Count’
  • Britt’s Alabama Political Reporter belonged on Al.Com’s Hubbard trial ‘Winner’s List’
  • $137,000 for Georgia-based, Alabama Power-connected PURE
  • And a relative pittance, $7,500, for CURE
  • Spineless: Alabama media AWOL on state’s real Dark Money scandal
  • X’s Motive: Protecting its Stratospheric Profits
  • Charles Steele: Civil Rights leader always at the ready for Alabama Power
  • IRS revokes non-profit status of Steele-led civil rights icon SCLC
  • PACE paid $127.5K to Trey Glenn firm in year after he left ADEM
  • AEA severs ties with Joe Perkins and Matrix
  • Whistle-blowers Wanted: Subjects to include …
  • Identify Masked Man, Win $250; Identify Shady Lady, Make $50
  • A Question
  • How to Donate and Support this effort

 

oldladypicture

Photos and video of the July 2013 “environmental protest” outside the PSC focused on the bearded man, intended to look like Birmingham environmentalist Nelson Brooke. The purpose of the poster professing admiration for Terry Dunn was to portray Dunn as beloved by environmentalists, and thus a liberal, and destroy his credibility among Alabama’s conservative electorate.

By EDDIE CURRAN

Remember your algebra?

The game, as in some ways it is, of being given an equation, and all but one of the numbers, and working to solve the mystery of the missing number — X.

What is X?

Let’s think of today’s mystery as Political Algebra. I will provide evidence showing that a company spent more than $6 million on a deeply corrupt Dark Money smear campaign to remove Terry Dunn from the Alabama Public Service Commission; defeat his effort to reduce the company’s nation leading profits; and, the coup de gras, win a 5 percent rate increase from the Dunn-less PSC.

X = The Source of the $6 million.

 

WHO is X

 

Alabama Power — though it refuses to acknowledge it — is X.

But don’t take my word for it.

Read what I’ve put together here. If you do, I don’t see how you can conclude anything other than that Alabama Power is the secret source of the $6 million spent to help the company maintain its airtight lock on the state agency that sets the rates Alabama residents and businesses pay for electricity.

I see the following statement, given more than once to the state media, as a target to be obliterated.

 

“We are not involved, directly or indirectly, in any PSC campaign.”

— Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman

 

Apologies in advance for those offended by the word Bullshit, as in, Bullshit Campaign.

Because that’s what we’re talking about here. A very expensive, well coordinated two-year Bullshit Campaign that began in early January 2013 and ended, two years later, in early January 2015.

 

Zeke-smith-and-whats-his-name

Three key players in the Bullshit Campaign at one of the PSC meetings on Alabama Power: At left, Dark Money shill Patrick Cagle of the JobKeeper Alliance; and behind Cagle, Alabama Power governmental relations executives Nick Sellers (at right, in red tie) and, center, Zeke Smith. 

 

The Bullshit Campaign involved many players, including numerous “Dark Money” groups. But no one group’s Bullshit was enough to make a difference. Not even close.

Only when the army of BS groups and political consultants and fake media outlets like Yellowhammer News combined forces, and worked in tandem, in highly orchestrated fashion, did public opinion get twisted.

The campaign, full of BS as it was, succeeded.

Combined, the defeat of Dunn’s effort to bring Alabama Power’s allowed profits to national norms, and the subsequent rate increase, is paying off to the tune of an estimated $400 to $550 million a year, for X, and X’s shareholders, and to the detriment of Alabama Power’s residential and business customers.

By now, north of $1 billion.

In a grotesque way, you’ve got to give it to X.

They pulled it off.

 

Tweedledee and Tweedledum: The Money Bags of X’s Dark Money Campaign

Dark Money. It’s the sexy hot term for the a type of non-profit that doesn’t exist to feed the poor, house the homeless, or plant flowers in parks.

Here, from Wikipedia:

Dark Money Definition Wiki

Almost all of the groups who participated in the Bullshit campaign are 501c4 non-profits. Donations to such organizations — unlike those to charities, or 501c3s — are not tax deductible. However, 501c4s can engage in issue advocacy, including of a political nature, as normal charities cannot.

Like charities, 501c4s must file tax returns, called Form 990s, and must make them available to the public. Unfortunately, 501c4s are not required to identify their donors.

But there is one catch.

When one such group contributes to another — think of “PAC to PAC” transfers — the donor non-profit must report the identity of the recipient non-profit and the amount given. The recipient need not disclose, but the donor must.

One such example is below. It’s from the 2014 tax return of the non-profit Peoples Alliance for Leadership, or PAL, as I like to call it. PAL gave to so many Dark Money outfits in 2014 that it required two pages to list them all. Here’s the first page.

 

PAL contributes 2014

To understand the financing of the Bullshit Campaign, it helps to think of each participant according to category. We will call these categories: The Secret Donor, or, X; Checking Account Organizations; and Bullshit Delivery Groups.

The Checking Account Organizations in X‘s campaign are Vote Alabama and PAL. Neither has employees or an office. Their purpose, if you can call it that, is to draw as little attention to themselves as possible.

They do this by doing nothing — nothing beyond receiving funds from X, and then distributing those funds as directed by X and political consultants in X‘s employ to the BS Delivery Groups.

The Bullshit Delivery Groups present the product, be it by holding press conferences, submitting op-eds, generating TV, radio and newspaper ads, making official appearances before the Public Service Commission on behalf of X, even, in the case of, “Coal Jobs Count,” renting a designer bus and driving around the state and giving away little Coal Jobs Count footballs.

 

Obama image in Coal Jobs Count commercial

This image of Obama comes from a TV ad that aired in the weeks preceding the June 2014 Republican primary between Dunn and challenger — and Alabama Power flunky — Chip Beeker. It was aired by, “Coal Jobs Count,” a BS group that shuttered its operations in December 2014, after the Dunn-less PSC voted 3-0 to give Alabama Power a five percent rate increase.

 

Two questions merit asking, despite the obviousness of the answers: Does the same source (X) fund both Checking Account Organizations; and does the same source (X) direct how both Checking Account Organizations dispense the funds provided?

I”ll provide the facts, you decide for yourself.

It is it a coincidence that both Vote Alabama and PAL were incorporated by Tommy Kirkland, a Montgomery lawyer who was employed by Matrix LLC, the longtime political consultant of Alabama Power?

Is it a coincidence that until 2009, the financial records of both non profits were maintained by Kirkland?

Below, the portion of Vote Alabama’s 2009 tax return showing who maintained its records.

 

BLAH

 

And, here, the portion of PAL’s 2009 tax return showing who maintains its records.

 

BLAH

 

Vote Alabama, a non-profit with neither an office nor a single employee, receives mail at P.O. Box 2131, Montgomery, AL, zip code 36102. 

PAL, a non-profit with neither an office nor a single  employee, receives mail at P.O. Box 2132, Montgomery, AL., zip code 36102.

Is it a coincidence that the two non-profits — one whose “director” lives in Montgomery (Al Henley of Vote Alabama), the other whose director (Mike Fields of PAL) lives in Tuscaloosa — have P.O. boxes with consecutive numbers at the same Montgomery post office?

The image below shows the top of PAL’s 2013 tax return. The highlighted part at the bottom shows PAL’s funding for 2012 (Prior Year) and 2013 (Current Year.) Notice the huge jump in contributions from 2012 to 2013 — the first year of the BS Campaign.

 
Top of PAL 2013

 

Here’s the same portion of Vote Alabama’s 2013 tax return, with its contributions also spiking in 2013.

 

 Top of Vote Alabama

 

Is it a coincidence that the so-called “directors” of PAL and Vote Alabama are both top officials with the Alabama AFL-CIO, and that the union worked in tandem with Alabama Power and Matrix to support Alabama Power before the Public Service Commission?

The following is from the AFL-CIO’s list of officers for 2014, from its tax return. As you can see, the president is Curtis A. (Al) Henley. Mike Fields is a district vice president. Bren Riley, whose name is below Henley’s, is one of the four board members of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), one of the primary Bullshit Delivery Groups.

 

 

Fields and Helney on AFL CIO

 

Below, Henley is shown speaking in support of Alabama Power at one of the heavily choreographed 2013 PSC meetings designed to allow the PSC to claim a serious review of Alabama Power’s rates. Dunn, who sought the type of formal rate hearings held by PSCs in other states, but not in Alabama in more than 35 years, called the hearings “dog and pony shows.”

Henley wore a sticker of the Bullshit Deliver Group JobKeeper Alliance; spoke on behalf of the AFL-CIO; and most certainly did not identify himself as the director of, “Vote Alabama.”

 

PSC Film Part 1 Old Man with JobKeepers Talking

Curtis A. “Al” Henley, speaking on Alabama Power’s behalf at one of the PSC’s “dog and pony” show hearings in 2013.

 

At another of the “dog and pony show” hearings, Mike Fields signed up to speak. Fields identified himself as a union official, praised Alabama Power, and neglected to disclose that he was being paid as a “consultant” by Alabama Power. Nor did he identify himself as being director of the, “Peoples Alliance for Leadership.”

Think of Fields as a witness at a trial who is secretly being paid by one of the parties, but doesn’t disclose it to judge and jury. Think of X as the party whose case is before that judge, and who is secretly paying the witnesses, and secretly bankrolling the election campaign of the judge.

Think of Tammany Hall, Y’all.

Below, a Facebook post by none other than PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh. She’s showing her many followers a picture of 60 Plus “vice president” Matthew Kandrach bumping his gums on Alabama Power’s behalf at one of the PSC’s “dog and pony show” hearings in 2013.

Clearly, Cavanaugh approved and promoted 60 Plus’s efforts. I strongly suspect the PSC president was well aware of who was paying 60 Plus, and why, and that she was told to tout 60 Plus as a means of raising the profile of a group otherwise unknown in Alabama.

As you will see  later on in this report, in 2013 and 2014, Tweedledee and Tweedledum combined to give more than $1.3 million to 60 Plus Association — a Bullshit Delivery Group if ever there was one.

 

Twinkle Touting Kandrach

 

The Dog and Pony Show was littered with such witnesses, their appearances, and words, choreographed by X and X‘s political consultants, and promoted by X‘s Queen Bee — Twinkle Cavanaugh.

 

twinkleandresscavanaugh_000

 

Below, Mike Fields: Union official, employee of Shelton State Community College; director of Peoples Alliance for Leadership; recent past member of the Alabama Port Authority and, from at least 2007 to 2014, a “consultant” on retainer with Alabama Power.

 

Mike Fields, member of State Port Authority, instructor at Shelton State Community College, Alabama Power consultant, and head of non-profit that has funded Dunn-bashing groups JobKeeper Alliance and PACE.

Mike Fields wears a lot of  hats.

In August 2013,  Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden outvoted Terry Dunn 2-1 in support of a decision that left Alabama Power’s rates and profits unchanged — despite false claims by Cavanaugh and Oden and the BS Groups that it would lead to lower rates.

Dunn told the press Cavanaugh and Oden were wrong — that the PSC’s action would not lead to lower rates.

Alabama Power was put in the embarrassing spot of having to publicly support the position of the target of the Bullshit Campaign, and refute the claims of their own toadies. Sorry customers, rates ain’t going down. We hate to make you look bad, Twinkle and Jeremy, but rates are not going down and we damn sure can’t have shareholders reading such nonsense!

 

AP Story rates to remain flat

 

Shortly after the vote, the AARP — which has always participated in PSC matters related to Alabama utilities — filed a brief asking the PSC to reconsider its decision. Dunn supported this request. Many of the Bullshit Groups filed letters and/or legal pleadings asking the PSC to reject AARP, as, of course, Cavanaugh and Oden did.

Below, one such letter, this one from “Vote Alabama” director Al Henley, on behalf of the AFL-CIO, and in support of Alabama Power, Cavanaugh, and Oden.

 

Henley letter for AFL CIO

 

Is it a coincidence that in 2008, both PAL and Vote Alabama received a total of $45,000 in contributions, and that, since then — with the birth of PACE in 2009 — both PAL and Vote Alabama have seen almost identical increases in funding every year?

Is it a coincidence that PAL and Vote Alabama both began funding PACE in 2010?

There seems little doubt that, in 2009, PAL and Vote Alabama funded PACE, but indirectly, through Alabama Power’s beloved Matrix LLC.

PACE’s tax returns for its first two years show it didn’t pay the salary for Lance Brown, its executive director, or anyone else. The court record below, filed by Brown, shows that his real employer in 2009 wasn’t PACE — it was Alabama Power’s longtime political consulting firm.

It’s accurate to describe PACE as an X-funded “subsidiary” of Matrix. 

 

LanceStatesEmployerandSalaryfromMatrix

 

If anyone, such as the folks from Matrix, Alabama Power, Vote Alabama, PAL or PACE asserts that I’m in error, I would dearly love for them to contact me and I’ll make the necessary corrections.

Is it a coincidence that in 2012, according to their tax returns, both PAL and Vote Alabama began funding a second non-profit, the JobKeeper Alliance, and that JobKeeper, like PACE, was created by Matrix?

 

joeperkins

Joe Perkins, founder and owner of Matrix LLC and Perkins Communications, and for decades, a paid consultant/political adviser to Alabama Power CEOs and governmental relations executives.

 

Is it a coincidence that in 2013 and 2014, the two years of the BS campaign, PAL and Vote Alabama received unprecedented levels of funding from X?

Is it a coincidence that, every time PAL takes a leak, so does Vote Alabama?

Is it a coincidence that, in 2013 — the first year of the BS campaign — both Vote Alabama and PAL began making payments to a third non-profit, the above-mentioned, 60 Plus Association?  (Below, a 60 Plus ad in the Montgomery Advertiser falsely accusing AARP of trying to increase power bills.)

 

60 Plus Mont Advertiser AD

 

I’ve made a list of the contributions to the BS Delivery Groups as disclosed by Vote Alabama and PAL on their 2013 and 2014 tax returns. The 2015 returns for these groups are unlikely to become available until November.

As you look at these numbers, note the similarities in the amounts and the identities of the recipients. If you do so, I’m not sure how you can conclude anything other than that the same source (X) both funds the two Checking Account Organizations, and dictates the use of those funds.

PEOPLES ALLIANCE FOR LEADERSHIP 2013

PACE: $315,000
JobKeeper Alliance: $180,402
60 Plus Association: $377,000
Total Grants, 2013: $1,191.333
 
Payments to unidentified consultants and lawyers: $146,478
Total spent by PAL in 2013: $1,019,776 
 

VOTE ALABAMA 2013

PACE: $229,000
JobKeeper Alliance: $281,875
60 Plus Association: $349,000
Total Grants, 2013: $859.875
 
Payments to unidentified consultants and lawyers: $133,700
Total spent by Vote Alabama in 2013: $994,700
 
I’ve highlighted the BS Groups which appeared for the first time in 2014. As you can see, most of the “new” recipients for PAL also received funding for the first time from Vote Alabama.
 
