24 May 2013
- Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 07:03
- Published Date
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— While the public attention is focusing on the Internal Revenue Service's scandalous scrutiny of applications for tax exempt status made by Tea Party groups, legitimate questions can be raised about how non-profits actually use their tax-free funding.
Newspaper profits are plummeting and newsrooms are emptier these days, but non-profit think tank journalism is trending upward.
For decades, publications like "National Geographic," "Consumer Reports," PBS, NPR and the far-left "Mother Jones News" have taken advantage of charitable contributions and tax-exempt status to produce consumer content. They have worked comfortably alongside the commercially funded, mainstream news organizations that depend on advertising and subscriptions to keep the presses running.
Today, more and more ideological think tanks are producing their own "news" reporting and distributing it though the internet, and also via traditional news providers. Whether they are on the political left or right, their tax exemptions mean each is subsidized by our tax dollars.
Take the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which was founded in 2009 for the primary propose of reporting its brand of "news."
According to its website it specializes “in state and local government,” the Franklin Center “provides professional training; research, editorial, multimedia and technical support; and assistance with marketing and promoting the work of a nationwide network of nonprofit reporters.”
The Franklin Center proclaims itself “leaders in the new wave of non-profit journalism. It boasts of employing “reporters, news sites, investigative journalists and affiliates across the country.”
With ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN), the Franklin Center is decidedly conservative in its policies and viewpoints. The Center aims to provide a counter-weight to liberal-leaning groups like Media Matter and Moveon.org.
Take a look around the newsrooms of Alabama. The total number of journalists covering state and local government is no where near 100. Groups like the Birmingham based Alabama Policy Institute (API) are trying to fill that void. API is the state's only major conservative think tank. With its long tradition of encouraging lawmakers to enact pro-right legislation, the tax-exempt group is affiliated with the State Policy Network. http://www.spn.org/directory/alabama-policy-institute It is lead by conservative writer and thinker, Gary Palmer.
And API has jumped on the bandwagon of funding reporters to produce "news" for its audience. According to API’s 2011 IRS Form 990, the public tax filing for non-profits, the group spent $17,344 to employ an investigative journalist. Palmer did not respond to our phone calls and emails seeking an interview about API's venture into publicly subsidized investigative reporting, and exactly what stories they've produced.
API is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) charitable organization that defines itself as a “non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.”
By law, 501(c)(3) organizations are not required to disclose the names of donors to the public. Most do not.
Dr. Stephen Ward, Professor of Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing for http://www.media-alliance.org media-alliance.org, said “The potential for conflicts of interest in non-profit journalism is high because..., the journalists are dependent on relatively few funders.”
Ward points out that, ”The old adage that whoever pays the piper calls the tune is a warning for any form of journalism.”
News organizations have always been slightly suspect because of the potential influence of advertisers or the owner's personal bias.
Groups like The Franklin Center and API promote the idea of transparency. Yet they hide the identities of their funders, and, in some cases, the journalists they sponsor.
News outlets in Alabama that have been issued official press credentials have clear revenue models - they run largely on paid advertising. The exception is yellowhammerpolitics.com.
(Alabama Political Reporter is funded by advertising which is prominently displayed)
According to the website, Cliff Sims is the founder of Yellowhammer Strategies and the Publisher of Yellowhammer Politics.The site began operating in December 2011 - the same time API began using its tax-free status to sponsor an "investigative reporter."
Yellowhammerpolitics.com has no advertising or other visible means of generating revenue.
Calls and emails to Sims were sent requesting an interview, they were not returned.By the way, Sims and wife Megan on the Associate Board of Directors of the Alabama Policy Institute. http://www.alabamapolicy.org/about-api/associate-board-of-directors/
Sims is a regular inside the republican caucus meeting during legislative sessions. Other reporters are denied access to these meetings. He also appears to have an intimate relationship with Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.
Sims is a regular guess and substitute host on WAPI’s Matt Murphy show.
