Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Monday, October 24, 2011

Disappearing Ink—Al.com Vaporizes Montgomery Independent Story Critical of House Speaker Hubbard’s Planned Book “Storm in the State House”

I'm David Azbell and I want to thank the public for the cigar and the Texas trip.

*Breaking update: 10/26 9:10 CST--Martin republishes his article and a lot more: "State Agencies Bow to Speaker" (Link broken, story pulled. ???)

If you blinked you missed it--a really good story from The Montgomery Independent that is.

For a brief time on October 21, 2011, a potentially explosive story ran on Al.com entitled “Researcher For Hubbard Book Paid By House.” The Montgomery Independent authored the story, based on information from Inside Alabama Politics, that revealed David Azbell of Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross had collected $136,000 of public money via an authorization from the Alabama House of Representatives and presumably green-lighted from the likely source of Mike Hubbard.

Azbell had been (and may still be) acting as a consultant with Hubbard on the book and assigned the duties of “research, editing and writing.” From 2007 until March of this year, Azbell was collecting $2,000 per month for “public relations work for the House Republican Caucus ."  In March of 2011, the sum jumped four fold to $8,000 per month for duties unclear to the Montgomery Independent before deadline of the story prior to the October 21st publication.

As suddenly as the story appeared, it quickly disappeared.

Here’s what *originally ran:

Researcher for Hubbard book paid by House
Published: Friday, October 21, 2011, 12:27 PM  Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011, 12:37 PM
By Alabama’s State Capital News Source (The Montgomery Independent)

Last month the political newsletter Inside Alabama Politics reported that Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard of Auburn had turned his attention earlier this year to writing a book on the rise of the Republican Party in Alabama.
The planned title is “Storm in the State House” and will be published by New South Books of Montgomery. Hubbard said the planned publication date is next January.
The speaker was quoted as saying that the book would document the Republican takeover of the State Legislature in the 2010 elections. That ended a 136-year by Democrats in control of the lawmaking process in Alabama.
“It (the book) starts when I became party chairman in 2007 and goes through the 2010 election, the 2011 legislative session and the passage of our Handshake with Alabama package of legislation,” Hubbard said.
Former Riley administration Press Secretary David Azbell is helping Hubbard with research, writing and editing. Azbell is a founding partner of Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross (SAHR), a governmental and political affairs firm located in Montgomery. He also worked in the press office of former Gov. Fob James and has worked for the late Gov. George Wallace. His father, the late Joe Azbell, was a longtime columnist for The Montgomery Independent.
Since about the time of Hubbard’s rise as GOP chairman in Alabama in 2007 through this past February,  an LLC by the name of Azbell Communications and incorporated by David Azbell, has been paid $2,000 per month by the House of Representatives to do public relations work for the House Republican Caucus. That amount totaled $80,000, according to state records. In January of this year that job moved to someone else.
Then suddenly, this past March, the payment by the House of Representatives to Azbell Communications increased to $8,000 per month. Through August of this year state records show that Azbell Communications had been paid $56,000.
The Independent was unable to confirm by deadline this week the nature of the services Azbell Communications performs for the public body over which Rep. Hubbard presides.
But the book is on the way.

*(Google cached link. Bing.com cached link no longer works. Google's may also go inactive.) 

This story has all the smarmy factor of the arrangement that Representative Barry Mask-R had with lobbyist Steve Windom in which Mask received $10,000-$50,000 annually from Windom for “client referrals.” Mask was excused for his 'transgression' by the Alabama Ethics Commission because the deal “was in place before he was a member of the legislature.”

The public response to the Mask revelation was not kind and we suspect Hubbard was (and is) not willing to submit himself to the same type of criticism. The question in our minds is: Did he have anything to do with the rapid disappearance of the story? Someone made the call to pull it from the Al.com website, who was it? And why?

Azbell’s deal with Hubbard seems to suggest that cronyism is alive and well in the republican controlled state house despite Mike Hubbard himself lambasting the democrats for the same sins the ‘shakedown Alabama’ crowd, led by the virtuous as a pole cat Hubbard, are perpetrating against the public:
“For the past 136 years, Alabama Democrats have held the majority in both the Alabama House and Senate. And what have we gotten in return? They have given us a substandard education system, rampant government corruption, wasteful spending…” "If you believe… our public officials are honest and squeaky clean and all of your hard-earned tax dollars are being spent wisely, nothing I can write in this column can convince you we need a change."
The winds of change Mr. Hubbard and the republicans promised Alabamians aren't the cleansing breezes heralding a "new day of ethics and accountability in Alabama." What they really are are the same old ill winds that have blown unabated through Alabama politics for decades.