PEOPLES ALLIANCE FOR LEADERSHIP 2014
PACE: $316,000
JobKeeper Alliance: $305,000
60 Plus Association: $33,000
Alabama Coal Association: $220,000
Project Urban Renewal Energy (PURE): $77,000
Women of Will: $40,000
Alabama Free Market Alliance: $100,000
Alabama Citizens for Media Accountability: $100,333
Total Grants, 2014: $1,191.333
 
Payments to unidentified consultants: $344,175
Total spent by PAL in 2014: $1,535,682

VOTE ALABAMA 2014

PACE: $95,000
JobKeeper Alliance: $100,900
60 Plus Association: $582,000
Alabama Coal Association: $115,000
Project Urban Renewal Energy (PURE): $60,000
Women of Will: $20,000
Alabama Free Market Alliance: $115,000
Free Market America: $18,000
Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE): $7,500
Total Grants: $1,113,400
 
Payments to unidentified consultants: $516,175
Total spent by Vote Alabama in 2014: $1,630,645

TOTAL SPENT BY PAL AND VOTE ALABAMA IN 2013-2014: $5,180,803

That’s about $5.2 million, not $6 million. And not all of that $5.2 million was spent on the BS campaign. For example, PACE engaged in activities and spent money on matters separate from the BS campaign (other BS, just not the BS that’s the focus of this website.)

However, there were many participants in the BS campaign funded from sources other than PAL and Vote Alabama, and whose efforts and participation in the campaign have been chronicled on this website. They include other groups and associations, and political consultants funded directly by X, Alabama.

Until Alabama Power opens up its books,, there’s no way to know exactly how much was spent on the BS Campaign.

My estimation of $6 million — as opposed to, say, $5 million — is based on the company’s reports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or, FERC.

 

X won’t say, but I say $6 million: Here’s why

Among the line items on the extraordinarily detailed FERC reports is one that asks regulated utilities to disclose the amounts they spend on political activities, including lobbying and donations to the sort of groups that are the subject of this reporting.

First, some background on the enormity of Alabama Power’s political spending.

Past stories by Birmingham News columnist John Archibald have shown that Alabama Power’s political spending dwarfs that of other regulated utilities throughout the country, including utilities far larger than Alabama Power.

Archibald wrote one such story in October 2013, soon after Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden defeated Terry Dunn’s effort to reduce Alabama Power’s allowed profit level.

 

Archibald FERC 2013

 

Archibald reviewed the FERC reports of Alabama Power as well as the five largest regulated utilities in the country, for 2011, 2012, and the first half of 2013 — then the most recent figures available.

He was able to report that over that 2-1/2-year period, Alabama Power had spent $50.4 million — or more than twice that of Pacific Gas and Electric, the California utility giant that serves four times as many customers as Alabama Power.

 

FERC chart by Archibald

 

Archibald found that during the period he reviewed, Alabama Power spent $36 per customer on political influence — seven times more than Pacific Gas, the nation’s largest utility. The company’s political spending was four times that of Georgia Power, it’s Southern Co. sibling and a political power in its own right, in Georgia.

 

Some of the handiwork of the JobKeeper Alliance. JobKeeper director Patrick Cagle -- son of Alabama Power's long-time former head of corporate security -- is a go for the jugular type.

Am image from a video paid for by Jobkeeper Alliance — a key benefactor of X’s Dark Money operation. I would argue that Alabama Power doesn’t just spend far more than other utilities on political activities, but that it’s tactics are more aggressive and underhanded than any other utility in the country.

 

The Birmingham News/Al.Com columnist reviewed Alabama Power’s FERC reports going to back to 2003, and found that the company averaged spending $19.8 million a year from 2003 to 2012. That provides us with a very consistent baseline to which to compare the two years of the Bullshit Campaign.

For purposes of my review, I looked at the totals for the past five years — the two years preceding the campaign, the two years of the campaign, and 2015, the year after the campaign.

Below, those amounts, as reported by Alabama Power to FERC:

  • 2011: $20.1 million
  • 2012: $20.1 million
  • 2013: $23.9 million
  • 2014: $23.1 million
  • 2015: $20.8 million

The average for the two years preceding the campaign and the year after it: $20.3 million.

The average for the two years of the campaign: $23.5 million.

That comes to $3.2 million more per year during the BS campaign.

Double that, and you have $6.4 million.

Not perfect, mind you, but until X opens its books, I’m going with $6 million.

And, mind you, that’s not including the records sums — $1.1 million combined — contributed to the PSC campaigns of Alabama Power toadies Chip Beeker (vs. Dunn) and Jeremy Oden (vs. Kathy Peterson.) Alabama utilities, to include Alabama Power, are prohibited from contributing to PSC campaigns.

But you always know whose in the bag. It’s the candidates receiving huge sums from the coal industry, and led by Drummond Coal.

I have to believe that in some way — higher fees, payments to, etc. — the donors get their money back from X, which gets it from Alabama residents and businesses.

 

 ——————————————————————

 

morningstar

“This is about as good as it gets for electric utilities.”

           — Morningstar analyst Mark Barnett, writing about the rate of return on equity of almost 14 percent allowed by the Alabama Public Service commission for Alabama Power. Barnett described the ROE allowed by Alabama’s PSC as “remarkable” considering that state regulators throughout the country were cutting the returns of their state’s power companies. 

 ——————————————————————

 

If Vote Alabama and PAL are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the payroll department of X‘s Dark Money operation, then PACE and JobKeeper Alliance are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the Bullshit Delivery Groups.

So we’ll start with them, PACE first, because it was formed in 2009, three years before JobKeeper.

Another year, another big wad of cash for APCO shill ‘PACE’

Since 2010, when Vote Alabama and PAL first contributed to PACE, Tweedledee and Tweedledum have combined to give $1,319,500 of the $1,669,646 contributed to PACE, or roughly 80 percent of its funding.

So it was no great surprise that the 2014 returns showed that PAL and Vote Alabama accounted for $411,000 of the $510,000 that the long-time Alabama Power shill group reported receiving in 2014.

Whereas Patrick Cagle and the Jobkeeper Alliance specialize in rough play, PACE and “executive director” Lance Brown present a more civilized facade.

For example, PACE hosts conferences and symposiums in which big-wigs from Alabama Power and its sister companies join favored politicians and folks in the energy field. Panelists give speeches that everyone agrees with, otherwise they wouldn’t be invited to participate.

 

lance with ala powers zeke in back

Above, a shot from the Gulf Coast Energy Forum, co-hosted by PACE, that was held in 2014 in Mobile. Lance Brown is speaking. The photo on the screen is of Alabama Power vice president Zeke Smith.

 

But PACE was also a major player in the Bullshit campaign, both in an official capacity — as in, participating in the Alabama Power Dog and Pony Show hearings — and as a generator of BS.

For example:

In 2013, a small Birmingham film company called Gale Force Productions put many of its ads and short films on Vimeo (similar to YouTube.) Remarkable was the number of Dark Money groups and players in the BS campaign who Gale Force provided services to, including as well Matrix’s political and business clients. There were even ads for Alabama Power. (For that story, go to, In the Matrix: Alabama Power, PACE, JobKeeper, and the Gale Force Connection.)

The following is an April 2013 tweet by Gale Force owner Cameron Cardwell, announcing the posting of a new video called, “PACE Dunn.” 

 

PACEDUNN tweet

 

Below are two images from, “PACE Dunn” that illustrate the cross-pollination and team play of the BS Delivery Groups.

At the top of the first panel is a quote from Paul Reynolds, of the Alabama Free Market Alliance. It received $215,000 from PAL and Vote Alabama in 2014, and seems to have been incorporated solely to participate in the BS campaign.

As for Gov. Robert Bentley, I think he just gave quotes or read what he was told to say, as he did throughout the two year campaign.

The second panel shows a newspaper ad by PACE’s brother in BS, the JobKeeper Alliance.

 

PACE Dunn movie

 

Such was the cross-pollination and sharing of purpose that when “PACE Dunn” was posted on YouTube and promoted, it was done so not by PACE, but JobKeeper Alliance (see below.) The video, like many others after I started writing about them, has since been removed.

 

jobkeeperyoutubewithdunnandcloudystuff3_001

 

For some more cross-pollination, see the photo below. It shows PACE’s Lance Brown speaking at a conference held by Manufacture Alabama. That’s a well-known industry group whose director, George Clark, happens to be one of the founders of JobKeeper Alliance.

Manufacture Alabama, like so many of the BS groups, “intervened” on Alabama Power’s behalf before the PSC.

As can be seen, Brown is discussing the, “War on Coal,which posited the load of malarkey that Dunn was engaging in a war on coal and, thus, defeating Dunn was necessary to save “coal jobs.” 

 

Lance Brown 2013 War on Coal Manufacture Alabama

 

In this modern media/public relations era, social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, web-pages etc  — is a chief element of any organization’s effort to spread its message. I found it demeaning to scour the social media of the Bullshit Groups, and have done enough of it to require cleansing by 1,000 scalding hot showers.

But if you want to research and report on “Dark Money” groups, you pretty much have to hold your nose and do it.

Now that I’ve outed myself for trolling their crap, here’s one of many examples, from PACE. In these posts (below) from Aug. 13, 2013, PACE/Lance Brown can be seen:

  • Extolling the efforts of another BS group, Generation America, that “partnered” with PACE and hired a lobbyist as part of this grand partnership;
  • Praising PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh for voting for a rate reduction for Alabama Power, which as he and Cavanaugh knew — and as even Alabama Power had to acknowledge — was not true;
  • And praising the PSC’s decision to switch its regulatory “metric” for regulating Alabama Power’s rate formula from Rate of Return on Equity (profit), as used by all other PSCs in the country, to Weighted Cost of Equity, thus helping the Alabama PSC, and Alabama Power, conceal the level of favoritism shown the company. The obvious goal was to make it hard for the media and others to make an apples to apples comparison with other PSCs and power companies, though it’s still possible.

 

Lance Tweet One

Lance tweet two

 

Form a non-profit and, you, too, will be official. You will have “standing” to intervene in PSC hearings. 

Here’s PACE’s September 2013 filing with the Public Service Commission after AARP asked the PSC reconsider its decision to make a change that effectively changed nothing.

 

PACE against AARP filing

 

PACE’s brief was submitted by Mark White, the multi-hundreds of dollars per hour Birmingham lawyer engaged by PACE to provide the charade of legal muscle to its intervention. With White at the table, PACE was … Big Time.

In “Behind the Mask” — the Alabama Coal Association film funded by X’s Dark Money operation — White belittled attention given to ROE by critics of the Alabama PSC. He said ROE didn’t “directly” impact rates.

To which one might ask: If ROE is no big deal, why did X spend millions of dollars attacking the PSC commissioner who wanted to lower Alabama Power’s ROE; and why won’t the PSC reduce the company’s ROE to the national average?

Fair questions, it seems to me.

White — shown here in, “Behind the Mask” — is identified as an attorney with more than 30 years of utility regulatory experience. Not disclosed is that he was being paid by PACE, which was being paid by Vote Alabama and PAL, which gets its money from … X.

 

Mark White Behind Mask on ROE

 

According to its 990, in 2014, PACE paid Brown a salary of $145,000. The “non-profit” reported spending $179,482 on consulting services, to whom there is no way to know.

 

Tweedledee and Tweedledum only source of funds for JobKeeper in ’14

On its tax return for 2014, PAL reported giving $305,000 to JobKeeper, while Vote Alabama reported giving $100,900 to Jobkeeper. So, a total of $405,900 from Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

On its 990 for 2014, the JobKeeper Alliance reported receiving total contributions of … $405,900.

Thus: Every dime received by JobKeeper Alliance in 2014 came from Tweedledee and Darn-Tootin’.

 

 

BLAH BLAH

Patrick Cagle, head of the JobKeeper Alliance, from footage shot by Gale Force Productions, the small Birmingham video company whose clients included JobKeeper, PACE, 60 Plus Association, and a host of commercial and political clients of Matrix, including one called, Alabama Power. 

 

JobKeeper reported paying Cagle a salary of $84,033 in 2014. Co-founder and board member Stewart Burkhalter — longtime Alabama union leader and associate of Matrix’s Joe Perkins’– was paid $50,000.

Past stories on this site have made a strong case that JobKeeper is and always has been an operation of Matrix, but a recent discovery cemented the connection.

The image below shows Stewart Burkhalter as the “registrant” of what was then, in November 2011, a new web-site. The domain name, AlabamaJobkeeper.com, was ultimately not used. However, if you put that address in your browser, it will still take you to JobKeeper’s website — www.jobkeeperalliance.org.

As the image shows, AlabamaJobKeeper was registered by Sarah Churchman. She was and still is a web designer for Matrix. (Please don’t blame me, the messenger, that Matrix keeps cropping up everywhere. Trust me, I ain’t making this stuff up.)

 

Churchman does Jobkeeper website

In recognition of the number of players here, I will remind readers, again, that Matrix and Joe Perkins have provided political consulting services for Alabama Power for decades; and that X has steadfastly refused to describe the specific nature of those services or to reveal how much X pays for the “strategy and policy advice” Matrix provides. (See below, from 2011 story by Al.Com’s John Archibald.)

Sznadjerman on Matrix in 2011

JobKeeper Alliance was incorporated in March 2012, five months after Matrix’s web designer established the website. That’s when Cagle — whose father was for many years head of security for Alabama Power — came aboard. So the JobKeeper timeline would go: Matrix first, Patrick Cagle second.

Somewhat mystifying was JobKeeper’s disclosure that it spent $123,625 on lobbying in 2014. Though Cagle is a registered lobbyist, his salary covers that. One can only wonder how that money was spent, such as to whom. Similar questions regard an additional $63,268 JobKeeper reported spending on consulting.

That there’s no way to know who received this money and for what purposes is one of the reasons they call it, Dark Money.

 

June 2014 Lance and Patrick with one of congressmen

Lance Brown, at left, and Patrick Cagle, at right, during a 2014 trip to Washington by officials with Alabama Power and members of some of its shill groups. This photo is from a meeting with Mobile-area congressman Bradley Byrne.

 

In one of the tweets shown above, PACE’s Lance Brown wrote: “Cavanaugh votes for first reduction in Alabama customer in almost 25 years.” Twitter’s letter limits frequently lead to bad grammar. I suppose that explains why PACE used “customer” not customers, and didn’t use the word rates, which clearly belongs.

Going out on a limb here, but I suggest it was not a coincidence that JobKeeper’s tweet was the same as PACE’s, letter for letter. (See below, and under that, a tweet by JobKeeper blasting Terry Dunn.)

