Tuesday night, Alabama Today got a call from state Rep. Steve Clouse in response to our post “Ethics questions abound, who will investigate.” In that post we highlighted a letter purportedly written by Alabama Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) Director Lance LeFleur that accused Clouse of potential ethics violations for pursuing language in the budget bill to exempt the Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund (UST) from transfers to the general fund.
Clearly perplexed by the resurrection of allegations that he had a personal conflict made by LeFleur called to set the record straight.
He confirmed that LeFleur brought his allegations about his alleged conflict in the language to to Sen. Arthur Orr during the budget process and that Orr spoke to him about them directly at that time.
According to Clouse he told Orr that his family got out of the Amoco oil business 27 years ago. More recently Clouse and his father were brokers for ethanol and transformer oil but that business was shut down several years ago. A car business Clouse owned closed over a year ago. He says he is now a full-time legislator (though admittedly he was babysitting his toddler granddaughter yesterday, which is a job in itself).
Clouse pointed out that the broker business was not impacted by the UST Trust Fund. He stated that he didn’t own any tanks, equipment and work was done over the phone.
It was important Clouse noted to point out when the budget left the house there were zero transfers from the ADEM budget insisting that the senate was responsible for the $1.2 million funds transfers.
Insisting the language he added wasn’t even necessary he said he did so to ensure a piece of mind to those paying into the fund and to save ADEM a potential lawsuit if they attempted to use UST Trust Fund monies in any way other than their designated use.
Clouse told Alabama Today that LeFlaur said he’s “okay with his budget being zero as long as there were not transfers.” When asked about the fee increases now being requested due to the fact ADEM was zeroed out with LeFlaur’s blessing he noted that legislators “knew there was a possibility of raises.”
He was unaware of the previous across the board fee increases which included 19 percent in 2011 and 50 percent in 2013 and did not know that a 20 percent fee increase on top of the other two was currently being proposed. He did not want to speak directly to them because he was not fully informed on all of the specifics but we will follow up with him as he has time to research the matter more.
In addition to the call by Clouse, Alabama Today received numerous calls and messages on his behalf. One from a influential lobbyist and friend said, “I’m 100 percent sure he wouldn’t do anything like that for personal gain.” Another caller stated that Clouse, “is one of the nicest guys in Montgomery, salt of the earth. These attacks are baseless.”
Speaker Mike Hubbard‘s office told Alabama Today, “Speaker Hubbard has every confidence in Chairman Clouse.”
Clouse told Alabama Today that he is planning on meeting with LeFleur this Thursday, November 5th. We will report back and continue to cover this story as more develops. The next installment will be more about the fee increases and budget of ADEM.