MONTGOMERY — Bradley, Arant, Boult and Cummings has been a campaign contributor in Alabama with its own Political Action Committee since the 1990s.
Records show it gave Attorney General Luther Strange $15,000 when he was running for attorney general in 2010 and then two contributions of $1,000 and $5,000 in late 2010, after the election.
The Birmingham law firm has been sought out to help the attorney general’s office represent the state in the ongoing “electronic gambling dispute.” That assistance has cost Alabama more than $364,000 since 2011.
A representative for the firm said it makes contributions to causes and candidates around the state and files the proper paperwork.
“We don’t see a conflict,” said Mike Denniston, partner and chairman of the firm’s PAC. “The attorney general’s office, like any other agency, has the ability to choose outside counsel.
“We feel like if we weren’t doing good work, they wouldn’t continue to hire us and keep us on.”
There are no state regulations preventing a company doing business with the state from contributing to campaigns, as long as they aren’t promised anything in return.
“If they make a contribution and the purpose of the contribution is this for that, it is illegal,” said Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, a former Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent. “But if they give a contribution with nothing in mind, no, there is nothing illegal about that.
“The fact is, a lot of those big law firms give contributions to everybody.”
Records show Bradley, Arant, Boult and Cummings made contributions to a variety of candidates in 2010, including $20,000 to Robert Bentley, who was running for governor. Others included Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, former Attorney General Troy King, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis.
Strange received well over $2 million in contributions in 2010, some of it from other attorneys and law firms.
Kevin Turner, chief deputy attorney general, didn’t comment on the contributions by outside attorneys, except to say firms that made them likely also contributed to candidates for other offices.
Ball and Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, successfully pushed a bill in the last legislative session that removed the $500 cap on corporations’ allowed campaign contributions.
Ball, chairman of the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee, said the caps were “pretend” because corporations could give to PACs and funnel unlimited contributions to candidates that way. He said he’d rather they have to report it.
“We’ve got to get away from trying to make everyone be ethical and just show the voters (who is contributing to whom) and let them sort it out,” Ball said.
Meanwhile, all state contracts go through the Legislative Contract Review Committee, which holds monthly meetings where the public can see where state money is going. That is part of the checks-and-balance system, Taylor said.
Earlier this month, the attorney general’s office entered into another $100,000 contract with Bradley, Arant, Boult, Cummings, according to a committee report.
Mary Sell covers state government for The Decatur Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.