 

Cagle cavanaugh tweets

 

PACE and Jobkeeper were given front row seats next to one another at this PSC “dog and pony show” hearing on Alabama Power (see below). Mark White, the lawyer engaged by PACE, is at left, and JobKeeper’s Cagle is at right. Members of Alabama Power’s massive contingent of attorneys can be seen behind them.

 

pacelawyerandcaglegivenaseatatthetableasifimportant_002

 

In September 2014, Cagle bragged on Twitter and JobKeeper’s website about helping Byrne organize Alabama’s congressional delegation to support a request by Alabama Power asking the EPA to extend its “comment period” on regulations governing carbon emissions from power plants.

JobKeeper helps Byrne

 

This led me to Byrne’s congressional web-site in search of Cagle’s handiwork. Indeed, on the same day of Cagle’s tweet and website post, Byrne’s office issued a press release announcing that the Alabama congressional delegation had sent such a letter to the EPA asking it to extend the comment period.

 

Byrne Letter

 

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows Alabama politics. All Alabama politicians, Democrat and Republican, do as told by Alabama Power, nary a single one daring to risk upsetting all powerful APCO. That’s what makes Terry Dunn special, and worth fighting for. 

He knew Alabama Power would oppose his request for rate hearings, and when the Bullshit Campaign started, Dunn did not — as I believe X felt he would — back down.

The gutsiest politician in Alabama in recent memory — no contest.

 

dunn_header

From the Alabama Public Service Commission website, though this picture is no longer to be found there. Commissioner, Place 2 is now Chip Beeker, Alabama Power’s very own Charlie McCarthy.

 

Will close with another example of JobKeeper and PACE getting shot out of the same gun.

In 2013, both non-profits headed over to Mississippi when trouble started brewing for Mississippi Power’s Kemper plant, as in, the first public suspicions that the plant would go over budget and not meet its projected deadline.

Mississippi Power is of course Alabama Power’s sister company within Southern Co. Below are two tweets, one by PACE, the other by JobKeeper, both touting a new website promoting the Kemper project.

JOBKEEPER AND PACE AT SAME TIME SAME ARTICLE

The website, Mississippilignite.org, is put out by the National Black Chamber of Commerce — an organization funded by utilities and fossil fuel companies and groups, some of which receive funding from Southern Co.
 
In other words, more BS from more BS groups.

PAL, Vote Alabama pumped cash into Yellowhammer-related shill groups 

I’m working on a post about Yellowhammer News, including its role in the Alabama Power BS campaign. It will include a detailed look at the BS Groups funded by PAL and Vote Alabama in 2014 with connections to Yellowhammer.

For now, here’s a quick look at the funding those non-profits received.

Alabama Free Market Alliance: This non-profit formed by Birmingham-area Republican activist Paul Reynolds received $215,000 in 2014, all of which came from Vote Alabama and PAL.

Vote Alabama funneled $115,000 to the Alabama Free Market Alliance, and PAL ponied up $100,000.

 

Twinkle with Vicki Drummond and Paul Reynolds

Paul Reynolds, founder of the Alabama Free Market Alliance, enjoys a moment of levity with PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Vicki Drummond — member of the Drummond Coal family, and Alabama’s top official with the Republican National Committee. Something tells me these three couldn’t care less if Alabama residents, including the poor, and seniors of fixed incomes, have to, you know, pay a bit more each month to keep the lights on. What do you think?

 

In July 2014 — shortly after Beeker’s election but prior to him joining the PSC — Beeker, Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden held a press conference at the Alabama Coal Association to blast away at Obama’s “War on Coal.”

Paul Reynolds joined them at the press conference, which was dutifully reported by Yellowhammer News (see below.)          

 

bbbb

From left to right, Paul Reynolds of the Alabama Free Market Alliance, PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh, Commissioner Jeremy Oden and newly elected but not yet commissioner Chip “Faraway Eyes” Beeker.

     

Alabama Citizens for Media Accountability: The entire budget for 2014 for this non-profit was $100,333. All of it came from PAL.

The non-profit was for all practical purposes formed by Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims, who hired Elizabeth BeShears, an old friend from conservative political circles, to serve as its director.

After Citizens for Media Accountability closed up shop a the end of 2014, BeShears went to work at Yellowhammer News. The photo below shows the staff at Yellowhammer’s annual “Power and Influence” gala celebrating the top state level (Republican) politicians, lobbyists, and wealthy political donors in Alabama.

The event, like Yellowhammer News, serves to exalt, flatter, and shamelessly brown nose the Creme de la Creme of the Alabama Political Establishment. 

 

Yellowhammer Staff at Power One

Left to right: Elizabeth BeShears; unidentified staffer; CEO Cliff Sims; graphics designer Walker Miller; and News Chief Operating Officer Ryan Boggus. 

 

Free Market America: This D.C.-area non-profit headed by conservative media consultant Ryan Houck received $18,000 from Vote Alabama in 2014. 

Sims and Yellowhammer News have on numerous occasions promoted Houck’s work, including a YouTube featuring Houck called, “If I Wanted America to Fail.” The thrust of the video is that environmentalists and environmental policies will destroy the economy by causing massive increases in energy prices.

 

 

Yellowhammer and Free Market America

The “viral video star,” Ryan Houck, of the Bullshit Group, Free Market America.

 

Finally, if barely, Al.Com reports Yellowhammer connection to Swatek firm

On June 15, Birmingham News/Al.Com published an interesting feature listing its choices for the 10 Winners and 10 Losers from the recently concluded trial of Mike Hubbard.

 

Winners and Losers

 

On this site I’ve written a number of stories detailing the connections to and participation in the Bullshit Campaign against Dunn by Yellowhammer News and the political consulting/lobbying firm Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross.

I will not deny being disappointed that the state media, diminished though it is, has not written the First Word about Yellowhammer’s ties with the Swatek firm, or really, anything about Yellowhammer News. Has, in passing, acknowledged its existence a few times, but that’s it. 

 

Yellowhammer, working with members Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross, took a photo of Dunn and his daughter during an inaugural parade in Montgomery then photo-shopped stickers of “liberal” groups on the car, including the AARP, and the environmental groups GASP, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Center, and the Alabama Environmental Council. Cliff Sims then used the phony photo in a “news” story.

The Yellowhammer/Swatek firm relationship is a fascinating political story about a new kind of influence peddling and political propaganda, and the list of major players in Alabama politics involved in this charade is long.

And, yet, neither Al.Com, the Montgomery Advertiser, the Anniston Star, the Associated Press nor any other media outlet that pretends to cover politics in Alabama has touched it.

Totally gutless. The equal, in abatement of responsibility, to the failure of Mike Hubbard’s colleagues in the Legislature to remove him as speaker after he was indicted.

So, after years of playing “See No Evil,” it was a surprise to come across the following image for #8 in Al.Com’s Top Ten losers from the Hubbard trial. Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims is in the top left hand corner, and from there, clockwise, are: John Ross, Dax Swatek, and Tim Howe.

The pictures of each were taken during their testimony at the trial.

 Yellowhammer and Swatek Guys

 

Next to that image is the following one, explaining why Yellowhammer and these three members of the firm belonged on the Loser List. Again, brief though it is, I believe it’s the first time Yellowhammer has been linked to the “Hubbard machine” by anyone in the state media.

 

Yellowhammer swatek description

 

This falls short for many reasons. For one, never, such as with a single news story, has the state media, much less AL.Com, laid the predicate for the statement that Yellowhammer News is a “fake news site and PR arm of the Hubbard machine.”

Nothing ever, that I’m aware of, about the “Hubbard insiders” at Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross getting rich off their ties to the Speaker.

Would political insiders — to include readers of this website — get it?

Yes.

But the average reader?

Not likely.

And if what the “loser” post implies is true — and it is — how can Al.Com, and for that matter, the rest of the state political media, explain their failure to inform their readers that arguably the most powerful politician in state government — Mike Hubbard — was being supported for something like five years by a “fake news site” that served as his very own “PR machine”?

And, furthermore, that the “fake news site” was connected at the hip and brain to a Blue Chip lobbying/consulting firm with a long-running $96,000 a year State Contract — yes, State Contract! — to provide “strategic communications and public relations services” to Hubbard and members of the Republican caucus?

 

Swatek Team Picture

Firm Hubbard: Left to right, Tim Howe, David Azbell, Dax Swatek, John Ross (Azbell recently left the firm.)

 

How tight was the firm with Hubbard? This 2011 e-mail from Hubbard to Bob Riley, aired in one of the prosecution court filings in the Hubbard case, shows Hubbard telling Riley that members of the firm “do anything” he needs and put his interests “ahead of their paying clients.”

 

Hubbard and Swatek Firm and Riley

Only after Hubbard was buried under a guilty verdict did Al.Com so much as hint at what has been going on for years, regarding the Speaker, that firm, and Yellowhammer News.

Below, the top of a story published here more than two-and-a-half years ago, spelling out in detail, and with considerable supporting documentation, the seedy connection between Yellowhammer News and an Alabama lobbying/consulting firm with dozens of blue chip clients, including the Speaker of the House, Alabama Power, and its parent, Atlanta-based Southern Co.

 

Yellowhammer and Howe my story

 

What, too, would the average reader — even one who regularly visits Yellowhammer News — make of Al.Com connecting Yellowhammer’s Sims to three lobbying partners who testified at the Hubbard trial?

To my knowledge, neither Yellowhammer News nor  Cliff Sims were subjects of testimony in the Hubbard trial. If so, it wasn’t reported. Why, then, were Sims and Yellowhammer lumped in with three members of the Swatek firm on the “loser’s list?”

I know why. Montgomery insiders know. And, of course, everyone in the state media who covers politics knows why.

Because they are linked. Yellowhammer is, essentially, a secret publicity operation of the Swatek firm. The Swatek firm gets paid untold but assuredly large sums by Alabama Power, thus, Yellowhammer held nothing back in its attacks on Dunn and even Dunn’s chief of staff, David Rountree.

 

Dunn and AARP and yellowhammer

 

But the average reader, even regular readers of Yellowhammer News, many of whom have never heard of Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross?

The Yellowhammer/Swatek “losers” post served as a wink-wink for political insiders, a way for Al.Com to say they addressed the Elephant in the Room they’ve been avoiding for years.

At the end of the day, it’s far more likely that they confused, rather than edified, their readers.

Meanwhile, Yellowhammer, with its pricey, important-folks-only galas, has become a card-carrying member of the Alabama political and business establishment, and an integral part of the Alabama Power publicity machine.

Below, Gov. Robert Bentley speaks at the Alabama Economic Growth Summit, put on in February by Yellowhammer News and the Alabama Department of Commerce.

 

bentley at summitt

 

Co-sponsors included Alabama Power, Regions Bank, the Business Council of Alabama, and ACEGov, the controversial non-profit which has been revealed as having paid some of the salary of Rebekah Caldwell Mason, until recently, a very close adviser to Gov. Bentley.

The wife of Swatek firm member John Ross worked for Yellowhammer to put together the, “Alabama Economic Growth Summit.”

The image above comes from a report on the grand event by the Alabama News Center– Alabama Power’s very own news operation.

Should you wish to actually learn something about what Al.Com has only now hinted at, I would suggest, for starters, the following stories on this site: “E-mails Reveal Role of Power Co. lobbyists in Yellowhammer News;” “Were Laws Broken by Beeker Campaign, Alabama Consultant? You be the Judge;” and, “Questions to Yellowhammer’s Sims and Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross.”

Or you can go to the Search box on this website and type, say, Swatek and Yellowhammer. That should do it.

I’m nearing completion on another story about Yellowhammer News. The story will report additional connections between Yellowhammer,  the Swatek firm, and the “Dark Money” non-profits funded by PAL and Vote Alabama.

I’m thinking of calling it, “Yellowhammer: Brown-nosing the Alabama Establishment, $5,000 at a Time.”

 

Swatek Clients

This is from the bio of Dax Swatek, on his firm’s website. Of the clients he chose to put in the bio — and he had many choices — making the final cut were Alabama Power, its parent, Southern Co., and its cell phone subsidiary, SouthernLINC Wireless.

 

Still accepting tips on Yellowhammer and it’s co-conspirators, including tales of folks paying for favorable stories, etc. If you’ve got information and believe sinking that ship will help clean up Alabama’s rotten politics, bring it to my attention and I will do the best I can.

Will leave you with two of many mundane examples of Yellowhammer News’s  groveling, boot-licking coverage of Mike Hubbard, this being from December 2013, when Auburn coach Gus Malzhan was at a popularity peak.

 

Mike Hubbard, in another Yellowhammer scoop that somehow wasn’t deemed newsworthy by anyone else.

 

Gus Loves Mike!

And so does Yellowhammer News!

And, here, a Cute Story!

 

Hubbard with child

$60K to Catrena Carter’s ‘Women of Will,’ but for what?

In 2013, Catrena Norris Carter stunned fellow members of the Alabama League of Women Voters when she spoke at one of the Public Service Commission “dog and pony show” hearings on Alabama Power’s rates.

The League of Women Voters urged the PSC to conduct open and transparent proceedings, in keeping with the League’s “good government” and “open government” purpose. 

Carter shocked League colleagues when she spoke in support of Alabama Power and against the League’s position, both before the PSC, and in, “Behind the Mask,” the 17-minute film put out by the Alabama Coal Association and involving so many of the BS groups.

 

Behind the Mask Catrena Norris Carter Pro Alabama Power

 

In, “Behind the Mask,” Carter joined her friend, Southern Christian Leadership Council chairman Charles Steele, in blasting the League’s efforts before the PSC. Essentially, she stated that members of the League of Women Voters were wealthy elitists who didn’t care about black people.

“I was so excited to become a part of the League of Women Voters, but once these (Alabama Power) hearings started and I saw … I start to feel what was going on and what was happening, frankly I’m a little disappointed,” Carter said.

She said in the film that it became clear to her that the League had “underlying motives,” and their involvement had nothing to do with rates.

“We don’t see those people (the League) when they’re talking about cutting out food stamps and other real life issues, and now all of a sudden they’re concerned about peoples power bills,” she said. “We resent it, and I think it’s unfortunate that once again the poor and unprivileged gets prayed upon.”

 

Joyce-and-League-in-film

 

“Behind the Mask” included interviews with participants in the hearing who were told they were being interviewed by the Birmingham Times, a black-owned paper in Birmingham that receives funding from Alabama Power.

Among them was Joyce Lanning, an officer with the League of Women Voters.  The image above, of Lanning, is from, “Behind the Mask.”

Carter is perhaps unaware that poor people of all races use electricity, pay power bills, and that if Dunn had succeeded, the power bills of poor people would have gone down.

I called Carter twice and left detailed messages, but received no response. Her answering message states who she is and gives her affiliation with a non-profit called Women of Will.

Which is why I was calling.

