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Alabama sidesteps VRA § 5 preclearance status quo: I’ll see you in court

by John Alford

As part of the mandated decennial redistricting, the Alabama legislature will change the lines for the State’s congressional and school board districts. Current and proposed maps can be found here. This redistricting will alter the political landscape of the State, but before Alabama can move forward on redistricting, the Federal Government has to approve of the new map as per the Voting Rights Act § 5 (“VRA”). Under the VRA § 5, there are two paths Alabama can take to get preclearance. It can seek approval through the Justice Department (DOJ) or through the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (For more on the VRA § 5, particularly why and how states like Alabama get preclearance from the Federal Government, see here.) Alabama has opted to take the matter to court.

Like many other covered jurisdictions, Alabama is unhappy with the requirement that the Justice Department (DOJ) keep tabs on its election process. To wit, Shelby County recently filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the preclearance process, so far unsuccessfully (see more about this lawsuit here.) The opinion in Shelby County emanates from the same court from which Alabama is seeking preclearance on redistricting. But the ruling against Shelby County should not alter how the District Court views the issue here. Overturning VRA § 5 would be an extreme political move, essentially declaring that issues of race no longer disrupt the electoral process in states historically notorious for prejudicial practices. Granting preclearance to a redistricting plan, as routinely done in the past, is nowhere near as high a hurdle for Alabama to clear. Continue reading

Who is stuffing the politicians’ pockets: Alabama and PAC-to-PAC contributions

by John Alford 

Alabama Legislatures are trying to clean up the state’s political landscape. The problem at hand is that money is being shifted around without a clear understanding of where the funds originated. Political action committees (“PACs“) are, essentially, groups that take in funds and redistribute contributions to candidates or to advocate particular issues. Prior to 2011, a PAC in Alabama could receive money from a donor and then transfer the funds to another PAC. The second PAC can then put funds into half a dozen other PACs, which use the money to help advocate issues. The identity of the individuals who originally donated the funds is lost in the mix. This means that people trying to influence, or even corrupt, politicians, can play this “shell game” and hide the money trail. Keep in mind, there are 859 PACs in Alabama.

An attempt to hide the money trail is exactly what happened when gambling interest groups began trying to increase their odds of success. The U.S. Justice Department wiretapped a session where this statement came to light:  “We’re gonna support who supports democracy. And the (expletive deleted) who doesn’t support democracy [should] get ready to get their (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) busted.” Certainly this crass statement could be taken admirably, but chances are the gambling tycoon was not strictly supporting democracy given that statement is taken in the context of extortion, bribery, fraud, and conspiracy charges. Shifting money from PAC-to-PAC to hide the connection to gambling money, however, was perfectly legal. This confusion of contributions was an integral means of getting support for the gambling agenda since politicians did not need to fear disclosure. Continue reading

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