Yellowhammer Strategies is registered with the Alabama Secretary of State as a for-profit http://arc-sos.state.al.us/cgi/corpdetail.mbr/detail?corp=054573&page=name&file= business.
On his site Sims says he is a real estate investor and boasts of a career in the music industry. In the past Sims has indicated that his real estate investments and music royalties are a part of what funds the online venture.
The timing of API’s hiring of an investigative journalist may be purely coincidental. However, the lack of response from Palmer or Sims leaves the question open.
Over the last decade, conservative think tanks have sought to perhaps level the playing field with liberal leaning nonprofits.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Walter Lippmann, wrote, “The quack, the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist, can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information.”
In a new age of new media, these words soundly resonate.
24 May 2013
- Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 06:46
- Published Date
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Republicans like their incumbent Congressmen. Primary challenges to Representatives Spencer Bachus, Jo Bonner, and Mo Brooks were easily defeated by the incumbents. Democratic challengers to Representatives Martha Roby, Mike Rogers, Robert Aderholt as well as Bachus and Brooks were similarly crushed in the 2012 election. Veteran U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus from Vestavia is in his eleventh term in the Congress and has thwarted the efforts of every rival (Republican or Democrat) and based on history can likely serve in his safe district as long as he wants. Most political insiders doubt that any of the six are vulnerable, which is why Thursday's announcement that Rep. Jo Bonner is retiring is such a game changer.
Alabama politicians including many who would never have dared challenge the likable Bonner suddenly see an open seat and the possibility that they could go to the wild wild world of Washington politics. Bonner's retirement is set for August 15th and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) will set the special election to find the new U.S. Representative for Alabama's first congressional district.
State Representative Chad Fincher (R) said on Twitter, “Strongly considering a run to replace Congressman Jo Bonner. Congressman Bonner has been a great leader for south AL!” Fincher's profile within the Republican Party has been greatly increased recently by his sponsorship of the controversial Alabama Accountability Act. Fincher was recently declared a “rising Republican star” for his work in the legislature.
Already American Spectator contributor Quin Hilyer has announced that he is running for the seat. Hillyer said in his American Spectator announcement, “I am a constitutional conservative—and an “opportunity society” conservative as well, hearkening back to the Reagan-Kemp era of prosperity and liberty. Free men and women, with free minds, in a free market, produce abundance and a vibrant society.” “I am a full spectrum conservative. Mostly libertarian on economics, firmly for a strong defense, and for traditional values.”
Al.com's George Talbot is reporting that both Alabama State Senator Trip Pittman and former state Senator Bradley Byrne have told him that they are strongly considering runs for the seat.
Byrne was a Republican Party favorite to succeed Gov. Bob Riley, but his campaign was ultimately thwarted by several $$millions of attack ads, reportedly paid for by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) who were angry at Byrne's management of the two year college system. The outspoken Byrne was villified as “too liberal for Alabama,” in the brutal campaign. Byrne had the most votes in the Republican Primary but was defeated in the Republican runoff by Alabama State Representative Robert Bentley, who went on to become governor.
Sen. Pittman is a tractor dealer in Daphne and is the Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee chairman.
Alabama State Representative Jim Barton (R) from Mobile has already removed his name from consideration. Barton said on Facebook when asked if he was running for the office by a constituent, “Thanks but no. Several good friends are looking at it now.”
Other persons whose names have been mentioned for the position include: Jerry Latham, newly elected State Senator Bill Hightower, State Senator Rusty Glover, Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, Baldwin County Judge Tim Russell, and Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson.
24 May 2013
- Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 06:43
- Published Date
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday Congressman Jo Bonner has announced his retirement from the U.S. Congress to accept a position with the University of Alabama System. News of the vacancy has led to numerous potential candidates contemplating running for the office. The first to announce was columnist Quin Hillyer.