Vote Alabama and PAL, our twin Checking Account Organizations, each sent funds to Women of Will in 2014. Vote Alabama gave $20,000 and PAL contributed $40,000, for a total of $60,000. (See below.)

 


Vote Alabama to Women of Will

 

PAL to Women of Will

 

How does Women of Will spend its money, such as, how much on salaries, how much on programs, etc?

Your guess is as good as mine. It appears that Catrena Carter’s non-profit has never filed a tax return. As a result, it’s impossible to know what Women of Will does with the funds it receives, or whether  those expenditures satisfy the criteria required of non-profits.

According to the IRS website, in May 2014, the agency revoked the non-profit status of Women of Will. The IRS did so because Women of Will had failed to file a tax return for three consecutive years. The image below shows the revocation.

 

Women of Will Revoked

 

Unlike the other non-profits discussed here, Women of Will is a 501(c)3 non-profit. In other words, a traditional charity. Contributions to it are tax deductible, but as a 501(c)3, it faces strict limits on political activity.

Whether it has abided by those restrictions, or any of the other laws governing non-profits, is anybody’s guess.

Below, a post from Twinkle Cavanaugh’s Facebook page from one of the Dog and Pony Show hearings. Cavanaugh regularly touted speakers who spoke on Alabama Power’s behalf.

Second from left, in the four panels at bottom, is Catrena Norris Carter, in the act of stabbing her friends at the League of Women Voters in the back.

 

cavanaugh psc meeting pic

Two-year tally for scandal-plagued 60 Plus tops $1.3 Million

Once X gave the big thumbs up to the Bullshit Operation, word got out that folks in Alabama with big bucks were looking for a ‘national-level’ Bullshit Group, someone with no ethics who would do as told, no questions asked, assuming the money was right.

Fulfilling this criteria were … the Clowns pictured below.

 

Pat Boone and Martin and CPAC

60 Plus chairman Jim Martin presents Pat Boone with the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from the Conservative Action Committee, or C-PAC, in 2011. The famous crooner serves as the National Spokesperson for 60 Plus. 

 

Good luck calling the 60 Plus Association and getting a real person on the phone.

As best as I can tell, 60 Plus is little more than a one-office, D.C.-area Super PAC masquerading as a non-profit that pretends to care for seniors.

What it really does is take in millions of dollars a year to spend on elections or issues chosen by the donors, provide advertising, propaganda, public relations and the like as directed by the donors — and no doubt generated by the donors — then take some off the top to pay themselves. Basically, an ad firm masquerading as a non-profit that loves old folks.

In January 2014,  I did my first story on 60 Plus’s role in the Bullshit campaign. While researching the group I came across some outstanding stories by Arizona Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo addressing 60 Plus’s activities in Arizona on behalf of that state’s power company and before Arizona’s utility regulatory agency. (Below, an image from one of 60 Plus’s ads in Arizona, in 2013.) 

 

60PlusadinArizona

 

Under pressure from Randazzo, the power company — the Arizona Public Service Co. — refused to admit routing money to 60 Plus and another “dark money” group. The reporter kept at it, and months later, the company admitted it has routed money through one non-profit and to 60 Plus, though refused to provide details.

This is an identical arrangement to what assuredly has happened in Alabama — with Vote Alabama and PAL being the “middle men” in the operation. The difference is that in Arizona, the mainstream media went after it, while in Alabama, the reporting has been limited to, well, a self-funded, one-person web-site.

My first story on 60 Plus, and which reported Randazzo’s work and the similarities between 60 Plus’s activities in Arizona and Alabama, is Here. Below, the top of the report.

 

60 Plus my first story

 

In addition to the negative attention it’s received in Arizona — as a result, again, of that state’s media — 60 Plus has been dogged by well-supported accusations of questionable financial activities.

In 2014, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS accusing 60 Plus of under-reporting, on its tax returns, more than $10 million it received from groups led by the conservative Koch brothers.

This money was spent on congressional campaigns throughout the country, for ads supporting Republican candidates. Having been caught, 60 Plus filed amended returns.

Last month (July 13), the Federal Election commission fined 60 Plus and two related groups a total of $233,000 for violating FEC rules during 2010 congressional campaigns and related to the watchdog’s complaint. (Below, from the New York Times story reporting the fines.)

 

60 Plus in NY Times

 

Accusations of impropriety have even come from within 60 Plus.

In February, founder Jim Martin sued 60 Plus president Amy Noone Frederick, claiming she engineered his ouster. He also accused her of secretly authorizing payments of almost $800,000 to companies owned by her husband.

This sort of general financial dubiousness is no doubt what qualified the 60 Plus Association to participate alongside the other luminaries in the BS Campaign to Raise Power Rates in Alabama.

The recently ousted Frederick is in the picture below (in blue dress) watching Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, saying what he’s been told to say during an October 2014 press conference.

 

Bentley Oct 7 press conference

One of the chief means that the BS Groups have used to promote their anti-Dunn and pro-Alabama Power propaganda is the press conference. On Oct. 8, 60 Plus held one of these at the Capitol, and featured Bentley. The affable governor always finds time for the Alabama Power shill groups. 

 

The tax returns for PAL and Vote Alabama tell us that in 2014, the two tied-at-the-hip non-profits combined to give a hearty $615,000 to the “60 Plus Association.”

The biggest chunk, by far, came from Vote Alabama, as shown by the disclosure below from its tax return.

 

Vote Alabama to 60 Plus

 

When added to the $726,000 that Vote Alabama and PAL gave in 2013, the total take for 60 Plus for it’s services for X in those two years comes to $1,341,000.

As in, $1.3 million and change.

As the 60 Plus Association so ably demonstrated, you can generate a lot of Bullshit and pay for a lot of ads with $1.3 million.

 

60 Plus Flier

One side of a flier mailed to Alabamians by 60 Plus in 2013.

 

 

Among its contributions to the Bullshit Campaign were op-eds published in Alabama papers by Martin and Kandrach, the “vice president.” Here’s the top of one such letter, with Martin assailing Dunn as a “champion of liberal groups” with a “twisted agenda.”

I would bet my pretty darn good if somewhat dated album collection that someone at Matrix or Alabama Power wrote this letter.

 

60 Plus Martin alcom one

60 plus op ed insert

Salinas Dunn insert

 

In September 2013, when the AARP joined Terry Dunn in urging the PSC to reconsider its decision not to hold rate hearings or decrease Alabama Power’s profits, 60 Plus joined many of the other Bullshit Groups in submitting official type  letters to the PSC that were entered into record of the case.

All urged the PSC to reject Dunn and the AARP and, the upshot, ensure that Alabama Power maintained its top ranking as the American utility with the highest allowed profits, towering over the national average profit for other investor-owned utilities.

In a class to themselves, you might say. And 60 Plus — which of course only cares about the seniors — urged the PSC to reject Dunn and the liberals, and their efforts to ….  lower the power bills of “conservative seniors.”

 

60 Plus intervenes

 

60 Plus files its 990s based on a calendar year ending June 30 of each year. I have the 990 for the year ending June 30, 2014. Numerous e-mail and phone messages to 60 Plus and seeking its tax return for the year ending June 30, 2015 — which should have been filed by now — have not been returned.

As noted above, non-profits must disclose the identities of vendors who are paid more than $100,000, or the top five highest paid vendors, if there are more than five who were paid more than $100,000.

The 990 covering the year that began July 1, 2013, and concluded June 30, 2014, shows that 60 Plus paid $400,485 to the Birmingham advertising firm Big Communications.

This well-known firm counts Alabama Power among its clients. (Below, an image from the 990.)

60 PLUS to BIG Communications

 

That money would have been for ads related to 60 Plus’s efforts on behalf of Alabama Power at the PSC. So, going backwards, you start with Big Communications, back to 60 Plus, back to PAL/Vote Alabama, and then to X.

Which is?

In late 2013, with the Dunn-Beeker campaign about to get hot, 60 Plus announced the opening of a its very own Alabama chapter, to be headed by north Alabama conservative activist Apryl Marie Fogel.

This scoop was reported first — and only, I believe — by a certain online “news” publication.

 

YellowCrap announces 60 Minus Chapter

 

I sought the most recent 990 because 60 Plus continued to play a role in the BS Campaign after June 2014. There was, for example, the Pat Boone robocalls for Chip Beeker shortly before the July 2014 run-off.

After Beeker won, 60 Plus did its share to promote the story-line that Obama and the EPA were causing dramatic increases in power rates. This was cover for the rate increase coming in December that neither Alabama Power nor the PSC warned was coming, until it happened.

The “news hook” for the press conference featuring Bentley and 60 Plus “top brass” from Washington was a study purportedly commissioned by 60 Plus called, “Energy Bills Challenging to Alabama’s Seniors.”

The Bentley press conference and “key findings” of the 60 Plus study were reported by an Alabama-based on-line news site.

 

YellowHammer Bentley press conference

 

Actually, two Alabama-based online publications.

 

Bentley and API 60 Plus

 

On Nov. 20, Ms. Fogel and 60 Plus held a, “War on Coal” event in Troy with brand new PSC commissioner Chip Beeker.

On that day, Beeker was two weeks from his first PSC meeting — and his vote to raise Alabama Power’s rates.

 

Beeker at 60 Plus Event poster

 

60 Plus appears to have shuttered its Alabama operation soon after the December 2014 vote by the PSC to raise rates.

Not once since than has 60 Plus held a press conference at the Statehouse. No more public meetings, such as with Chip Beeker assailing the EPA over its, “War on Coal.”

 

Chip Does Troy

Chip Beeker in Troy, with 60 Plus. If you figure out who was really paying for this event, call Chip and tell him you know one of his secrets

 

The Alabama Chapter of the 60 Plus Association still has a web-site, but there’s been nothing added to it since the announcement of the November 2014 “War on Coal” event in Troy.

The last post on its Facebook page with any actual connection to Alabama was in January 2015.

The post told the four or five people other than me who’ve ever been to the site that the three members of the PSC were blaming Obama for skyrocketing energy prices — this, a month after they, without prodding from Obama, raised rates by five percent.

The Facebook post was actually a link to a story published by an Alabama-based on-line news site.

 

Last Post by 60 Alabama about Alabama

 

In June, after well over a year of silence in our environs, the 60 Plus Association popped up with another op-ed in Al.Com. It was by Kandrach, the “vice president.”

Al.Com doesn’t investigate Alabama Power’s Dark Money campaign, but when the BS Groups want some newspaper space to deliver BS, Al.Com always accommodates.

 

Kandrach

 

I have not read Kandrach’s piece, but it’s on my bucket list.

 

Bankrolling the Alabama Coal Association’s ‘War on Coal’ and ‘Coal Jobs Count’

The companion piece to this post — “The Rock Star, and the Coal Jobs Count Con” — examines the “War on Coal” campaign that was integral to the BS Campaign; and examines a lead player in that effort, the non-profit, Coal Jobs Count.

In case you don’t have time for that now, here’s a summary of the funding from the tax returns.

In 2014, Vote Alabama gave $220,000 to the Alabama Coal Association, and PAL gave it $115,000, for a total of $335,000.

 

PAL2COAL JOBS

 

Vote Alabama to Alabama Coal Association

 

The Alabama Coal Association is also a non-profit and, thus, must file a 990. It’s tax return for 2014 showed, among other things, that it received and spent more than $1.1 million 2014 — more than double its expenditures in any of the previous four years, and probably ever.

Below, an image from the Alabama Coal Association’s film, “Behind the Mask.” It shows a man hired by Yellowhammer News and paid to get footage of the “environmental protesters” outside the PSC’s June 2013 hearing on Alabama Power.

The coal association and Yellowhammer produced separate videos featuring footage of the “environmental protest” and the not very subtle connections made to Dunn.

 

 

Behind the Mask They Like one of PSC commissioners a lot

 

The coal association’s 990 contained an odd line item, showing that it spent $293,698 on what it called, “War on Coal.” (See below.) The sum is not broken down, such as to say what went into this, “War on Coal.”

 

War on Coal in 2014 Expenses

 

Payments to Matrix? Payments related to “Behind the Mask,” and the association’s campaign against Terry Dunn? No way to know.

As previously explained, the IRS doesn’t require such groups to identify their donors. but if a non-profit contributes to another non-profit, the donor non-profit must disclose the recipient. And in 2014, the coal association gave to another non-profit: $43,498, to Coal Jobs Count.

 

to coal jobs count

 

Though it took some time to get it, I requested, from the coal association, the 990 of Coal Jobs Count. It declared itself a non-profit, and its board members and incorporators were also board members of the coal association. That’s the argument I made and it eventually won the day.

Coal Jobs Count reported on its 990 that it spent a total of $193,034 in 2014 on an “advertising campaign run to educate the public about the importance of coal jobs.” (See below.)

 

Coal Jobs Count AD campaign total

 

Perhaps some of that money went into bringing the bogus ethics complaint against David Rountree, Terry Dunn’s chief of staff. The named complainant was a Tuscaloosa miner, John Box, who figured in the Coal Jobs Count’s ad campaign.

Box’s complaint was published in Yellowhammer News days well before it arrived in the mail at the Ethics Commission.

 

yellowhammerstorywithlinktotheletter

 

“It’s time to pull back the Mask, and let Alabama, know the truth”

— The last line in the Alabama Coal Association’s film, “Behind the Mask.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

 Behind the Mask Nelson Brooke

Britt and ‘Alabama Political Reporter’ belonged on Hubbard Winner’s List

In September 2013, when I was just starting on this project, I sent an e-mail to House Speaker Mike Hubbard asking about a host of issues, including his relationship with Yellowhammer News and Alabama Power.

The primary subject of my inquiry was a meeting in Hubbard’s office. He had summoned Terry Dunn for what the PSC commissioner was led to believe would be a one-on-one chat with the Speaker.

Instead, it was Hubbard and several staff members. Dunn said he was blindsided by questions not just from Hubbard, but the staffers, some of whom read quotes of Dunn’s from news stories and about his positions on Alabama Power’s rates.

Hubbard’s staff took notes during a meeting Dunn said was a clear attempt to intimidate him and get him to drop his demands for rate hearings and a lower allowed profit for Alabama Power.

 

 

This logo was used often on the Alabama Political Reporter's stories on Hubbard.

This logo was used often on the Alabama Political Reporter’s stories on Hubbard.

 

In my e-mail — sent to Hubbard and two top members of his staff — I included a couple of questions about the then recently revealed $12,000 a month “consulting agreement” between Hubbard/the Auburn Network and the Southeast Alabama Gas District.

Within a week of sending it, I got a call from Bill Britt of the Alabama Political Reporter. At the time, I didn’t know him, nor anything about the Alabama Political Reporter.

I was, to put it mildly, surprised to learn that a reporter was aware of my e-mail to Hubbard, and, not only that, was going to do a story on it, as in, before I’d written anything.

I asked that he not do so, but to my chagrin, he did (top of story, below, link to story Here).

