Political funding revealed
Published 4:22 am Wednesday, January 24, 2007
One of the things that is obvious to astute observers of the political system is how pervasive the abuse of PAC to PAC campaign contributions has proliferated. Just when you thought it could not get any worse it has this past year. In order to have any semblance of a campaign disclosure law in Alabama, PAC to PAC transfers must be banned. It is nothing more than money laundering.
An example of what happens is Company X, a somewhat unsavory business, wants to keep its political contributions private as well as the ultimate recipient of the campaign money, Politician Y. This politician does not want to be tainted with receiving Company X's contribution. Therefore, Company X starts a PAC and hires a lobbyist. Lobbyist Z creates a number of PACs with innocuous names like “Good Government PAC,” “The Good Guys PAC,” or “Apple Pie and Motherhood PAC.” Company X's money is put into PAC A, B or C, switched around a few times within the PAC's and then sent to Candidate Y. Candidate Y's campaign disclosure form shows a contribution from Apple Pie and Motherhood PAC rather than Company X and the folks looking at the candidate's campaign contribution report think, “What a nice candidate. He is for Apple Pie and Motherhood.” When in actuality the candidate is receiving campaign money from a company that might be pouring raw sewage in the Cahaba River. Until we ban PAC to PAC transfers our campaign finance law is haplessly void and useless.
Another glaring problem that needs to be addressed by the Riley administration and the Legislature is the proper planning and funding of retirement increases for our state's retired teachers and state employees. Election year politics dictated a significant 7% increase or raise for retirees. Gov. Bob Riley and State Retirement Chief David Bronner cautioned legislators about the long-term ramifications of such a large increase in benefits. The 7% to retirees was larger than the 5% given to current teachers. Legislators are not politically dumb. Older citizens vote at a higher rate than younger ones.
The Retirement Systems of Alabama estimates it will need an extra $62.6 million a year for the next 20 years to pay for this 7% increase. However, fiscal restraint goes out the window when election year arrives and someone has to ultimately pay for reckless spending, that someone is you the taxpayers of Alabama or your children and grandchildren. This is an acute problem because teachers are retiring earlier thanks to a very generous retirement program that allows workers to retire after just 25 years.
The problem is further compounded by the simple fact that people are living longer and these benefits are paid for life. We are also facing an avalanche of retirees coming on board with the retirement of Baby Boomers. In addition the huge stock market gains made by Bronner and the Retirement System in the
1990's may be history.
In 1985 there were about 21,000 retired state teachers and it cost about $13 million a month for their pensions. By 2005 there were close to 60,000 retirees with a monthly pension cost of over $93 million. Some sound actuarial fiscal planning needs to be done by the Governor and Legislature to face this situation honestly.
History was made last week when Gov. Bob Riley's Inaugural Ball was held in Birmingham. No Governor's Inaugural Ball had ever been held outside Montgomery since the city became Alabama's capitol in 1847. Montgomery's Civic Center is being renovated and was unavailable so the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex gladly accepted the event. Gov. Riley was graced with the presence of the leading Republican Presidential contender, John McCain of Arizona.
The recent passing of Judge Conrad “Bully” Fowler at age 88 marked the loss of another great from the “greatest generation.” Conrad Fowler was a real southern gentleman. He was the longtime Probate Judge of Shelby County when it was a rural county and not a bedroom metropolis for the metro area of the state. He was a decorated WWII Marine who fought alongside Sen. Howell Heflin at the Battle of the Bulge. He and Heflin were lifetime best friends. Conrad Fowler had the distinction of being one of the few men who ever beat George Wallace in a political race. Fowler bested Wallace in a student body race at the University of Alabama. Fowler was the Greek Machine candidate. Wallace was the Independent.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist with his column appearing in 70 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.