Hubbard was right about one thing--we do need a change, but we got shorted on our investment by putting our faith in Hubbard and Co. Perhaps he has a good explanation for using taxpayer money to publish his rah rah propaganda book, but we're hard pressed to imagine one no matter how you look at it.

(How much of the total amount paid to Azbell that's directly tied to Hubbard's book is indeterminable at this time.)

Hubbard's choice of Azbell and the timeline of his 'contract' with the House is interesting to ponder. According to the Montgomery Independent story, Hubbard's book has been in the works since 2007. Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross formed their political powerhouse group that same year touting itself as an organization of "credibility, integrity and ethics that we think is important in this new day in Montgomery" and who think they are "better" than anyone else at "tackling this thing" known as Alabama politics:

The head of this group, Dax Swatek, has some issues with ethics and integrity that Legal Schnauzer covered in a recent article on his blog:
A group called the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) has received $13.1 million from an "at-risk fund" controlled by State Superintendent Joe Morton. And who handles lobbying efforts for CLAS? Why, it's the new Montgomery outfit called Swatek Azebll Howe and Ross (SAHR), whose members have held prominent roles in Alabama Republican politics.
Schnauzer referenced a story by the seasoned journalist, Bob Lowry, formerly of the Huntsville Times, who uncovered the $13.1 million dollar "wasteful spending" that also had lingering ties to House Speaker Hubbard through his former partner, Brian Schulman, Auburn Network, Inc. and Learning Through Sports:
The software company, Learning Through Sports Inc., was formerly a partnership between Brian Shulman, a former Auburn football player, and Auburn Network Inc., a multimedia company owned by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.
While we're on the subject of Bob Lowry, something odd happened on the way to his abrupt dismissal--Mike Hubbard rolled through the area right before it occurred. Schnauzer has some thoughts on what may have happened that ended the Alabama career of this talented investigative journalist:
"...Lowry was perhaps the only mainstream journalist in Alabama who reported seriously and wrote critically about the Bob Riley administration. It has been reported in several venues that Riley contacted higher ups at the Huntsville paper in an effort to get Lowry off his back."
"...Lowry has written critically about state representative Mike Hubbard, a staunch Riley ally and now speaker of the Alabama House. In early August, Hubbard made a well-publicized trip to Huntsville for a speech and a tour of high-tech facilities. Not long after that, word leaked about the Times' plans to close the Montgomery bureau and send Bob Lowry packing."
Perusing a list of some of the stories from Mr. Lowry's tenure at the Huntsville Times shows he was hounding our politicians antics, and holding them up to public accountability with the well-honed nose of an experienced journalist who knows how to sniff out the facts. He was on to some hot trails in 2011 and the republican hypocrisy was a frequent target of his keen senses.

Then, just like the Montgomery Independent story, he disappeared. There was no announcement by the former employers he helped lend credibility to despite the fact that Lowry was among the reasons the Huntsville Times received 24 AP awards in 2008 and 4 top writing awards in 2009.
An oddly prophetic picture of Lowry sitting in Alabama's infamous electric chair "Yellow Mama"
What's going on in Alabama journalism? Have our news outlets become proof that the Propoganda Model (i.e Fifth Estate) Herman and Chomsky wrote about is alive and well?
The Propoganda Model traces the route by which money and power and able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalise dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their message across to the public. The essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news "filters" fall under the following headings: (1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms; (2) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media; (3) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business and "exports" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power; (4) "flak" as a means of disciplining the media; and (5) "anti-communism" as a national religion and control mechanism. These elements interact with and reinforce one another. The raw material of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print. They fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the first place, and they explain the basis and operations of what amounts to propaganda campaigns.'
What about our self-professed virtuous, conservative politicians? Haven't they shown us that there isn't one thin dimes' worth of difference between republicans and democrats in Alabama? And why is the state media, more often than not these days, such willing accomplices in covering for their misdeeds?

This move by Al.com strikes yet another body blow to public interest media.