Me and Alabama Political Reporter

 

More than anything, Britt’s call told me one thing: That Mike Hubbard had a leak, a mole, if you will. It seemed unlikely that my e-mail was the lone piece of information leaked to the owner/main reporter for a publication that, as I soon discovered, seemed to exist for the purpose of tormenting Hubbard.

Which brings us to the Al.Com Hubbard trial ‘loser list.’

If Yellowhammer News and Cliff Sims belonged on the loser list — and they did — then what might be called Yellowhammer’s enemy publication — the Alabama Political Reporter — belonged on the Winners List.

One of the many problems with Yellowhammer is that, with rare exceptions, the “news” it reports barely qualifies as such. (Its story in March on one of Bentley’s love talk recordings being a rare exception).

The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) differs in this respect in that it does break stories, and, perhaps best of all, publishes court filings — info ”in the raw” — such as from the Hubbard case.

 

Alabama Political Reporter Head

The top of Bill Britt’s story reporting that Hubbard was found guilty. Britt is the fellow at left.

 

This is not the same as saying I’m a unqualified admirer of APR. Like Yellowhammer, it surely has secret funders with enemies APR serves to savage.

And, like Yellowhammer, much of what’s on the site is blithering non-news, such as stories “reporting” that Bradley Byrne or Martha Roby or Jeff Sessions or Richard Shelby or all four in unison have on this or that day said something about Obama destroying America.

 

API Protects its Right Flank

 

APR and Yellowhammer “compete” to bring Alabamians this sort of thing. I’m sure APR does this to cover its right flank so it can appear “Alabama conservative” while it goes after Hubbard and other state-level Alabama Republicans.

Again, though, if you read the stories that are actually stories, you can learn something on the site, and that’s sort of the purpose of news sites, right? Factor in the bias, yes, you might want to do that, but once done, you can learn something about state government on the Alabama Political Reporter.

The only meaningful thing you can learn from Yellowhammer News is who’s in and who’s out with the Establishment, or rather, the favored members of it, as determined by the lobbing/political consulting firm now known as Swatek Howe & Ross and their clients, foremost being Alabama Power.

 

yellowbeeker

Alabama Power consultant and Swatek firm partner John Ross served as the secret campaign manager to Chip Beeker. 

 

Yellowhammer News is a place to read the tea leaves, nothing more, nothing less.

When I saw the Yellowhammer stories with previously unreported love-talk recordings between Gov. Bentley and Rebecca Caldwell Mason, the greatest revelation wasn’t what the pair said (you could barely stay awake through it), but that Yellowhammer — and thus, the Establishment — was throwing Bentley to the Wolves.

 

Yellowhammer Bentley Recordings

 

Bentley had to know, when he saw this story, that the Big Bad Wolf was knocking at his door. If he didn’t know already, this was the sign that the Establishment was now the Enemy.

Bentley knew then that he was, “Friendless in Montgomery.”

More to the point of this project, Britt and the Alabama Political Reporter are no more likely than Yellowhammer (or for that matter, the mainstream media) to dig into the “Dark Money” efforts by Alabama Power to control the Public Service Commission.

You might say that when it comes to Alabama Power, the noses of Cliff Sims and Bill Britt are interchangeable and tinted brown.

 

bill-britt

Bill Britt — owner, editor and main reporter for the Montgomery-based Alabama Political Reporter — and not Mike Hubbard’s best pal. 

 

When APR “reports” on the PSC or PSC campaigns, it does so like a referee wearing an Alabama Power jersey underneath its pinstripes.

For example, Yellowhammer and the Alabama Political Reporter both ran stories touting the taped robocall endorsement of Chip Beeker by 60 Plus “national spokesman” Pat Boone, days before Beeker defeated Dunn in the July 2014 Republican run-off.

Both identified Boone as the “legendary entertainer.”

First, Sims and Yellowhammer.

 

BLAH BLAH

 

And, here, APR’s report on the endorsement by Pat Boone, who, it is said, inherited Dick Clark’s anti-aging vitamin stash after Clark’s passing.

 

ala political reporter and boone

 

Here’s Beeker, on his Facebook page, linking to APR’s story and thanking the “Legendary Singer” from California who probably doesn’t know the Alabama Public Service Commission from the Alabama Board of Cosmetology.

 

Beeker thanks Boone

 

Don’t ever accuse Chip Beeker of not being grateful for the all the Mystery Money spent on the Bullshit Campaign that propelled him to a spot on the PSC. He’s like a kid in a candy store.

And yet I’m not at all sure that he’s bright enough to realize that the only endorsements he got were paid for by the company he was seeking to regulate. Beeker probably thinks Pat Boone really likes him.

More of same below, with Bill Britt’s publication “reporting” that Twinkle Cavanaugh and the shill group Coal Jobs Count were piling on Terry Dunn.

And let’s be honest. Dunn deserved it. Anyone on the Alabama Public Service Commission who wants to lower the power bills of Alabama residents and businesses should be tarred, feathered, Yellow-hammered, and in this case, APR’d.

 

Alabama Political Reporter for Cavanaugh vs dunn

 

Not being facetious: You could have taken this article, run it word for word in Yellowhammer News, and Cliff Sims wouldn’t have known the difference.

One could make the case that Britt and the Alabama Political Reporter belonged not just on Al.Com’s Hubbard Trial winner’s list, but the loser’s list as well.

Pretty soon, they won’t have Mike Hubbard to kick around, thus leaving APR without its long-time, core subject matter.

It will be interesting to see if state Democratic Party’s version of Yellowhammer News can survive as something other than the Mike Hubbard Demon From Hell Daily Gazette.

Early signs indicate the publication is forging ahead with actual news reports unrelated to Hubbard, though, again, with APR, like Yellowhammer, one must always be aware of the possibility of a hidden, cash-bearing hand.

 

$137,000 for Georgia-based, Alabama Power-connected PURE

At the risk of being repetitive, a purpose of this project is to get Alabama Power to admit its connections to and funding of PAL and Vote Alabama.

The good thing about Project Urban Renewal Energy (PURE) is that X can’t possibly deny a connection to this non-profit that benefited greatly in 2014 from the generosity of the two Checking Account Organizations.

As the images below show, PAL gave $77,000 to PURE in 2014, and Vote Alabama contributed $60,000, for a grand total of $137,000.

 

PURE from PAL

 

PURE from Vote Alabama

 

Atlanta-based PURE was incorporated in 2014 by Djuan Coleon, its executive director. According to Coleon’s bio on PURE’s website, his previous work included owning a digital media services company whose clients included Alabama Power.

PURE’s website and Facebook page show that Coleon and the non-profit have engaged in a host of activities, including holding symposiums, promoting recycling on college campuses, and taking positions on the Flint water crisis.

Unlike the other non-profits covered in this project, there’s no connection, or not one I’ve found, to the Alabama Public Service Commission.

But PURE’s connections to Alabama Power are undeniable.

The following are images from two conferences/symposiums held by or involving PURE. Alabama Power — and especially Nick Sellers, the company’s vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs — is all over the place.

The first shows Alabama Power as a co-host — with PURE and the Southern Christian Leadership Council — for a panel held in 2014 called, “Building Sustainable Communities.” The man in the background is ubiquitous SCLC chairman Charles Steele.

 

PURE and Charles Steele and Alabama Power Event

 

The photo below was taken at the event. At left is John Hudson, vice president of marketing and development at X; and, at right, Nick Sellers. I don’t know the identify of the man in the middle and the photos did not include the names of those pictured.

 

Nick Sellers at PURE Event

 

This next image, from PURE’s Facebook page, is from another event, called, “The Future of Energy: Crafting a Millennial Energy Agenda.” Panelists included Sellers and Coleon.

X was a co-sponsor of the event.

 

January 2015 Event

 

Sellers speaks at the event, which was held in Birmingham. Coleon is on the left.

 

Sellers and Coleon

Nick Sellers worked for Joe Perkins at Matrix before coming to Alabama Power. Perhaps someone in the state media can ask Sellers about Vote Alabama, PAL, and all the rest. 

 

I tried several times to call the number listed on PURE’s website but there was no answer or message. I sent e-mails to Coleon via its website but received no response.

The messages included requests for a copy of its PURE’s 990 for 2014, which I could not find on any of the sites that publish 990s.

And a relative pittance, $7,500, for CURE

Washington D.C.-based non-profit Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE) is run by Star Parker. She is described on its website as a leading black conservative who has written opinion pieces for major newspapers and appeared on many TV news shows.

 

CURE Art

 

Why a non-profit calling itself Vote Alabama would pay a Washington D.C. outfit called CURE is beyond me, but it wouldn’t have been by accident. Since CURE only got $7,500, and I don’t get paid anything for doing this, I didn’t try very hard to find out.

I did see where Parker wrote a piece in 2012 that was published in Yellowhammer News.

She — and CURE — have been very critical of the Environmental Protection Agency, as have many of the non-profits funded by PAL and Vote Alabama.

This year, Parker endorsed Republican Tim Echols for re-election to the Georgia Public Service Commission. Echols is regarded as a solid “pro-Georgia Power” vote on Georgia’s PSC. (See endorsement below).

 

Start Parker for Tim Echols

 

PACE and JobKeeper Alliance are also Echols boosters.

Clearly, Echols has the “Alabama team” — and CURE! — behind him.

Spineless: Alabama media AWOL on state’s real Dark Money scandal

The failure of the state media to address Alabama Power’s Dark Money campaign is all the more perplexing considering that, without their reporting, there would have been no such campaign.

Al.Com and others immediately recognized how unusual it was — bizarre even — for a member of the Alabama Public Service Commission to cross Alabama Power, and they made Dunn’s request for rate hearings, and possible rate reductions, into a major state political story.

Al.Com’s J.D. Crowe captured the gist of the early coverage perfectly in this cartoon from January 2013 — one of a number by Crowe on the subject.

 

GGG

 

In September 2013, for reasons explained elsewhere on this site, I began researching Jobkeeper Alliance and PACE, and their connections to Matrix and Alabama Power/Southern Co. That quickly led me to Terry Dunn’s situation.

Though a subscriber to the paper, I confess that I had not been paying attention to the Dunn/Alabama Power story. But there were tons of stories by Al.Com and others that allowed me to play catch up. (I collected links to many of those stories and those are Here.)

Some of the stories reported on Dunn’s complaints that people and organizations clearly allied with Alabama Power were conducting a “smear campaign” against him.

In late January 2013 — again, early in the Bullshit campaign — Montgomery’s WSFA did an excellent story reporting complaints by Dunn and his chief of staff, David Rountree, that they were being falsely linked to environmentalists, liberals, Obama and the like.

The story, PSC commissioner claims smear campaign targets him” — reported, as did other media, that PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh had issued a press release blaming “environmental extremists” on Dunn’s demand for formal hearings.

This is hardly surprising, since Cavanaugh was clearly a participant and co-conspirator in the Bullshit campaign.

 

TV Smear campaign story

 

In early October 2013, I introduced my website and the four-part video that I’d slaved over, to say nothing of spent several thousand dollars on, only a fraction of which has been recouped in donations. I did a press release and shot it out to the state media.

I was sure the state media would run with my findings, take it into the end zone, and render future efforts by me unnecessary.

Didn’t happen.

Two months later, Al.Com’s Archibald wrote a column called, The Weaponization of the Environmentalist.” It contained the following:

           “He (Dunn) and his chief of staff were vilified in fliers and YouTube videos and commentaries by groups such as JobKeeper Alliance, which has carried water for utilities and coal interests, which sat at the table at the informal PSC rate hearing in support of Alabama Power.” (You should read former Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran’s take on that one at here.) (link to my website)

That tee-niny reference is, as best as I can gather, the only plug my work has received in the state media. While credit would be nice, the far greater disappointment has been the failure of the state media to report this website’s many findings and hold Alabama Power and others accountable for their actions.

Like, well, the Arizona media, such as in the example below.

 

Arizona dark money to corporation commission

An example of the Arizona Republic’s relentless digging into that state’s use of ‘Dark Money’ to secretly control that state’s utility regulatory body.

 

Discovering the existence of Vote Alabama and PAL, and revealing their role in funding PACE and JobKeeper, and later, the 60 Plus Association (and now, in this post, many others as well) was a significant find. I was sure the state media would run with it, and the related discovery that PAL’s Mike Fields was on a paid retainer from Alabama Power, and had been for years.

The first story on PAL and Fields connections to Alabama Power was reported in March 2014, and like all my posts, was e-mailed to the media and others. Here is the top of that story:

 

Mike Fields first story

 

As with all my posts, I provide substantial documentation. For example, that story and subsequent reports on Fields have included the relevant portions of his financial disclosures with the Ethics Commission, required because he is a state employee and was a member of the governing board of the Alabama State Docks.
 
Most of his disclosures identified Alabama Power by name, though his report for the year 2014 — year two of the BS campaign — did not. I’d exposed him by then, and I think he was trying to sneak it by. Clearly, though, X is the “electric” utility referred to in Fields report covering payments to him in 2014.

 Mike Fields Ethics for 2014

 

The payments to Fields, as the court record below show, had been going on since at least 2007. 

 

Fields 2007 payment from Alabama Power

Why was Alabama Power paying $24,000 a year to an officer in the United Mine Workers who was also a member of the highly influential Port Authority board and “director” of a non-profit that only does one thing — take in whopping sums of money and dole it to non-profits that do Alabama Power’s bidding?

A good question. Not, mind you, one that anyone in the Alabama media has ever asked of the company. They covered the hell out of Dunn’s efforts before the PSC, praised Dunn’s courage in editorials, and, in the case of John Archibald, reported extensively on the enormous sums spent by Alabama Power on politics.

But get to the bottom of the Dark Money “smear campaign” against Dunn?

It might as well not have happened.

Not, mind you, that Al.Com has ignored the influence of “Dark Money” in Alabama politics. To the contrary. But, like this recent article (see below), Alabama’s largest media operation carefully keeps its coverage of the issue within the tiny, safe confines of its coverage on Robert Bentley, Alabama’s hapless, friendless goofball governor. 

Bentley Dark Money

In early 2015, a non-profit called the, “Alabama Council for Excellent Government,” or ACEGov, was formed for the purpose of advocating for Bentley’s legislative priorities. Among the incorporators was R.B. Walker, at the time a top Alabama Power lobbyist.

Last September, stories in Al.Com reported that Bentley’s top political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, was not being paid by the state, but from other sources, apparently including ACEGov. 

Al.Com fell in love with “Dark Money” through ACEGov. It was Dark Money this, Dark Money that. I was just sure, because of Walker’s role with ACEGov, that the media would call Alabama Power and ask if the company had helped fund ACEGov.

From there, it was just a step away from asking about the $6 million BS campaign.

