Federal groups supporting Alabama candidates must register with the state

The office of the secretary of state said in a statement Tuesday that federal organizations contributing to state campaigns will be required to file campaign finance reports with the state.

The move, which Secretary of State John Merrill said would include black money groups, comes after years of controversy over the scope and enforcement of Alabama’s ban on money transfers between Political Action Committees (PACs).

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“People have been asking about the US Senate election in 2022,” Merrill said Tuesday, referring to outside spending. “We think if they try to do that, make sure they’re filing according to state law.”

Before the Legislature outlawed the practice in 2010, PAC-to-PAC transfers were used to shift campaign finance donations to hide the source of donations from political candidates. The law prohibiting transfers defines a PAC as a group that receives or expects to receive contributions that it spends or plans to spend on Alabama candidates, and applies it to any group, “whether in-state or out-of-state”.

But enforcement of the ban has been inconsistent. In 2011, a state PAC chaired by former Governor Bob Riley, who signed the PAC-to-PAC ban into law the previous year, accepted $50,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Virginia. The Alabama Democratic Party filed a lawsuit over the donation, which Riley’s PAC dismissed, but a grand jury in 2012 said the law did not appear to give the state the ability to sue the committees of political action outside the state.

In 2018, a PAC affiliated with the Republican Attorneys General Association donated $735,000 to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s re-election campaign. The PAC had received funds from other PACs. But a court dismissed a lawsuit filed by former attorney general Troy King, who ran against Marshall that year. After the election, the Alabama Ethics Commission said in a 3-2 vote that there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a charge against Marshall.

Responding to a 2020 inquiry by Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Chris England, the commission issued an opinion saying the Democratic Party could not use federal funds for a state account.

“Alabama’s PAC-to-PAC ban prohibits any “transfer of funds” in addition to “contributions” and “expenditures” from one PAC to another or on behalf of “any Alabama state or elected local, proposal, candidate, main campaign committee or other political action committees”, and does not provide any exceptions to this prohibition, except for contributions, expenditures or a transfer of funds made by a PAC directly to the committee of main campaign of a candidate,” the opinion states.

New guidance from the secretary of state’s office says that federal PACs seeking to intervene in an election must register as state PACs and file regular campaign finance reports. Merrill said the guidelines would not be retroactive.

Outside spending in the Republican Senate primary included about $4.4 million from the Washington, D.C.-based Growth Club, which backed U.S. Representative Mo Brooks of Huntsville against the former President and CEO of the Council of Alabama business, Katie Britt. The Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, spent $1.4 million against Brooks.

During her re-election campaign this spring, Governor Kay Ivey secured $1.7 million from Families Back to Work, a black money group affiliated with the Republican Governors Association. Merrill said an organization doing this “should file” campaign finance reports.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected]

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