"All the news that's fit" to print is clearly a subjective stance. One that's based more in corporate and political interests ideas of what the public needs to know, not necessarily what they should know and have a right to know, about those who hold so much power over their lives through governance and political influence.

*CrooksandLiars.com 10/26--"Alabama Republicans Put Taxpayers Dollars to Work for Alabama Republicans"
*Update 10/25--Legal Schnauzer adds legs to the MI story 
*2nd Update 5:47 pm--Bob Sims, Director of Al.com forum 'defends' deletion:
From: Robert Sims <rsims@al.com>
Date: Tue, Oct 25, 2011 at 12:20 PM
We are/were working on some of the backend structure of the web site and made changes to our structure in news, entertainment, sports and lifestyle sections late Friday.
The story was a casualty of this backend work.
As an aside, The Independent’s blog is among 26 that will be retired in coming days.
Bob Sims
Director of content
*photo credits: Lowry from his UPI related image files
                       Azbell from his own egotistical proclivities
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    While in the process of commenting on it through the Al.com forum it poofed away!

    Rep. Hubbard is a thin-skinned, frat boy, Ayatollah who can't take an ounce of scrutiny. This deal stinks and it makes one wonder why Rep. Hubbard has been allowed unfettered access to the state cookie jar over the years.

    Then again not really. He's sold his soul to Riley and no one was better at gaming the system for their own personal wealth rise than the former governor-in-thief.

  2. Swatek, Azbell, Howe and Ross put together their little fleece club with full involvement from Hubbard and other republican operatives.
    What was the intent of the alliance?
    It should be painfully obvious with Azbell.
    Funnel money here so it can be moved back over there and you have all the indicators of inside theft of taxpayer dollars.

  3. There are only two journalists left that dare to take on the big boys: Bob Martin and Kim Chandler.
    I have to wonder how long it will be before the machine grinds them up and solidifies the Stalinesque quality of media in Alabama.

    Public outrage should be running over towards elected officials and the media.

  4. Very troubled to hear about Lowry.
    Where did he go? Anybody know?

  5. I cannot imagine the MI is okay with this now you see it now you don't.
    That said, the tag line names them as the Alabama State Capital News Source. Have they picked up Lowry's position and will they follow in his footsteps or acquiesce for access?

  6. If we leave the storm in the state house there long enough expect the state finances to remain in shambles.
    Hubbard's a crook, one of those entitled sorts that believes what's Alabama's is his by proxy.

  7. According to Wiki the Legislature is responsible for raising and distributing the money necessary to run the state government.

    As hard as I looked I didn't see any amendment that stated autobiographies of legislators and their political party were vital to state government.

    Foul ball Mr. Hubbard.

  8. Criminal Penalties for Public Corruption/Violations of State Ethics Laws
    Among Alabama's is this one:
    -Entering into contracts which are to be paid out of government funds
    Where are the proceeds from Hubbard's book going? My guess would be into one of three tills:
    His own pocket
    Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross
    The republican party
    Isn't this forcing the public to donate against their will to one or all of those three?

  9. There was a black helicopter circling my house this weekend. I can't be sure, but I think Mike Hubbard was piloting it.

  10. Interesting how the new day in Montgomery morphed into the new day in Alabama. Spin masters on message and on the take.
    Hubbard should be ashamed of himself. Our politicians are numb to the public's view of this kind of corrupt behavior.

  11. Tell us Mikey Boy will there be some glowing passages about Senator Beason and former Rep. Lewis that are similar to what Judge Myron Thompson had to say about them in his recent opinion from the bench?

    '...politically motivated racists acting more on behalf of republican party fortunes than men concerned with righting wrongs.'

  12. As a big fan of Martin I hope he is hopping mad about the exclusion of their story from Al.com.
    With Cindy Martin heading up the forum and her ties to the BBA I'm not totally surprised though.
    I hope that her board position on the BBA does not skew her perception of news important to the public's interest.

  13. Could Speaker Hubbard be following ALEC slippery slope slaloms? If he is not using funds from the General Fund, Bond monies or Federal monies is ALEC providing the dough?

