Alabama Secretary of State Filed Campaign Law Violation Complaint Against Luther Strange in April, Ethics Commission ‘Took No Official Action’ at August 16 Meeting

luther strange
AP/Butch Dill

The Alabama Secretary of State’s office filed a campaign law violation complaint against Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) in April, but the Alabama Ethics Commission did not act on that complaint in either its June or August meetings.

“We had some potential concerns with Senator Strange’s filings from the time he was Attorney General. That was from his annual report from the year 2016,” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

“Senator Strange and his team believe that federal law preempts contributions to his Alabama Principal Campaign Committee for Attorney General. With that said, it’s important to understand we have a responsibility to follow the law,” Merrill said.

“Our referral does not attempt to assign insinuate nor indicate guilt, nor act as any indictment of Senator Strange’s actions regarding the filing of our report with the Ethics Commision,” Secretary of State Merrill told Breitbart News on Wednesday, calling it “the next step in the review process.”

“At our August meeting, the Commission took no official action on any case involving Luther Strange. Beyond that, I have no comment,” Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, told Breitbart News via email on Wednesday.

The Alabama Political Reporter first broke the story on May 2:

Recently appointed Senator Luther Strange, only a few months into his new job, has potentially committed two major campaign finance violations, according to Secretary of State John Merrill.

Campaign finance records show that Strange transferred campaign contributions between his US Senate campaign account and his Alabama Attorney General account, outside of the legal window. The contributions also exceeded the legal limit on account transfers.

Each of the violations could be prosecuted as felony offenses if the State Ethics Commission takes up the case and refers charges. Former Gov. Robert Bentley faced possible felony charges for a similar transfer that took place outside of the legal time frame.

While the amount of money involved is small, the details as reported by the Alabama Political Reporter suggest that Strange has some very serious problems to address with regards to Alabama campaign finance law:

Section 17-5-15.1 (a) [of the State’s campaign finance laws] reads, “A principal campaign committee of a state or local candidate and any person authorized to make an expenditure on its behalf may not receive or spend, in a campaign for state or local office, campaign funds in excess of one thousand dollars ($1,000) that were raised by a principal campaign committee of a federal candidate.”

According to Strange’s FCPA and his FEC filing, he exceeded the $1000.00 limit by $418.27. Each violation could be prosecuted as a felony. Violation of the 120-day rule is a Class B Felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The $1000.00 statute is a Class C felony which carries up to 10 years behind bars.Transactions show that Strange for Senate “reimbursed” Alabamians for Luther Strange as reported on both the FCPA Report (Receipts from other sources) and his Senate report. (emphasis added)

On May 3, Yellowhammer News “contacted the Senator’s campaign office,” and reported the following response:

They connected us with Megan Newton and Ben Ginsberg, lawyers from Jones Day that are tasked with ensuring the Senator’s compliance with Federal Elections Commission laws. Mrs. Newton explained that the actions in question were actually steps the Senator took to comply with federal campaign laws.

As she pointed out, Senator Strange’s U.S. Senate campaign purchased two domain names from his state Attorney General’s campaign. Federal law requires that such purchases be recorded, and that’s what occurred. In other words, it wasn’t a transfer of contributions between campaigns, it was an accounting entry for a transaction, which the federal law requires.

The Alabama Ethics Commission did not undertake the Secretary of State’s complaint in its regularly scheduled June meeting, nor did it take it up in its subsequent meeting in August, as executive director Albritton told Breitbart News Wednesday.

During a meeting initially scheduled to be held on August 2, the Commission “was expected to take up [the] complaint filed by Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill against appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who is running for the position. Merrill, as he told APR in May, believes Strange has violated two campaign finance laws – the same two violated by Gov. Robert Bentley, who ended up pleading guilty and resigning from office – and he wants the Commission to review,” according to the Alabama Political Reporter.

That meeting was rescheduled to August 16, one day after the Republican Senate primary in which Senator Strange and Judge Roy Moore emerged as the two top finishers who will now be competing one-on-one in the September 26 Republican primary runoff election. The winner of that election will face Democratic nominee Doug Jones in a December 12 general election to permanently replace former Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), now the Attorney General for the United States.

Executive director Albritton would not comment on whether the Secretary of State’s complaint against Luther Strange would be addressed in the Commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting in October, which is after the September 26 runoff election, but before the December 12 general election.

“I appreciate the fact that you’re persistent! As I said, I cannot comment on the matter beyond what I’ve said. Hope you can understand,” executive director Albritton responded when asked when the Alabama Ethics Commission will take up the Secretary of State’s complaint against Luther Strange.

Breitbart News also asked Albritton when the minutes of the August 16 meeting of the Commission as well as the video archive of that meeting will be made available to the public.

Video archives of all other prior Commission meetings are available on its website, but the video archive of the August 16 meeting is not available there.

“The minutes won’t be available until they are approved at our October meeting. I’ll check on the archived video. Not sure why that’s not up,” Albritton added.