American Spectator contributor Quin Hillyer announced on TV and online that he is running for the seat. Hillyer said in his American Spectator announcement, “At 2 p.m. central time Thursday afternoon in Mobile, word spread that U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, a six-term Republican from a dark red district, would announce that he is resigning mid-term (Aug. 15) to take a big job with the University of Alabama system of colleges. He made the announcement at 4 p.m. On the local 5 p.m. news, I announced that I intend to form a committee and expect to run for his seat. I am a constitutional conservative—and an “opportunity society” conservative as well, hearkening back to the Reagan-Kemp era of prosperity and liberty. Free men and women, with free minds, in a free market, produce abundance and a vibrant society.”
Hillyer continued, “Readers of this site know I am a full spectrum conservative. Mostly libertarian on economics, firmly for a strong defense, and for traditional values. I abhor racism and was a founding board member of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, which defeated David Duke in the 1990s. I have a long record of volunteer service through churches and with educational foundations. I am a movement conservative, with a Madisonian love of our constitutional system. And I love my adopted home of southern Alabama, which is developing into one of the greatest areas of growth in the country.”
Hillyer is an American Spectator contributor and is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom.
Hillyer has a massive amount of writings. For example before the election Hillyer wrote: “If Barack Obama gets four more years to spend us into oblivion, issue authoritarian executive orders, seed the bureaucracy with radical leftists who make administrative rulings inimical to the American tradition, use the Justice Department to abuse the law and bully his opponents, populate the federal courts with anti-constitutional power-trippers and trans-nationalists, undermine the military, and betray American alliances and interests, it is a serious question whether this nation as we know it can survive.”
Recently on eliminating the corporate income tax, “The deficit problem clearly is caused by over-spending. But one thing I would emphasize is that cutting corporate rates probably would not add anything to the deficit; indeed, the sort of parallel tax cut, that of cutting capital gains tax rates, has consistently resulted in greater total revenues from capital gains actually coming into federal coffers. The added economic activity really has “paid for itself,” and then some. But, as I said, I would go farther. As I’ve written here and elsewhere before, I would completely eliminate corporate income taxes. Gone. Kaput. Finis. Nada. And, obviously, if the rate is zero, there would be zero revenues from that particular tax, so of course the “more than paid for itself” argument would go out the window. But that doesn’t mean eliminating the tax would cost much or any revenue, total, to the feds. Indeed, it was a left-leaning, former Democratic Capitol Hill budget staffer who first suggested to me the idea of completely eliminating this tax, and he, as a number cruncher, explained that he thought it would be almost revenue neutral. Some of the “lost” taxes would be recouped immediately via higher receipts from capital gains taxes and dividend taxes (because corporate profits obviously would be expected to rise), and some would be recouped through substantially higher economic growth, and some would be recouped due to a huge rush of companies repatriating their business operations. And so on, as I’ve explained elsewhere — including some savings on the spending side due to cutbacks in no-longer-needed IRS enforcement.”
Hillyer announced Thursday that he was setting his writing aside as he pursued Alabama's First Congressional District. He wrote, “There will be much more to say in the coming weeks, and major endorsements to announce. But now I must set aside my cyber-pen for The American Spectator, which has hosted me for seven years. I am honored to have been a part of this publication, which has enlightened and entertained the world of American letters for nearly half a century—and my thanks go to Bob and Wlady and to the whole team that does such a good job here. I also thank the readers for making this not just a magazine, but a conversation. This is going to be a great adventure.”
24 May 2013
- Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 06:44
- Published Date
By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY--The Alabama State Department of Education met today for a work session, which included updates from the legislative session- primarily the education budget and the Alabama Accountability Act.
State Superintendent Tommy Bice discussed the ways in which the budget passed through the legislature and signed by the governor differed from the budget proposals the school board discussed during their meetings with members of the legislature.
The Board worked hard to look at the budget in a new way this year.
"Let's put forth a budget based on identified needs," Bice said, so that the school board could verify line items based on goals and a plan.