ACE donation

But no calls to Alabama Power were made, not for six months, not until late March, after the release of taped phone calls between Bentley and Mason.

Finally, Alabama Power got a call and a question: Did the company donate to ACEGov?

Michael Sznajderman told the Montgomery Advertiser that while Alabama Power knew that R.B. Walker was one of the incorporators, the company “was ‘not involved in that group directly or indirectly’ and had not made any contributions to ACEGov.”

Would it be so hard to call Sznajderman and ask the same question about: Vote Alabama, PAL, PACE, JobKeeper Alliance, 60 Plus, and on and on?

Mason Dark Money

One of many examples since last September of Al.Com kicking Dark Money Ass.

Only two news organizations — Bloomberg, and the Atlanta-based Energy Wire — have to any degree tackled Alabama Power’s Dark Money campaign. I will analyse both stories, primarily to show where and why they fell short, in the hope that future reporters won’t make the same mistakes.
 
The Energy Wire story — “Corporate and environmental front groups emerge influential in Southeast solar battles  — was published in June 2015. It examined efforts by “front groups,” including PACE, to influence battles over solar power policy between power companies and environmental groups before PSCs in Southeastern states.
 
The following is from the story, and addresses the payments to PACE and JobKeeper Alliance by Vote Alabama and PAL:
Energy Wire Story

It would have been swell for the Energy Wire to credit this website, because that’s where they learned every last one of the above reported facts, and much else as well that was in the story. But I’ve long since accepted that’s just not going to happen.

It would appear that the reporters at Energy Wire asked Alabama Power if the company provided money to Vote Alabama and PAL. I say appears because there’s no way to know for certain based on how it was reported. Here’s the key paragraph, emphasis mine:
 
       Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman told Energy Wire that the company had not donated to PACE. However, he said the company did support organizations that partner with PACE.
 
There’s vague, and then there’s that paragraph. The first part was OK. Donate is a very clear word, and “had not donated to PACE” is equally clear. Then it falls apart.
 
There is no way of knowing with any degree of certainty what Sznajderman meant by “support organizations that partner with PACE.”  I assume it means provide funding to, but assume is not good enough. Worse, there’s no way to know who is being referred to by “organizations that partner with PACE.”
 
Again, I assume that refers to Vote Alabama and PAL. But PACE partners with a lot of organizations. As for PAL and Vote Alabama, they don’t engage in any activities whatsoever that anyone could “partner with.”

 

schanderman

Alabama Power chief spokesman and former Birmingham News reporter Michael Sznajderman. His job would be a whole lot harder if the Alabama media followed the lead of the Arizona media.

 
 
 I would love nothing more than to be able to report that X confirmed to Energy Wire that it has provided funding to Vote Alabama and PAL. But I can’t do that.
 
 Provide “support (for) organizations that partner with PACE” is pure fog.
 
If I had written or edited the story, it would have contained something like this: “Sznajderman refused to confirm or deny that Alabama Power has contributed to Vote Alabama or Peoples Alliance for Leadership, two non-profits which have provided the bulk of PACE’s funding since its inception.”
 
At least then you’d know who was failing to give you the goods, the reporter, or the company spokesman.

However, the Energy Wire did ask Fields and Sznajderman about payments to Fields by Alabama Power. As the following shows, Fields contradicted his own ethics filings and lied. Sznajderman told the truth, to a point.

Fields denial Energy Wire

I take the spokesman for his word that Alabama Power stopped paying Fields after 2014. But Sznajderman was not being truthful when he said that Fields had provided services for the company as a part- time “contract lobbyist.”

Those who lobby in Alabama are required to register with the Alabama Ethics Commission, and to identify their clients. As for being, “part-time,”contract lobbyists have numerous clients, each of whom they serve “part-time.”

Just as lobbyists must register with the Ethics Commission, so too must the companies, associations and others who engage them. That includes identifying all those who lobby for them. No one knows that better than Alabama Power. Pretty much every remotely influential contract lobbyist in Alabama is on the company’s payroll.

 

FBI Arizona July

Above, a portion of a story published by in the Arizona media on July 11. The piece reported recent developments in the FBI’s investigation into the use of “Dark Money” connected to Arizona’s main power company and elections to the Arizona Corporation Commission, the state agency that regulates Arizona utilities.

 

Mike Fields is not a contract lobbyist for anyone. I checked the registrations going back years. He hasn’t registered as a lobbyist, and Alabama Power has never, as best as I could determine, identified him to the Ethics Commission as one of its lobbyists.

So if any reporters take a stab at this, and Sznajderman repeats that description of Fields, call his bluff, then ask what Fields really did for the company all those years.

A month before the Energy Wire story, Bloomberg, the national business news service, published an equally promising if also frustrating story that addressed some of the Alabama “Dark Money” issues. Here’s the top of that story, and a link to it, Here.
Bloomberg Story

 

The Alabama portion of the story examined the involvement of the 60 Plus Association in both Arizona and Alabama (as stories on this site have done, in depth, the first one in January 2014.)

The following is from the Bloomberg story, with the key portion at the bottom:

 

Bloomberg Dark Money and trade groups quote

 

While not identified, the campaign being referred to is obviously the 2014 challenge by Chip Beeker against incumbent Terry Dunn, with Beeker the recipient of the Pat Boone robocalls and so much else as well.

Readers learned that Alabama Power has “supported trade groups that may have been involved  in funding nonprofits that ran attacks in the race.”

I read that, and groaned. Bloomberg had come so close. Again, one can probably assume that “support” means fund. 

But who were the, “trade groups”?  Vote Alabama and PAL are not trade groups. They aren’t groups at all. It’s hard to know what to call them, though my choice, Checking Account Organizations, works pretty well.

Even fuzzier, what was meant by “may have” been involved in funding? Did Sznajderman not know? Was he guessing?

Again, I would have been thrilled to report that Bloomberg — a national news service with substantial credibility — had squeezed the truth out of Alabama Power, and confirmed — no assumptions necessary — that Alabama Power provided funding to Vote Alabama and PAL.

But I still can’t report that. Not yet.

 

Arizona Capital Times story

Yet another recent report in the Arizona media about the FBI’s probe into “dark money,” and which has been aggressively reporting on this issue since mid-2013.

 

Here’s the paragraph that I would have added to the Bloomberg story, assuming that the reporter tried to push Sznajderman for greater clarity and the  spokesman declined to provide it:

       “Sznajderman declined to identify the ‘trade groups’ he referred to. He also refused to confirm or deny that Alabama Power had contributed money to Vote Alabama or Peoples Alliance for Leadership. Furthermore, the spokesman declined to respond when asked if any employees of Alabama Power had worked with the nonprofits that ran attack ads in the race; or if any company employees had reviewed, approved or helped formulate those attack ads.”

If, somewhere, there is someone in the Alabama media (or beyond!) who wants to take on the Big Boy of Dark Money in Alabama, try the following:

Call or request a meeting with Sznajderman — or better yet, Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite or top governmental affairs officers Zeke Smith or Nick Sellers. Or, for that matter, Tom Fanning — CEO of Southern Co., and a board member of X.

 

Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning.

“Mr. Fanning: Did Alabama Power contribute to Vote Alabama or PAL, and, if by so doing, did the company, and its higher ups, act in a manner that contradicts Southern Co’s code of ethics, called, SouthernStyle?”

 

First Question: Has Alabama Power or one of its affiliated companies, such as Southern Company Services, provided funding to Vote Alabama or PAL?

I suspect they will refuse to answer. If they refuse, ask them to identify the “trade organizations” referred to in the Bloomberg story.

If they refuse to do that as well — and likely they will — then don’t grant them a victory over you and your obligation to report the truth to your readers.

Report their refusal to provide responses, and stick the story on the front page. Keep doing that until the weasels come clean.

If they smell you’ve got Quit in you, or lack the backing of your editors, forget it.

Google what the Arizona media has done, starting with the Arizona Republic, and you’ll get the idea.

 

 

Banner head of Alcom page

On July 1, while working on this, I went on Al.Com. As visitors to the site know, one scrolls down to see stories. That day there were 19 stories — 19! — on football before you started the next scroll. Hey, I love football, but it’s not even football season. This, sadly, is the norm. The Alabama media company with by far the most resources to cover state government and local news has clearly decided that its readers want football, 12 months a year, and everything else is secondary, with the exception of Tide or Tiger d-backs, who are primary.

 

(Last September, I posted a story that included my theories explaining why the Alabama media has failed to report on the “Dark Money” campaign that’s the subject of this website. If you’re interested in those theories, go Here.

Two of the theories: The state media’s failure to write about or,  for the most part, even acknowledge the existence of Yellowhammer News and the Alabama Political Reporter suggests a fear of alerting Al.com’s fast diminishing number of readers to other sources of political news. Also: Three prominent long-time Birmingham News/Al.com reporters/editors, including chief spokesman Michael Sznajderman, now work at X.)

X’s Motive: Protecting its Stratospheric Profits

In seeking to identify X, we have largely looked at the How. A brief examination of the Why is also in order to help us identify X.

Who, such as what company, stood to gain by removing Terry Dunn, crushing his efforts to hold rate hearings, defeat his effort to lower Alabama Power’s profits, and then raise Alabama Power’s rates?

Yes, it is a stupid question, or rather, one with a too obvious answer. But it’s something that, you, the jury, must answer yourself for the conclusion to have any effect.

It’s necessary to understand this: Regulated utilities, such as Alabama Power, are monopolies. As such, the risk, for an investor, is limited. For that reason, the profits of regulated utilities fluctuate with interest rates — as in, the return that investors can make with the safest of investments, U.S. government bonds. 

In general, when interest rates rise, the allowed profits for investor-owned utilities increase, which is to say, Public Service Commissions authorize rate increases that permit utilities to enjoy a higher rate of return. Likewise, when interest rates fall, so too do the allowed profits of utilities. There’s lag time between interest rate trends and rate of return trends, but the correlation is essentially built in to the process.

That’s how it works in every other state. Just not Alabama.

The following item is from an explainer piece called, “How Do Utilities Make Money,published in April 2015 by Advanced Energy Economy.

It cites data showing that the average Rate of Return on Equity (profit) for regulated utilities is 10.13 percent; and that Alabama Power enjoys the highest ROE in the country, at 13.75 percent. “PUC” refers to state regulatory agencies, such as, in Alabama, the Public Service Commission.

Advance Energy Snippet

 

Interest rates can sink to nothing, but Alabama Power’s ROE, thanks to the subservience of our state’s PSC, never drops.

That was the cause of Terry Dunn’s demise — he became the first commissioner in at least 35 years, Republican or Democrat, to dare suggest that Alabama Power be treated, by the Alabama PSC, like power companies in every other state.

The following chart graphs the average Rate of Return on Equity (ROE and/or Profit) of all investor-owned electric utilities in the U.S., since 1990. A you can see, the average in 1990 was about 12.75 percent, and is now around 10 percent.

I have colored in an area in between 13 and 14 percent, to, you might say, “separately graph” Alabama Power’s ROE, and included an arrow. The arrow shows the difference between Alabama Power and the national average.

As you can see, the arrow basically gets longer and longer each year, as the national average plummets — and Alabama Power’s profit range remain unchanged.

 

ROE CHART

 

The second highest allowed ROE belongs to, perhaps not surprisingly, Georgia Power, Alabama Power’s big brother in the Southern Co. It’s maximum allowed ROE is 12 percent — substantially higher than the national average, but well below Alabama Power.

But even Georgia Power routinely undergoes rate hearings, at which the PSC, and outside intervenors, such as those representing ratepayers, can question expenses, and during which company officials must testify under oath and produce all manner of records.

Dunn sought hearings, and, instead of Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden agreeing that, yes, it was high time for one of those, they unsurprisingly sided with the company and Dunn got run over by X’s $6 million Bullshit Campaign.

For the 2013 hearings, AARP engaged, as its expert, West-Virginia-based Stephen G. Hill, who has testified in some 300 regulatory hearings throughout the country.

Hill concluded that if the PSC reduced Alabama Power’s Rate of Return on Equity — or profit — to 10 percent, that it would save Alabama ratepayers some $287.5 million per year, some of which would be due to lower taxes paid by Alabama Power and passed on to customers. (Below, the applicable portion from Hill’s report.)

 

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

 

Something else: The cost of producing power varies greatly for different companies, and for many reasons, including location. For example, the cost of power is far higher in the northeast than regions, like the South, where resources are near and abundant. 

Consider this: About half the states generate more electrical power than they use, with the other half generating less, and thus having to purchase power from operators in other states.

Only one state generates more excess power than Alabama, and thus exports (sells) more than Alabama, which benefits from nearby sources of coal and natural gas, a nuclear facility, and substantial hydroelectric energy as well. In fact, Alabama exports more power than many small states use.

Department of Energy statistics show that, with very few exceptions, states that must import power have the highest rates, and those that export power have the lowest rates.

Alabama Power, as it happens, has some of if not the highest residential and business power rates in the Southeast and nationally, hovers around the mid-point regarding rates.

Will leave you with a couple of Power Facts.

Power Fact One: In December 2014, the first meeting with Dunn’s replacement, Chip Beeker, the PSC passed a five percent rate increase sought by Alabama Power.

The company forecast that the rate increase would generate about $250 million a year.

According to the company’s financial disclosures, in 2015, milder weather led to a decrease in the amount of power sold. However, Alabama Power’s “net income after dividends” increased by $24 million from 2014. “This was due,” the company reported, to, “an increase in rates …. effective January 1, 2015.”

In other words, the company sold less power than the prior year, but made more money. This was due to the PSC supporting, without question, and certainly not rate hearings, Alabama Power’s request for a five percent rate hike.

 

Updated Beeker with Barbour

Chip Beeker was thrilled to have Southern Co.’s Big Bat, Haley Barbour, come swing for him at a fundraiser during his campaign against Terry Dunn. At Beeker’s first meeting on the PSC, he unquestioningly supported a 5 percent rate increase. Had Dunn still been the commissioner, he would have fought against the increase, put a harsh spotlight on the other two PSC members, and, if not defeated the increase, perhaps reduced it. 

 

In the, “Gall Knows No Bounds Department,” after the PSC caught some media grief for rubber-stamping Alabama Power’s rate increase, the three members of the commission blamed Obama.

At the next meeting, in January 2015,  Cavanaugh, Oden and Beeker signed a letter to Obama — a symbolic gesture, to put it mildly. Obamacare — somewhat irrelevant to the utility rate regulation — was lambasted.

According to the Alabama PSC’ letter, the goal of Obama’s environmental policy is to “drive up electricity prices in the South to stunt our economic growth and drive jobs back to the blue states which voted for you.” A placard was made and the three nincompoops walked down and ceremoniously signed the political screed for the cameras.

 

three amigos and letter to obama

 

Power Fact Two: Alabama Power, such as through its spokespersons and Dark Money shills, is forever belittling the importance of ROE, and for obvious reasons. However, company financial reports tell another story.

