Retired Alabama ethics chief: Mike Hubbard often got ‘the drill’

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The retired director of the Alabama Ethics Commission testified Tuesday that he often gave “the drill” to House Speaker Mike Hubbard, cautioning him about actions that would violate the state’s ethics law.

Prosecutors called Jim Sumner to give jurors a tutorial on the law and to try to show that Hubbard willfully ignored his advice.

Sumner said Hubbard often sought informal ethics advice from him or general counsel Hugh Evans. He testified that they generally told Hubbard his consulting contracts would be legal as long as he didn’t use the “mantle of his office” to benefit his clients and businesses.

“We always got to the point: I would say, or Hugh would say, ‘You remember the drill. You can’t use your position to benefit yourself, your business or your family,'” Sumner said.

Hubbard’s defense has made a point of saying that he sought ethical guidance and followed the law. But informal opinions don’t provide the legal protection Hubbard might have received had he sought formal opinions from the five-member Ethics Commission.

And unlike his private conversations with Sumner and Evans, commission opinions are a matter of public record.

Hubbard is charged with 23 felony counts of violating the ethics law by using his positions as speaker and state GOP chairman to solicit a total of $2.3 million in work, investments and financial favors.

Hubbard has maintained his innocence and said the transactions were within the law’s exemptions for normal business dealings and longstanding friendships.

Sumner said the law forbids public officials from:

– using their offices to benefit businesses with which they are associated;

– soliciting things with monetary value from lobbyists or their employers;

– and being paid to lobby.

Hubbard is accused of doing all three.

Sumner said there is an exemption for longstanding friendships, so that people who had “known each other all their lives” could do things like go on vacation together without violating the law.

Hubbard is expected to argue that the friendship exemption applies to his deals with former Gov. Bob Riley, now a lobbyist. Hubbard named his younger son Riley, and has described the former governor as his political mentor.

A number of powerful corporation owners and executives were called to testify Tuesday about $150,000 investments they each made in Hubbard’s printing company, Craftmaster.

Jon Sanderson, the former chief financial officer at Sterne Agee Group, Inc., testified that his CEO whispered during a meeting that he needed a $150,000 check made out to Craftmaster “right now.”

Hubbard isn’t the only Alabama Republican in trouble. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley faces impeachment after a scandal over his relationship with an aide, and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is suspended and could be removed from office for allegedly violating judicial ethics in the fight over same-sex marriage.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press

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