An ally of Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling funded the ad last month attacking an election challenger of the mayor, provided the funding days after closing on a $574,000 sale of land to the city, and said he "must have" contributed to the PAC that produced the ad at Bowling's suggestion.
Attorney Sam Frazier’s $2,500 contribution toward the ad became public Wednesday when a PAC disclosure was filed eight days after the Aug. 25 election.
Bowling denies advance knowledge of the ad or of the PAC, and denies he solicited a contribution for the PAC.
The chairman of the PAC personally produced the ad, and also produces Bowling's campaign ads.
The disclosure on the negative ad stated it was paid for by Forwarding Alabama Together PAC, which goes by FATPAC, and that it was not authorized by any candidate. The Montgomery-based political action committee did not complete its registration with the Secretary of State’s Office until the day after the election, and it filed its first financial disclosure showing any contributions or expenditures Wednesday.
The only contributors were landowner and attorney Frazier and the PAC chairman, Dalton Dismukes. Frazier contributed $2,500 and Dismukes loaned the PAC $300, according to the disclosure. Both contributions were made on Monday, according to the form filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Frazier said Thursday he had no knowledge of the ad, which targeted then-candidate David Childers.
“I know nothing about that. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with negotiations with Mitchell-Frazier Farms,” he said, referencing the Belle Mina-based partnership he controls that sold land to the city.
Frazier said he does not know and has never spoken to Dismukes.
The Decatur Daily asked Frazier if Bowling directed Frazier to make Monday's contribution to FATPAC.
“He must have, yes. I don’t remember the details of that, and I’d like to talk to him about it before I comment about that, but I’m sure what he asked me to do was proper," Frazier said.
"I make no bones about the fact that I supported him. That’s not a mystery. If that’s what you’re concerned about, I admit I supported him and I gave him some money. ... I certainly let it be known to the mayor that I was willing to help more if he needed it."
On Thursday, Frazier said he hoped to speak to the mayor before responding more completely. On Friday evening he said in an email, "I haven’t called you because I haven’t been able to find any more information."
Frazier made a direct contribution to the mayor’s campaign last September. Bowling acknowledged conversations with Frazier but denied any discussions involving FATPAC or the ad created by FATPAC using Frazier’s money.
“That is not accurate,” Bowling said Friday. “I haven’t talked to Mr. Frazier about anything related to that PAC, nor have I asked for his financial assistance since his original contribution.”
Bowling’s campaign manager, Heather Wilson of Leverage Public Strategies in Huntsville, also denied any involvement.
“I’m not affiliated with that PAC. I don’t know anything about that PAC,” she said Friday. “I have not coordinated or solicited funds from Sam Frazier. … I don’t know what else has been told, but I’m telling you my side and that’s my final answer.”
Frazier, who practices law in Birmingham, controls Mitchell-Frazier Farms Limited Partnership, which owns about 600 acres of land south of Alabama 20 in Decatur-annexed Limestone County. Bowling spearheaded a renewed effort to build an overpass over Alabama 20 to foster development along the corridor.
The overpass was originally designed in 2014 under then-Mayor Don Kyle as a critical part of a commercial development, but was discarded after an effort to bring a Bass Pro to the Mitchell-Frazier land collapsed. Before the deal fell through, the developer of the project called Sweetwater had agreed to pay Mitchell-Frazier Farms more than $20 million for 537 acres of land.
The overpass became feasible again under Bowling when the city applied for, and in December 2018 was awarded, a $14.2 million federal grant for the project.
Landowners north of the highway have argued from the beginning that the overpass project is designed to benefit the Mitchell-Frazier land south of the highway at the expense of theirs, mainly because it blocks a large amount of frontage on the north side of Alabama 20.
In order to build the overpass, the city needs to acquire rights of way from landowners on both sides of Alabama 20, including on the south side from Frazier. The landowners north of the highway have resisted the city’s condemnation efforts, which are now in court, and have filed a federal lawsuit against the city seeking to block the project.
Frazier was the one landowner who negotiated an agreement with the city rather than forcing the city to initiate a condemnation action. Frazier on Thursday said the negotiations concluded in June or before, and stressed his financial support of Bowling’s campaign had nothing to do with the sale price. City Attorney Herman Marks said in early July that negotiations were still in progress over the purchase of the Mitchell-Frazier land.
“The closing was at the end of last week. The purchase price was $574,000,” Marks said Thursday, meaning the closing was after the Aug. 25 municipal election and before Frazier’s contribution to FATPAC. The purchase involved about 11 acres of land.
Frazier donated $2,500 to Bowling’s campaign Sept. 20, one of the earliest donations and tied with several others as being the largest.
Timing of ad
Two days before the election, a negative Facebook ad was run against Childers, Bowling's most aggressive and best-funded challenger. The ad went viral, and Childers blames it for the fact he did not make it into a runoff. He was 93 votes behind Butch Matthews, who will face Bowling in the runoff Oct. 6.
Bowling on Thursday said he had no advance knowledge of the Childers ad.
“It has nothing to do with Tab Bowling. It had to do, as I understand it, with David Childers, not Tab Bowling,” Bowling said.
He also said he was not in a position to benefit Frazier during the negotiations leading to the $574,000 land sale.
“I didn’t have anything to do with the negotiations. Herman (Marks) did all that. Now once Herman completed negotiating, I signed the agreement. There’s no foul in that, is there?” Bowling said.
Bowling said his only recent communications with Frazier were last week, “thanking him for closing out the agreement on the land deal.”