Bice said he presented the plan and budget to members of the legislature, school superintendents and members of the AEA before the legislative session began to get their feedback on the plan. The plan received a "huge positive response" at the legislative summit, according to Bice.
Overall, the plan was based around leveraging areas that could offer the biggest return for dollars spent, such as professional development for teachers.
"We weren't asking for new money. We were asking for money that was already being spent, but to be able to spend it on something else that we had determined could leverage greater improvement," Bice said.
The legislators asked Bice and Craig Pouncey, State Board of Education Chief of Staff, to revisit the budget and reduce it. Overall, Bice and Pouncey were able to reduce many budget items while still maintaining their priorities, Bice said. "They were very complimentary that we had reduced our budget."
Once the legislature met to determine the education budget, "only one of the budget priorities got any funding, and in effect we lost money in several of them," Bice said.
"It appears things were already predetermined before anybody had the opportunity to engage in the political process of the budget," Pouncey said.
Pouncey defended the work of Bice and the Board of the Department of Education, saying the Governor even embraced many of their reforms. "I felt confident we were moving in the right direction...then, the first presentation of a budget by the legislative body totally ignored everything," he said.
Overall, the request for a two percent pay raise was granted by the legislature, however several other budget items were reduced or cut entirely.
The education budget contains $7 million less than requested in operations (OCE), $19 million less in transportation and less than half that was requested for text books. Furthermore, the Board of Education's budget included $193 million for reducing divisors, which will reduce the student-teacher ratio in the classroom. The legislature removed this budget item entirely.
"We had lost basically 13,000 teachers since 2010. We wanted to try to address that to regain those and reduce class sizes, particularly in our middle school grades," Pouncey said.
The $193 million requested would have replaced about 250 teaching units.
The Board also requested to repurpose $10 million from the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) for their Human Capital Plan, to be used for professional development for teachers.
"Not only did they not fund the Human Capital Plan, they took the $10 million from ARI and did something else with it," Pouncey said.
The Arts Education budget was cut to $1 million, which is earmarked entirely for the Shakespeare Festival. The Healthy Kids and Family program was eliminated from the budget entirely.
Two items received more money than the Board requested: K-4 education and CTE, the career tech education bond program. The Board requested $5 million for K-4 and the legislature granted $9 million for this budget item. Additionally, the Board requested $30 million for CTE, and the legislature added an additional $20 million to that bond initiative.
Bice said that the CTE program will help create a stronger partnership between high schools and community colleges. Pouncey added that it would help reduce overlap by ensuring that the same programs are not being taught in a high school and in a community college down the street. "We need to leverage those resources," Pouncey said.
"Everything that we offered as an optional way of looking at things and accomplishing the State Board's objectives, they took advantage of it where we couldn't even reap the benefits of our knowledge and understanding of what needed to be done," Pouncey said.
"We basically lost it twice. We didn't get it for what we asked it for and we lost it from where we were going to take it from," Bice added.
The board members expressed concern over the budget, especially while facing the expensive Accountability Act. While some of the board's requests had been met, the general conclusion was that their expertise had been ignored in the budget process.
24 May 2013
- Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 06:41
- Published Date
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, Congressman Jo Bonner (R) from Mobile announced that he was resigning his seat in the U.S. Congress to accept a newly created position with the University of Alabama.
Congressman Jo Bonner wrote in a statement, “I will be retiring from Congress on August 15th in order to take a newly-created position of Vice Chancellor for Government Relations and Economic Development at The University of Alabama System. At the outset, I trust you know that serving as your congressman this past decade has truly been one of the highest honors of my life.” “ I had every intention of completing this term, sometimes opportunities come along that are so rare – and so special – that it forces you to alter even your best-made plans. Such an opportunity arose a few days ago when I was contacted about the chance to go to work for The University of Alabama System.”