Like others in the Southern Co., executive bonuses for Alabama Power’s top brass are in part tied to ROE. Company reports show that every year, Alabama Power crushes the established benchmarks, which are the top ROE’s in the country.

For that, X‘s executives can thank their secret rate setting department — the taxpayer funded Alabama Public Service Commission.

The importance to Alabama Power of ROE was best illustrated by the company’s response to Dunn’s threat to trim the company’s outlandish profits.

X decided to fuel and oversee a $6 million Bullshit Campaign to crush him and do all it could to ensure he was replaced by Beeker.

Another national heavy hitter — Alabama U.S. Senator and Donald Trump acolyte Jeff Sessions — also supported Beeker. Yellowhammer was, again, the news organization that landed this “Chip Beeker scoop.”

 

Yewllowhammer and Jeff SEssions

Something to Consider: Mississippi Power is bleeding money in the billions of dollars because of it’s ill-fated Kemper “clean coal” plant. As a result, Southern Co., more than ever, needed its Alabama profit engine to generate more revenue than ever.

I believe the shenanigans against Dunn were motivated in no small part by the Southern Co’s need to take more money out of Alabama to subsidize it’s Mississippi disaster.

 

Charles Steele: Civil Rights leader always at the ready for Alabama Power

When civil rights leader Charles Steele Jr., takes public positions supportive of X and Southern Co. — which is often — there’s one thing you can always count on.

The former state senator from Tuscaloosa and two-time head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference will first tell you why he’s doing it, and who it’s all about.

It’s about the poor people. His people. The ones he watches over, like a shepherd.

 

2009 Steele at Pace event

Steele speaks at a symposium in 2009 hosted by PACE. Alabama’s State Climatologist and University of Alabama at Huntsville professor John Christy is on the bottom right hand corner of the photo. Christy is nationally known for being one of the only climate scientists on the planet to dispute projections that global warming will have catastrophic effects if mankind doesn’t act swiftly to decrease CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases.   

 

The “bible” on Steele was written by Sue Sturgis, with the Institute for Southern Studies, in a 2010 story called, “Industry wraps coal ash regulation fight in the mantle of Civil Rights.” I like to think I’ve advanced her work by reporting some of Steele’s activities since that story, and aim to do more of that with this post.

 

Unplugged Steele

Steele, in a documentary by PACE called, “Unplugged: Reconnecting American Energy Policy with Reality.”

Here’s an abbreviated time-line designed to illustrate Steele’s connections to Alabama Power and the campaign this website exists to expose.

2004: Steele becomes CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The SCLC, as its often called, is the Atlanta-based civil rights organization co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

August 2008:  Steele incorporates an Atlanta-based consulting business called Charles Steele & Associates.

February 2009: Lance Brown incorporates the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, or, PACE. The incorporation papers are drafted by William Lineberry, with Balch & Bingham, the Birmingham-based firm perhaps best known for its long-time representation of Alabama Power.

February 2009: Charles Steele resigns as president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That year, he is paid $115,000 by the SCLC, according to its tax return.

June 2009: Working People for Fair Energy is incorporated as an Atlanta-based non-profit.  The lawyer who drafted the documents was Richard Sanders, a lawyer in Balch & Bingham’s Atlanta office. 

Members of the board of directors of Working People for Fair Energy were, in addition to Steele, his wife Cathelean; civil rights activist Albert Love; and the ever-present Lance Brown, of PACE. (See below.)

Lance on incorporation papers

2009: If non-profits pay vendors — law firms, consultants, what have you — more than $100,000 in a year, they must disclose the identifies of the vendors and the amount paid, or, in any event, the top five paid consultants over that amount. The following is from PACE’s tax return for 2009.

Charles Steele PACE One

That’s $102,909 more than PACE paid Lance Brown that year — a year when Matrix was paying his salary, despite his title as PACE’s executive director.

2009: Lance Brown’s LinkedIn page shows that he has been executive director of PACE since 2009. Oddly, he doesn’t list Matrix on his employment history. He does show that he was the creative director at a Montgomery-based advertising firm called the Powell Group prior to going to PACE.

In 2009, a web designer for the Powell Group designed the web pages for Working People for Fair Energy and Charles Steele & Associates — both of which, mind you, were based in Atlanta. Neither web-site is still active, but here are the logos, which remain on the Powell Group designer’s site, right next to one another.

Websites of Working People and Steele Associates

On the designer’s website, she described the client and explained the graphic style she chose to serve the client. For some reason, the designer for Working People for Fair Energy’s website put, in parentheses, PACE, at the end of the description. (See below.)

Working People logo explain

As we speak, if one clicks on PACE, one is directed to the still quite active website of … PACE.

2009: The photo below was included in the Southern Studies story. It came from Working People For Fair Energy’s website, which, again, no longer exists.

It was taken in 2009 at a public forum in Tuskegee about energy policy and co-hosted by Working People for Fair Energy. At left is Alabama Power executive Stephen Jones; in the middle, Lance Brown; and at right, Charles Steele.

 

 

Out of focus though it is, this picture’s worth a 1,000 words. It was taken in 2009, at public forum in Tuskegee about energy policy. At left is Alabama Power executive Stephen Jones. In the middle, Lance Brown, executive director of PACE. And at right, Charles Steele, former state senator from Tuscaloosa and, then and now, head of the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Council, the Atlanta-based civil rights organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

In my mind’s eye, I see Alabama Power’s Jones saying:

        “OK, as this contract shows, we are paying these two non-profits, Vote Alabama and Peoples Alliance for Laundering Money or Leadership or whatever the hell it’s called, and they’re shooting the money to Lance here, over at, what did we decide to call it, FACE? In any event, Lance’s ‘non-profit’ will cut a check to you, Charles,  for what we’ll call ‘consulting.’ Is $100K and change sufficient for the first year? “

2010: Working People for Fair Energy filed its 990/tax return for the prior year — 2009. There is not a single monetary number on the return, not so much as a single zero. The name of the organization is typed in, the return is signed by Steele, and that’s it. I have never seen a 990 this bare.

Here’s the top of the tax return. The blank box in the all-important line item “contributions, gifts, grants and other amounts received” is repeated throughout the return. As in, they, too, are all blank.

Working People for fair energy blank contributions

At the very least — unless someone else was footing the bills — Working People for Fair Energy would have or in any event should have paid the Powell Group to design its web-page and legal fees to Balch & Bingham for incorporating it.

That law firm does not work for free, as Alabama Power well knows. There’s also the co-sponsorship of the gathering in Tuskegee about energy policy.

And, yet, not a dime coming in or going out.

Informative though it was not, the 2009 return was both the first and last tax return filed by “Working People for Fair Energy.”

In May 2013, the IRS revoked its right to operate as a non-profit for failing to file a 990 for three consecutive years. (See revocation record below.)

Working People for Fair Energy Revoked

 

2010: PACE again reported on its tax return that it made no payments to Lance Brown. One presumes Matrix was again paying the salary of PACE’s “executive director.” And for the second straight year, PACE paid more than $100,000 to Steele — $105,800, to be exact — this time to Charles Steele Jr. and Associates.

2011: No payments to Steele were reported on PACE’s 2011 tax return, nor on any since. I would wager what’s left of my cassette collection that Steele and/or Charles Steele Jr. and Associates have continued to be paid, but if by PACE, at less than the $100,000 per year minimum that triggers the requirement to disclose.

2012: Charles Steele returns as president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

I suspect that Working People for Fair Energy fell by the wayside because Steele returned to the SCLC. Chairman of the SCLC is obviously a far more impressive position than being the head of some fly-by-night financially barren non-profit.

 

Steele Arizona Column

A guest column by Steele in July 2015 in the Arizona Capital Times. As noted elsewhere on this site, Arizona has been beset by Dark Money groups seeking to influence its utility regulatory body. That Steele would show up with an op-ed in an Arizona publication, and on that topic, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

 

2013: Steele was an ever-present figure during the Alabama Public Service Commission battles that year, attending and speaking at the public meetings.

Steele was rock-solid in the corner of Alabama Power and commissioners Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden, and much opposed to Terry Dunn’s call for rate hearings and, Dunn’s hope, lower rates for Alabama residents — including, it goes without saying, the poor people Steele is forever declaring his allegiance to.

 

Lighten up this picture

Charles Steele, left, and Alabama Power vice president Nick Sellers, at right, during a break in one of the 2013 PSC hearings on Alabama Power.

 

When the AARP joined Terry Dunn in urging the PSC to reconsider its decision not to hold rate hearings or decrease Alabama Power’s profits, the SCLC, in a letter from Steele, joined 60 Plus, JobKeeper Alliance and multitudinous other shills, lackeys and Dark Money groups in urging the PSC urging it to reject Dunn and the AARP.

Here’s the top of Steele’s letter, in which he, on behalf of the SCLC, declares that Alabama Power’s rate structure is “fair and reasonable.”

 

Steele Letter to PSC on SPSC letterhead

 

Bizarre, isn’t it, that someone who advocates for the poor would be against changes that would  lower the power bills for …. the poor.

Segments of an interview with Steele are interspersed throughout the Alabama Coal Association film, “Behind the Mask.” In the film, Steele accused the people and organizations that supported Dunn of having undisclosed motives.

“You must always know who you’re dealing with when your doing business,” Steele intoned. “You must always know you are paying attention to and the background of these people.”

 

 

Behind-the-Mask-Charles-Steele-as-CEO-of-Southern-Leadership-Conference

Charles Steele, in “Behind the Mask.”

 

Some who urged for the sort of hearings held in other states were environmental groups or individuals associated with environmental causes, but no effort was made to conceal these connections.

The main groups that spent money for experts and others in support of rate hearings —  AARP and Alabama Arise (which lobbies for the poor) — sought hearings purely for rate-related reasons.

Steele was apparently oblivious to the irony of his questioning the hidden motives of others when his connections to Alabama Power were so deep, were financially based, and kept secret by him and his secret backers.

I subscribe to a service that allows one to search, not just for organizations, but to search for names and other identifiers within 990s.

I found that Steele, through Charles Steele & Associates, was paid $121,000 in 2012 and $120,000 in 2013 (see below) by a San Jose-based non-profit called, The World Children’s Fund (not to be confused with the One World Children’s Fund.) No return for 2014 was available.

Steele paid by childrens fund 2013
I’m not saying Steele isn’t active on behalf of the organization, only that, for reasons stated above, I question the SCLC chairman’s motives and the sources of whatever funding he receives when wearing his “consultant hat.”
I contacted the World’s Children’s Fund by phone and e-mail to request a 990 for 2014 and to ask what Steele did for the non-profit, but did not receive a response.
Steele’s willingness to place his own interests above those of the civil rights organization he leads were put on display during the Dog and Pony Show hearings put on by Alabama Power and PSC president Twinkle Cavanaugh in 2013.
And then, in August 2013 — the same month that Cavanaugh and Oden out-voted Dunn to preserve Alabama Power’s status quo on rates — Steele did something truly bizarre.
That month, the Southern Christian Leadership Council held its Legacy and Leadership Gala in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the event was to celebrate President Obama’s re-election and honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Among those invited to speak at the gala: 60 Plus chairman Jim Martin.

 

JimMartinwithCharlesSteele

Charles Steele with guest speaker, professional Obama-hater Jim Martin, at the August 2013 Southern Christian Leadership event in Washington.

 

What makes this so astonishing is the unceasingly anti-Obama positions and incessantly harsh criticism of Obama both on 60 Plus’s website and as part of its Dark Money campaign for Alabama Power.

Pat Boone, the so-called national spokesperson for 60 Plus — and a participant in the Alabama efforts — routinely makes not just ugly but bizarre claims about Obama. For example, Boone has declared that Obama is more Muslim than Christian; and accused the president of being guilty of “high crimes” for “faking his birth certificate.”

 

 

60-plusFlierTwo

From one of 60 Plus’s mailers sent to Alabamians in 2013.

 

Why would Steele know much less invite little-known right-wing Obama-hater Jim Martin to address such an important event for an organization that exists to promote civil rights and celebrate Martin Luther King and the first black president?

Here’s a hint, using X’s recently unveiled new logo:

 

New logo

 

X is the only common denominator connecting Charles Steele and Jim Martin– X, and that both political operatives were scoring big money routed through Vote Alabama and PAL.

IRS revokes non-profit status of Steele-led civil rights icon SCLC

Newspaper stories from from 2008 — four years into Steele’s first tenure as chairman — reported that the SCLC had not filed a tax return for three straight years and faced losing its non-profit status. (Below, one of those stories, by the Associated Press.)

 

SCLC skips filing

 

The late 990s were eventually filed, including for 2009, the year Steele left. As can be seen below, he was paid $115,000 that year by the SCLC, despite cutting out early in the year.

 

Steele from SCLC in 2009

 

Steele returned in 2012. He would have been, in 2012, responsible for ensuring the SCLC was up to date on its tax filings and staying current for all future years.

I recently searched the available databases to review the 990s for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in the event they might show a connection to this project.

Unfortunately, the SCLC — one of the most storied civil rights organizations in the country, perhaps second only to the NAACP — hasn’t filed a 990 since 2009.

I found that, for the second time under Steele, the SCLC has failed to file returns for multiple years running. Thus, there is no way to know how much it takes in or spends, or how much it pays Steele.

In May 2013, the IRS revoked the SCLC’s non-profit status due do to failure for more than three years straight to file a return. (See below.) If it had rectified the matter since then — as in, more than three years since the revocation — the revocation would not still be on the IRS website.

 

SCLC Revoked IRS

It would thus appear that the SCLC has not filed a tax return for at least five straight years, and possibly more, and not once since Steele returned as its CEO.

On its website, it continues to identify itself as a non-profit, though based on the revocation, it is not now an active non-profit in the eyes of the IRS.

I called the SCLC and spoke to its financial officer, who did not deny that the organization had failed to file 990s. He directed me to send an e-mail to Steele and others, which I did. I never received a response.

The following are adjacent news items from the SCLC’s web-site.

 

From SCLC Website

 

The second item, authored by Steele, castigates the EPA for using regulations to decrease pollution — a position consistent with that made by Alabama Power and the many shill groups featured in this story. In that piece, Steele argues that such regulations increase costs, and hurt the poor.

Assuming he feels that way, why must he be paid extra, by entities controlled by Alabama Power, to say it?

And does Steele disclose, to the SCLC, such as its board, that he’s essentially using the organization’s name to serve his consulting clients?

Moving on, but still speaking of “consultants” who’ve been paid by PACE … 

PACE paid $127K to firm formed by Trey Glenn’s wife after Glenn left ADEM

As reported above and in previous posts, in each of the first two years of its existence, PACE paid more than $100,000 to Charles Steele.