Dismukes, who has a Montgomery mailing address but said he has family near Decatur, on Aug. 26 distanced himself from Bowling. He said his motivation for running the ad was exclusively to warn voters about Childers’ checkered past, not to benefit Bowling.
“We’re not involved with Tab Bowling. I’m not with Leverage Public Strategies. Forwarding Alabama (FATPAC) has nothing to do with Leverage Public Strategies,” Dismukes said then.
Dismukes’ LinkedIn page said he was with Leverage Public Strategies, the company where Bowling’s campaign manager works, from 2017 to present, but Dismukes said that was out of date and he no longer is an employee of the company.
According to Bowling, however, Dismukes has had frequent contact with Bowling as a contractor for Leverage Public Strategies.
Bowling said he was with Dismukes last week “whenever he came over to do some videos for commercials related to our campaign, but nothing related to the PAC, except I think I made a joke or something during our time together.”
Neither Dismukes nor the company he owns, Strategy Management, show up in Bowling’s campaign disclosures because he is paid by Leverage Public Strategies, Bowling said.
Bowling and Dismukes also spent time together before the Aug. 25 election.
“The videos that you see of me on Facebook for the general election were done by Dalton,” Bowling said, adding that his campaign manager contracts with Dismukes directly to do the video work.
“She contracts out to Dalton. He’s like on a 1099 (for independent contractors),” Bowling said.
Bowling’s campaign reports disclose $4,568.77 in payments to Leverage Public Strategies between Oct. 4 and Aug. 3.
PAC's registration date
The anti-Childers ad included the following disclosure: "Paid for by Forwarding Alabama Together PAC … Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee." At the time the ad ran, however, no such PAC was registered with the Secretary of State’s Office.
FATPAC’s registration was not completed until the day after the election, and it listed Dismukes as its chairman.
The first and only financial disclosure, filed Wednesday, reports that FATPAC received the Frazier contribution Monday, six days after the election and more than a week after the ad ran on Facebook. Also Wednesday, according to the disclosure, the PAC made three expenditures. Two of the expenditures, for a total of $1,300, went to Tuscaloosa-based Strategy Management LLC. Dismukes owns Strategy Management.
While the financial disclosure more than a week after the election prevented voters from knowing that Frazier funded the anti-Childers ad until after they cast their ballots, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Thursday said it did not appear to violate campaign finance laws.
“If you go by the letter of the law, there were no violations that we’ve been able to uncover to this point,” Merrill said.
He said he had concerns both about the post-election disclosure of Frazier’s contribution to the PAC, and that the contribution was reportedly received well after the ad had run and the election was over.
“Now obviously we know … that certain things had to be in place in order for this to move forward, and know the contribution was coming. They just fixed it where it wasn’t going to be introduced publicly until it was too late for anybody to do anything,” Merrill said. “Obviously we know, and you know, that (Dismukes) told them to give the check or the cash transfer or whatever it was on that date. That’s obvious. That doesn’t just happen by happenstance.”
Merrill said Dismukes took advantage of a loophole that can only be fixed through legislative action.
Contacted Friday about the added wrinkle that Frazier indicated he made the contribution to FATPAC at Bowling’s suggestion, Merrill’s press secretary Grace Newcombe responded by email. “Without more details, we cannot determine if this is in compliance with state law,” she said.
Contribution arrived Monday
Dismukes on Thursday said he did nothing illegal, and that his intent was not to prevent voters from knowing about the Frazier contribution until after the election was over.
He declined to discuss any conversations with Frazier about the anti-Childers ad, but he said he could not know with certainty that Frazier would contribute the $2,500 until it arrived Monday. He said there were no financial transactions to disclose until his PAC received the contribution, and until the PAC was invoiced for and paid the money to the company he owns, Strategy Management.
He compared it to a routine household transaction.
“So you may have said, ‘I would like to replace my front door,’ and someone’s going to say, ‘That will cost $500.’ You say ‘That’s great, let’s do it.’ Once they complete the work, they bill you $500, you give them $500, and that would be the date of the transaction,” he said.
He said if his goal had been to delay disclosure, he could have legally done so in such a way that the contribution and expenditures were not made until September and thus were not included in a report until October.
“If I really wanted to circumvent the law, I could have waited to check my P.O. Box (to pick up Frazier’s contribution) one day. I could have invoiced myself later,” Dismukes said. “There are a number of ways to get around that, but I’m not going to do that. I’m being 100% transparent here, 100% honest. If there’s a gap (in the law) anywhere, that’s not for me to decide.”
He said the reason he decided to create the ad was to respond to a negative ad run by Childers that slammed Bowling. The timing of his ad, and thus of the disclosures, was dictated by the fact Childers ran the anti-Bowling ad the week before the election.
Dismukes said he personally created the anti-Childers ad, through his company Strategy Management.
“I didn’t feel (Childers) was being honest and transparent about the whole thing. So I decided, OK, I’m going to make an ad. And it was up to me to either pay for it myself — and you can see I loaned the committee $300, I’m personally invested in this as well. So it’s up to me to either cover the entire thing, in which case my contribution would have been shown, or it’s up to me to find someone else to (contribute). I fundraise and find the money,” he said.
Bowling said he does not understand why Frazier would suggest he steered him to make the contribution to FATPAC.
"This is beginning to stink," Bowling said Friday. "It’s not weird from my side. I can’t speak about what others might be doing, but as it relates to Tab Bowling, I’m not connected to this."