    State Secrets
    The holes in state ethics and financial-disclosure laws make it impossible to determine exactly how many state legislators have their trips to various ALEC-sponsored meetings paid for by others taxpayers, campaign contributors, corporations, and ALEC itself as well as how many bring along members of their families in the same fashion. In a dozen states, for example, legislators may accept gifts from outside interests and take trips paid for by outside interests without fear of any public scrutiny or criticism no disclosure of any kind is required. Those states are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont.


  14. WATCHER--

    The Montgomery Independent story does say state records verified the amounts they reported on. Based on that, we would say it safe to presume state money is directly involved to the tune of $136,000.00.

    You do bring up and interesting point about ALEC and how they are able to skirt state ethics laws.


  15. Review:
    Former Alabama Governor Guy Hunt uses $200,000 from an inaugural fund for marble showers, gets run out of office, disgraced and eventually pardoned.
    The damage was done and his name is forever synonymous with corruption in office.
    Speaker Hubbard gives away $136,000 in state money to his crony Azbell and a story about him gets axed.
    How are these two crimes different from each other?
    Answer: they aren't.

  16. Mobile Press-Register March 7, 2005

    Ex-press secretaries working for House political leaders
    BOB JOHNSON; Associated Press Writer

    Former aides to Govs. Riley, Siegelman take partisan posts in Legislature

    MONTGOMERY - Ever wonder what happens to the former press secretaries of Alabama governors?

    Two of them have gone to work part time for political leaders in the Alabama Legislature, taking partisan posts at taxpayer expense.

    The Legislature's Contract Review Committee last week approved a contract for David Azbell, a former press secretary to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, to write press releases, articles and speeches for House Republican leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. The committee also approved a contract for Mike Kanarick, press secretary to former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, to do research and writing for House Democratic leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill.

    Hubbard and Guin say the contracts are needed to assist House Republicans and Democrats with research and writing, but one senator says they are a waste of money.

    "Now we've got every politically connected consultant down here working for us," said Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery. "We didn't used to need staff to write press releases and to do research. We have the Legislative Reference Service and the Legislative Fiscal Office."

    The committee last Thursday approved a contract for $2,000 a month for a year for Azbell to assist Hubbard with "strategic communications and public relations efforts." At the same meeting, the committee approved a contract for Kanarick to receive $10,000 to work for Guin from March 1 to June 30.

    Azbell said he would be working for all 41 members of the House Republican Caucus.

    "Unlike the Senate, most House members have no staff to help them out," Azbell said.

    Kanarick recently quit as executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party to stay home and help care for newborn twins, a boy and a girl, while his wife works. He said he agreed to the contract with Guin because he could do the work from home and felt it was important work "to help all of the members of the party caucus."

    At the contract review committee meeting, Dixon held up a $10,000 contract for Leigh Ann Bradberry of San Diego, Calif., to do "research and writing" for Guin.

    "Why do we need someone in San Diego, Calif., to write speeches for members to give to the Anniston Rotary Club?" Dixon asked. The Contract Review Committee can hold a contract for 45 days before it goes to the governor for his signature, but can't kill it. It only takes the objection of one committee member to hold a contract.

    Guin said Bradberry is a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College and a former resident of his northwest Alabama House district. He said his plan was for Democratic Caucus members to correspond with Bradberry mostly through e-mail when they needed her to do a writing project or research.

    Guin said he decided to contract with Bradberry and Kanarick rather than replace former staffer Whitney Allen, who has gone to work for the Alabama State Employees Association.

    "This allows us to concentrate more staff on helping us during the session," Guin said.

    Hubbard said as Alabama becomes a two-party state, the party caucuses play a greater role in the Alabama House, and "the roles of the majority leader and the minority leader are becoming more and more important."

    Record Number: MERLIN_2098799

  17. I'm not sure who I trust less-our politicians or the news media.

  18. Hubbard's looking more and more like Boss Tweed everyday.

  19. If someone does not file an ethics complaint on this.....then again the fact that the EC's Jim Sumners lets all the dirty dogs loose when they're caught red-handed so they can keep tearing up our fast and loose ethics laws doesn't give me comfort that anything will come from it.
    The voters better wake the hell up and get riled up. There's more of us than there are of them.

  20. My oh my what an Orwellian type maneuver by Al.com.
    What's the problem boys and girls? Don't think a public official is worthy of public scrutiny and defending themselves?
    The public has a right to know about where THEIR MONEY is going and for what purpose!