Recently, while putting this post together, I saw a payment made in 2010 by PACE which I’d failed to notice when first writing about the payments to Steele in 2013, and thought it worthy enough to report.

The PACE tax return for that year showed that in 2010, in addition to paying Steele, PACE paid $127,500 to a company called Blue Ridge Consulting.

The image below is from that portion of PACE’s 2010 tax return.

 

2010 PACE to Steele and Blue Ridge

So: Who is this Blue Ridge Consulting?

According to the Alabama Secretary of State website, it was incorporated in February 2009 by Allison Glenn. At the time, her husband, Trey Glenn, was the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM.) 

According to its incorporation documents, the stated purpose of Blue Ridge was to engage in, “environmental and organizational consulting for any other lawful purposes.”

Glenn had spent seven years working for Alabama Power, and was appointed head of ADEM in 2005, during the Riley administration.

Glenn’s LinkedIn profile shows that he started work as a “senior consultant” with Blue Ridge Consulting in December 2009, the same month he left ADEM. (Below, the top of his LinkedIn page.)

Trey Glenn and Linked

During his four year tenure at ADEM, Glenn was twice accused — though never found guilty — of unethical behaviour. One case involved Matrix, the other Alabama Power.

In 2007, the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Glenn violated the ethics law by using his job to obtain personal trips. One involved a trip to Disney World with his family. This is from an Associated Press story, with emphasis mine:

      Records indicated the trip was originally billed to Matrix, a Montgomery public relations and political consulting firm that has done work for Malcolm Pirnie. (Glenn’s lawyer) said Glenn and a Matrix official, Jeff Pitts, are longtime friends and the flight was billed to the firm by mistake.

I suppose the newspaper report could have added that Matrix also represents Alabama Power, and perhaps others regulated by ADEM.

Glenn later paid the bill for the flight. A Montgomery County Grand Jury determined in 2009 that there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges against him.

 

Jeff Pitts, of Matrix LLC

Trey Glenn’s longtime friend, Jeff Pitts, of Matrix LLC.

 

The other matter, also in 2007, involved Alabama Power paying $310 for tickets, food and beverages for Glenn and his family to attend a Montgomery Biscuits baseball game. Alabama Power, which has a multitude of operations regulated by ADEM, disclosed the expenditure to the Ethics Commission, as required.

While it did not look good for Glenn, it was not a violation of the law.

Lance Brown did not respond to an e-mail asking why PACE paid Blue Ridge/Trey Glenn such a substantial sum in 2010. And to be clear, the $127,500 was paid in 2010, when Glenn was no longer at ADEM.

Nevertheless, the payment –considering Glenn’s ties to Matrix and Alabama Power — raises questions, including whether Blue Ridge provided services to PACE or, rather, to another entity, and whether the nature of those services was even connected to PACE’s stated mission.

 

 

PACE and DUNN

A piece by PACE’s Lance Brown, in 2013, taking Terry Dunn to task.

 

I don’t think it unfair to wonder if having PACE do the paying — if indeed the payment was made on behalf of another entity — violated laws governing non-profits.

If nothing else, the PACE to Blue Ridge payment further cements one of the main connections this web-site exists to make, between Alabama Power’s favored political consultant firm, Matrix, and the interconnected web of non-profits and “consultants” funded by millions of dollars of Mystery Money.

AEA severs ties with Joe Perkins and Matrix

For some time, Matrix’s second best known client — behind the power company — has been the Alabama Education Association. So, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to request the AEA’s most recent 990.

The state teacher’s union operates on a fiscal year, so the 990, only filed in mid-May, covered the period from October 2014 to September 2015.

The report showed that in FY 2014-2015, AEA had paid Matrix $542,859 for consulting and an $220,161 to Hill Strategies, which is led by Chip Hill.

 

BLAH

The web-site for Matrix LLC. No links, no addresses, no e-mail. This is all there is. 

 

Apparently those sums were for services rendered over about five months. After receiving the 990, I asked if the AEA still used Matrix.

“Services from both Matrix and Chip Hill were ended on February 25, 2015. AEA will not have a comment on why those services were terminated,” a spokeswoman stated.

 

A-Vote, the AEA’s political action committee, also severed ties with Matrix, the spokesperson said.

 

Feb. 25. That would have been four days after a much-publicized meeting in Montgomery of the AEA board in which it began proceedings to terminate AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry.

 

A pair of never-released audits — both of which reportedly concluded that gross financial mismanagement — were cited as the reason the AEA sought Mabry’s ouster; and, it seems fair to conclude, the decision to sever ties with Matrix.

 

henry-mabry-horizontal-from-2012jpg-5cf59607aa751cdc

Henry Mabry, ousted by AEA not long after the union ended its relationship with Mabry’s favored political consultants, Matrix LLC.

In 2011, Mabry was chosen to replace longtime AEA chief Paul Hubbert, who had retired. Mabry and Matrix went way back, at least to when Mabry was a lobbyist for Alabama Power in the 1990s. Mabry became a well-known state figure when then governor Don Siegelman appointed him to be state finance director.

Under Mabry, the AEA gave immense amounts of business to Matrix. The teacher’s union’s 990 for 2012 showed it paid Matrix $953,757 that year; $550,300 in 2013; and, as previously noted, $542.859 in the first five months of FY 2014-2015.

Below, the portion of AEA’s 990 for 2012 showing almost $1 million to Matrix that year.

2012 Matrix big bucks AEA

 

A-Vote also paid Matrix substantial sums for Matrix’s services in supporting candidates backed by AEA and buying campaign advertising.

According to news reports, AEA spent some $20 million on legislative campaigns in 2014, but their favored candidates got crushed. Given Alabama’s dramatic swing away from the Democratic Party in recent years, the decision by Mabry and those advising him to spend so much on Democrats and Democrats pretending to be Republicans was an unmitigated disaster.

Better to try to make friends with the Republican bosses than pissing them off by trying to defeat them. A lot cheaper too.

According to the reports, in the 2014 election cycle, A-Vote and candidates backed by the AEA paid more than $2 million to Matrix. Much of that, assuredly, was for ads.

The massive electoral gamble was one of the reasons Mabry got the boot and, one presumes, led to the decision to terminate its relationship with Matrix.

In one sense, this is old news, since it happened more than a year ago. But it hasn’t, to my knowledge, been reported, so here you go.

 

 

DSCN3659

This imposing edifice in Montgomery is home to Joe Perkins’ Matrix LLC, the political consulting firm Alabama Power acknowledges using, but won’t say what for.

 

The AEA’s 990  — dated though it already is — shows that the state teachers association drastically curtailed its spending after firing Mabry, and appears to be righting the ship under new leadership.

If only Alabama Power, AEA-like, would send Matrix packing.

They are not good people, and are bad for Alabama.

Whistle-blowers Wanted, Subjects to include:

Consider this a request for information that will allow me to, among other things, confirm without question Alabama Power’s role in the Dark Money campaign to control the PSC, and all that entails — to include Yellowhammer News, and Yellowhammer’s connections to the lobbyists, companies and individuals whose interest are served by stories on its web-site.

Contact information is below and, remember: Anonymously provided information is most welcome. Am not asking anyone to stick their neck out unless they are willing to do so.

Here’s some of what’s on my wish-list:

Records, such as e-mails, contracts, financial information and reports that would help reveal the nature of the services and/or assignments provided by any of the following “consultants” and non-profits for Alabama Power, primarily as it involves the campaigns and policies of the Alabama Public Service Commission:

  • Matrix LLC and its employees and top people, primarily Joe Perkins and Jeff Pitts
  • The firm now known as Swatek Howe & Ross
  • Yellowhammer News
  • Vote Alabama and Peoples Alliance for Leadership
  • Jobkeeper Alliance
  • PACE
  • Charles Steele Jr.
  • PURE
  • Alabama Coal Association
  • Coal Jobs Count
  • Bob Lochamy (pictured below), and the brazen effort to hire Kathy Peterson with a job at a new ‘non-profit’ on the condition that she drop out of her race against incumbent PSC Commissioner Jeremy Oden.

 

It's time for Bob Lochamy to stand up and come clean about the Stand Up For Alabama Coalition. Is that asking too much?

Long-time Birmingham area ad man, radio personality and one time Paul Finebaum sidekick Bob Lochamy.

 

  • The bogus “environmental protest” held outside a PSC meeting (more about at the bottom of this post)
  • Communications, such as memos regarding strategy, involving Terry Dunn, Twinkle Cavanaugh, Chip Beeker, Jeremy Oden, and the operations of the PSC regarding Alabama Power.
  • The “War on Coal” project.
  • 60 Plus Association
  • Records/memos/correspondence showing the role of Alabama Power in raising funds for Public Service Commission races.
  • The relationship between the Swatek firm and Twinkle Cavanaugh, including as it relates to the efforts to defeat Terry Dunn and raise Alabama Power’s rates in December 2014.

Tips or information related to the above, and certainly first person accounts, are also encouraged.

 

20130612_Whistleblower

 

And: As described above, Mike Fields — union official, head of PAL, recent former member of the Alabama Port Authority and more as well — was for years on retainer as a consultant of some sort with Alabama Power.

I suspect that the company has all manner of “consultants” on similar retainer situations. The identities of these consultants, their purpose for Alabama Power, and related information would be most appreciated.

Alabama Power is a great company, but their political operation stinks. Exposing it will go far to clean up Alabama politics, or so I believe.

My contact information is:

Eddie Curran
133 Silverwood
Mobile, AL 36607
Cell Phone: 251-454-1911
E-mail: eddcurran@aol.com

If you have a tip but don’t wish to be identified, dial *67 before calling me. That disables caller I.D.

 

Identify Masked Man, Win $250; Identify Shady Lady, Make $50

 

oldladypicture

 

A goal from the beginning of this project has been to, well, “unmask” the bogus environmental protesters who showed up in Montgomery on July 17, 2013, and pretended to support Terry Dunn and criticize Twinkle Cavanaugh.

For those unfamiliar with the “protest,” it began after the start of one of the PSC “dog and pony show” hearings regarding Alabama Power’s rates. The protesters dispersed as soon as certain assigned photographers had taken pictures and gotten enough film to use in “Behind the Mask” and the video and story Yellowhammer ran.

In other words, attendees of the meeting never saw the “protest.” Weren’t even aware it occurred.

If not for this protest, it’s unlikely I would have begun this project. Upon learning about it I was repulsed. I swore to myself I would get to the bottom of it.

I haven’t gotten there yet, but I haven’t quit either.

Below, the story in our favorite online “news” publication that ran with the video of the bogus protest. The story, called, “Power points, prayer controversy & protestors: just another day at the PSC” contains the video, which is put to music.

What’s clear from the video is that the political consultants and folks at Yellowhammer were having fun. Too clever by half, to steal an expression from my father.

 

Yellow Video Story

 

As has been established in prior stories on this site — if not proved to the degree I consider necessary — the protest was orchestrated by the individuals and groups involved in the Bullshit Campaign.

The goal was to link Dunn to Nelson Brooke, a well-known Alabama environmentalist who, some years before, was photographed at a coal protest in, I believe, Washington state. Brooke was wearing a mask, a hat, and, at the time, had a beard.

“Behind the Mask” was, you might say, a play on “removing” Brooke’s mask and revealing him, and others who went to PSC meetings, as environmentalists. Which, unquestionably, Brooke, as some others, are.

It may also be worth noting that, even in in Alabama, being an “environmentalist” is legal. Not banned yet! And, as well, the laws governing access to public meetings and the right to participate in public proceedings remains, for the time being, open to “environmental people” as well as “more normal people.”

For how long?

Who can say. 

Yellowhammer liked the “I Love Dunn” poster so much they used it again, in another attack piece a month after the “protest.” (See below.)

 

yellowhammer and dunn and populist rhetoric

 

Dunn — three time delegate to the Republican convention — is not an environmentalist. But with a little Soviet-style propaganda, Alabama Power and its Bullshit Groups and “consultants” set out to fix that.

They succeeded in creating an entirely false, counter-reality designed to convince Alabama’s highly conservative electorate that Terry Dunn was a wolf in sheep’s clothing — an honest to God tree-hugging, Obama-loving California Lefty.

The ‘protest’ was held solely to create photos and footage in service of that re-branding of Dunn.

Months before the protest, the non-profits and such were already connecting Dunn to Nelson Brooke and using the old protest picture.  For example, the following image. It was put out by JobKeeper Alliance well before the “protest.”

To state the obvious, the Bearded Man at the fake protest was done up to look like Brooke. It’s my understanding that Brooke takes his dog with him everywhere, which is why the protesters brought along a dog.

 

brookeanddunnpictwo_002

 

It is my understanding, from a very good source, that most of the protesters were duped into participating. I know the identify of one of the girl protesters for certain, and I believe another.

Some or all of them were from the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa arts community, and I believe some may have majored in arts related fields at the University of Alabama.

 

 

It is my understanding that one of the young people was contacted by the bearded man (red hat, glasses, wedding ring), who knew one of the young people. He in some manner talked the young person into recruiting some friends and drawing the posters.

The bearded man arranged for a driver to pick them up and drive them to Montgomery. They parked, donned masks, and, long enough to be filmed, engaged in a bogus protest on the sidewalk outside the RSA building that houses numerous state agencies, including the Public Service Commission.

 

 

It’s my understanding that the older woman came with the Bearded Man. Whether she knew what was really going on, I haven’t a clue, but I’d like to ask her.

Call it a sign of desperation. Call it what you will. But I am, as of this moment, offering $250 to the first person who can provide me with the identify of the Masked Man with the red cap and beard; and $50 for the identify of the older woman below.

 

MASKED MAN COVER PIC

 

I’ve no need to identify the source of such information — unless they had not problem with it — but I would have to verify the identities given prior to payment.

 

ole lady

 

Below, another shot of some of the “environmental protesters.” From video I’ve seen, you can tell they’re not taking it seriously, that it’s just a lark.

 

Protester Pic

 

 

For more images from the “environmental protest” used to serve the interests of the Mystery Men and X, go to This Link on my site.   

A Question

If what is reported here is true — not just with this story, but others on this site — is it unfair to ask Alabama Power to return, to Alabama residents and businesses, all of the money it has collected through its illegal manipulation of the Alabama Public Service Commission, with interest, apologies, and a pledge to change its ways?

Why — and this is a question for Twinkle Cavanaugh, Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker — should Alabama’s power company be allowed to enjoy profits so far above the national average; and why, if what is reported here is true, should you, the commissioners, not be compelled to resign? 

To learn more about the BS Campaign, go to: Who is X, Part 2: The Rock Star, and the Coal Jobs Count Con

 

Curran Research and Writing Banner

 

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CONTACT INFORMATION

Eddie Curran

133 Silverwood

Mobile, AL 36607

Phone: 251-454-1911

E-mail: eddcurran@aol.com