By Eddie Curran
On Oct. 7, Yellowhammer News scooped the state press with what was presented as a “good news” story: That Haley Barbour was coming to Alabama to hold a fund-raiser for Chip Beeker, the former Greene County Commission chairman who is running against Dunn.
Barbour is of course the former Mississippi Governor and past chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Barbour’s fundraising capacity is the stuff of legend,” gushed Yellowhammer’s Chip Beeker.
Here’s a shot of the story, and, below, some commentary and background.
I can’t say for sure who this “source with knowledge of Beeker’s campaign operation” is. However, I can make an educated guess based on available records and known connections.
Chip Beeker’s campaign disclosures show that he has received several $2,000 in-kind contributions from John C. M. Ross & Co. This sum is categorized on the forms as “consulting/polling.” It’s that company, not Ross personally, that is the corporate partner in Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross, or as it also calls itself, “SAHR Group.”
Alabama Power is a client of the “SAHR Group.” That’s according to the firm’s web-site.
Just from those facts we know: A firm that Alabama Power pays God only knows how much cash for political consulting is giving away similar services — for free! — to Chip Beeker.
Why? To help Beeker defeat Alabama Power’s nemesis, Terry Dunn.
(For more about the Yellowhammer, Alabama Power, Swatek firm connections, and related efforts against Dunn, Go Here.)
The story by Sims/Yellowhammer is, well, incomplete on a few fronts. It fails to inform the reader what Sims unquestionably knew — that Barbour has long been and is at this very moment one of the Southern Company’s biggest lobbying horses in D.C. Southern Company is, of course, the parent of Alabama Power. According to its web-site, “SAHR Group” also provides political services for Southern Company.
I’d say the Swatek firm was in a pretty good spot to — shazam! — discover that Haley Barbour was coming to Alabama to help out the candidate they were also helping.
The story was stunning to anyone who knows anything at all about the PSC and Barbour’s connections. Utilities are prohibited from donating to candidates for the Public Service Commission or participating in their campaigns. Phil Rawls of the Associated Press jumped on the story but had a somewhat different take than Yellowhammer News. Here’s how the AP story began:
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — A candidate for Alabama’s utility regulatory board has lined up a fundraiser with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who helped to found a Washington lobbying firm that has represented the parent company of Alabama Power Co.
Rawls called Beeker and found him giddy with his good fortune and utterly blind to the obvious conflict of interest. Here, as Rawls reported it:
Beeker is proud of getting help from Barbour. “In the Deep South, we call it pretty high cotton,” he said Thursday.
Beeker said the event was arranged through family members who are friends, and he was unaware of Barbour’s connection to the Atlanta-based Southern Co., which is the parent company of Alabama Power.
Rawls posed the obvious if discomfiting questions to the corporate spokespersons. Here’s that portion of the story:
Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said the Birmingham-based company has never employed Barbour’s lobbying firm, but its parent has. He said Alabama Power had nothing to do with Beeker’s fundraiser.
State law prohibits the company from contributing to PSC candidates, and the company has a policy against employees and their spouses contributing, Sznajderman said.
State law does not prohibit the involvement of companies or individuals that do work for Alabama Power or Southern Co., such as lobbying groups or law firms.
Southern Co. spokeswoman Jeannice Hall said the company does have a business relationship with BGR Group, Barbour’s lobbying firm. But Hall said Southern Co. doesn’t get involved in state elections.
Beeker announced his candidacy in a column under his own byline in Yellowhammer. It included the following paragraph:
If we are going to win this battle, it is important that we elect a PSC commissioner who is willing to take action now, not one like my opponent, Commissioner Terry Dunn, who is content to serve as the liberal environmentalists’ tacit enabler.
I highlighted that last phrase. Proof? I don’t have it. But ask yourself: Do you really believe this guy who isn’t even aware that Haley Barbour lobbies for the Southern Company (doesn’t everyone know that?) and thinks his cousins lined up a Mountain Brook fundraiser with Barbour is capable of using the phrase “tacit enabler”?
Am I trying to be funny? Maybe so. But I ain’t buying that he wrote it, or much else about Beeker’s tale. If he believes it, he doesn’t have the sense to regulate utilities, a job which, to be done right, requires more smarts than he’s displayed thus far in his campaign.
For Rawls’ complete story, Go Here.
For Beeker’s first person account of why he’s running against Dunn, Go Here.
For Terry Dunn’s first person piece in Yellowhammer explaining his positions regarding Alabama Power’s rates, don’t hold your breath.