Alabama's political leadership were quick to thank Rep. Bonner for his many years of service to the state.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead wrote in a prepared statement, "For the past 10 years, Congressman Jo Bonner has served the residents of the First Congressional district in Alabama well. Congressman Bonner has been a solid pro-life Congressman, rated 100% by National Right to Life (NRLC). He has also stood up to President Obama on many occasions, including his staunch opposition to Obamacare. I would like to wish him the best as he undertakes his new position with the University of Alabama System.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) said, “Congressman Bonner has made a tremendous difference for the people of South Alabama. He’s worked hard on several major issues, including the ongoing recovery from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. He’s a devoted family man and a true friend. I’ve enjoyed working with him as Governor, and I wish him nothing but the best"
Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R) from Auburn said, "Jo Bonner is a first-class person and his strong voice and character will be greatly missed in the Alabama Congressional Delegation. He is highly respected by our Legislative Leadership and Members for his 10 years of loyal service to the state. He is a longtime personal friend of mine and I know he will serve as diligently in his new role as he has served the people of Alabama in Congress.”
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R) from Alabama said, “Jo is one of the most talented and hard-working members of Congress. I have deeply valued the opinions and insights of ‘my’ Congressman. He knows his district like the palm of his hand and personally knows an incredible number of constituents. He has served with wisdom, courage, and dedication, consistently supporting the highest Alabama values. Jo will do a great job as Vice Chancellor of the University of Alabama system. His gifts will be a perfect fit for them. He loves the University and will love the work. We had a great partnership and I will certainly miss his counsel.”
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery said, “Jo Bonner has been a dear friend and mentor to me since I first came to Congress. I have deeply appreciated and valued his discerning, deliberate and consistent leadership from day one. Though I will miss him as a member of Alabama’s congressional delegation, I’m proud and happy for Jo and his family as they begin this new chapter of their lives. Jo will be an invaluable asset to the University of Alabama System, serving the students and faculty with same distinction as he has his constituents and the State of Alabama during his time in Congress. To Jo - along with his wife, Janée and their children, Lee and Robins - Riley and I offer our best wishes on this new, exciting endeavor as well as our thanks for all you have given in your decades of service to our state and country.”
Congressman Mo Brooks (R) from Huntsville said, “It has been an honor to serve with Congressman Bonner in the U.S. House of Representatives. The State of Alabama and Congress were made better by his work. I appreciate his friendship and wish him the best in his future role as Vice Chancellor for Government Relations and Economic Development at the University of Alabama. Jo's retirement is Congress' loss and the University of Alabama's gain. Thank you, Jo, for your dedication to Alabama and our great Nation; we all wish you the best.”
Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D) from Selma said in a written statement, “It has been such an honor to serve in Congress and the Alabama Delegation alongside Congressman Jo Bonner. Jo has always put the interests of his constituents ahead of partisan politics and I will miss the bipartisan town hall meetings we held together in Clarke County. Since his election in November 2002, Jo has left an indelible mark on Alabama’s First Congressional District and this nation. Jo and his wife Janée have been dear friends and I wish them the best in the next step of their lives. I know The University of Alabama System will greatly benefit from his leadership and that he will help the State of Alabama continue to move forward. I’m very sorry to see Congressman Bonner leave the Alabama Delegation and the House of Representatives.”
Congressman Robert Aderholt (R) from Haleyville said, “Jo Bonner is an esteemed colleague and friend. He is a dedicated public servant and incredible advocate for his district and the entire state of Alabama. It has been a pleasure working with him over the years and his presence in Washington will be greatly missed. I wish Jo the very best and know he'll continue his commitment to Alabamians in his next endeavor."
Congressman Mike Rogers (R) from Saks said, "It has been a privilege to work with Jo as both a colleague and a close personal friend. I will miss him greatly."
Governor Bentley will announce a special election to fill the vacant First District Congressional seat.
Chairman Armistead said, "We have a lot of great conservative Republican talent who I am sure will line up to run for this open seat. I am confident that the Republican Party and the voters in the First Congressional District will send another representative who will stand firm against the overreaches of President Obama and fight to advance conservative principles that will strengthen the economy and create jobs."