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Lawmakers get subpoenas for campaign finance records

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Some Alabama legislators have received subpoenas for campaign finance records in what appears to be an attorney general’s review of campaign spending.

At least two lawmakers confirmed to The Associated Press that they had received subpoenas from the attorney general’s office for campaign spending records — but expressed confidence they had done nothing wrong. Another alluded to a subpoena in a social media post.

While the direction of the review is unclear, it appears to be focused on whether lawmakers followed state law in how they spent campaign funds, including if purchases made with campaign-paid credit cards were all related to the campaign and properly reported.

The review comes five months after a prominent Republican lawmaker pleaded guilty to charges related to using campaign money for personal expenses.

Secretary of State John Merrill, whose office receives campaign finance reports filed by candidates, said he had conversations beginning in the summer with the attorney general’s office about entries on some politicians’ reports. Merrill said they sought information about expenditures that “raised questions in their minds.”

“Perhaps it was a credit card expense that said payment to Visa or payment to MasterCard and it did not say what it was for,” Merrill said.

A spokesman for Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was unable to comment.

Senate Minority Leader Billy Beasley confirmed that he received a subpoena from the attorney general’s office.

“I’m very comfortable I’ve been following the law. You can’t use your campaign money for your personal use,” Beasley said. “I keep good records. … I itemize.”

Another legislator who spoke on the condition of anonymity told AP that he received a subpoena regarding campaign finances and non-itemized expenditures on his campaign credit card. The legislator said he didn’t want to be identified because of the ongoing investigation.

Some politicians regularly use credit cards during campaigns to purchase materials, food, gas and services. State campaign finance law requires candidates to itemize expenditures over $100.

A 1995 opinion from the attorney general’s office advised that “several expenditures should not be lumped together under a general heading of credit card expenditures.”

Some lawmakers expressed frustration.

State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, wrote on Facebook that her decision not to seek re-election was based on her inability to find a job that also allowed her to serve in the Legislature. The “subpoena was the just the tipping point for me.”
“I think the SOS should review our campaign finance reports, but why wait five years before you begin to review our records?” Todd wrote, referring to the Secretary of State.

Todd did not respond to voicemail and text messages.

A number of other legislators refused to comment on whether they had received subpoenas.

The review of expenditures comes five months after a once-prominent Alabama lawmaker pleaded guilty to a mail fraud charge for using campaign funds for personal expenses.

Micky Hammon, a Decatur Republican and former majority leader in the House of Representatives, pleaded guilty in September to a felony mail fraud charge. Federal prosecutors said Hammon would withdraw money from his campaign committee’s bank account by writing a check to himself.

Hammon was automatically removed from office because the charge was a felony.

“This is a grand jury investigation and it would be inappropriate for me to start making comments about it,” House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said Thursday when asked about the subpoenas. “I’m not encouraging members to talk about that because it’s grand jury. I don’t know who all is getting them.”

McCutcheon and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said lawmakers have recently been given a refresher discussion on the requirements of campaign finance law and how to properly file reports.

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