  21. More than foul ball.
    This reeks of impropriety on every level. Including the media.

  22. i'myourhuckleberryOctober 25, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    Somebody pout your link up on a sports board and I saw this reply to it about Hubbard's MO:
    "Back over the summer, I was watching my Twitter feed and I saw Hubbard's COS (or maybe press secretary) harass a company for having adverts on SBB and FoxSports (Thayer Evans) and threatened an AU boycott until the company agreed to remove the advertising. All this while using a twitter feed that also promoted Hubbard's work as House Speaker. It was sickening, and I say that as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican."
    He's a real bully boy surrounded by thuggish punks isn't he? Why would Al.com protect this creep?

  23. hahahahha..."a casualty of backend work"...hahahahaha...no pun intended right?

  24. Lame excuse Bob Sims.

  25. How long should we wait for the official response from Hubbard to this?
    When hell freezes over?

  26. Contrary to some Twitter twit's opinion, we are not claiming the GOP is controlling the media, however, it's a well known fact that news rooms frequently write news stories from press releases.
    It's also an established fact that former Governor Riley regularly met with the media, editorial boards in particular, according to state plane records.
    Maybe Jim White has an opinion on the excuse offered by Bob Sims for the disappearance of Mr. Martin's story that will enlighten us all.

    JimWLittle Jim Little
    Blog says AL taxpayers r payin 4 a book, looks 2b true #alpolitics Claims GOP controls ALmedia (laughable) bit.ly/tIMNvc


    52 minutes ago


  27. Max is right, there is no claim of GOP control.
    But there's a trail of crumbs that leads in an interesting direction. Who doesn't think the party in control, left or right, doesn't influence the state media?

  28. Big Jim needs to be real careful around the grill with his GOP approved gas.

  29. When the repubs told us they were going to do better than the dems when elected to office who knew they meant outpacing them in corruption by staggering leaps and bounds?
    Amazing how brazen they are with their behavior-daring anyone to touch them.....it's really nauseating.

  30. Suggestion for a follow up book:
    "Goat Hill After Dark--Strumpets in the State House"

  31. As long as they're in church on Sundays and able to moan "Daddy" on cue, all is forgiven.

  32. $8K a month for one year totals $96K a year.
    I bet most of the regular folks would love to have a job that pays that well. Maybe this is Hubbard's idea of job creation.

  33. Annette in AlabamaOctober 26, 2011 at 8:23 PM

    Mikey, by the time your book comes out people will be calling it "Fire in the State House."

    wa hahaha

  34. New reasons to dislike AU. That makes a good day for this Tider!!!!!!! Are we sure Hubbard and Cam Newton weren't buddies?

  35. Cue Ohio Players music Annette!
    The illustrious Speaker obviously pissed off the wrong Bob.
    Citizens of Alabama-to the pitchforks!

  36. Southern and Sick of ItOctober 26, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    It is hard to imagine the audacity of this man, Hubbard. At a time of proration in this state, seems to me, this is theft by deception and that low down good for nothing ethics commission in Montgomery better not come back with a free pass for Mike Hubbard. But, I bet Hubbard would offer those boys some free tickets to Auburn events, if they are Auburn fans.

    They make me sick.

  37. RRRRoooolllllTideRoll!!October 26, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    auburn nation=corruption nation.
    enough said.

  38. OMG!
    Martin took his mighty (sword) pen, jabbed hard and now he has a nasty bug squirming on the head of it--squirting out bug juice all over.
    Can we please, please, please clone him so we'll get some real news for once?

  39. Purple People EaterOctober 27, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross rhetoric: The right people,the 'huge' need, the vacuum (he declares exists),new group, new day, new landscape.

    Same, same. Different day. New players people!
    i.e. We are here, we are in charge, get out of the way.

    (Sports talk - Hup, Two, Three, Four) Tackle, team, Strategic Plan. hahaha

    Implementing, credibility,integrity - pause - actually a rather long pause - ethics.

    The only thing I did not see was them nodding their little pointy heads up and down to reassure the folks, see? We are so good. We are so right. And you agree. Don't you?

    uh huh

    Yeah. Right.

  40. This is getting really good. I'll be fascinated to watch Hubbard try and worm his way out of this vise grip courtesy of Bob Martin.
    Do you think he's gone crying to Riley and Strange yet?

  41. Annette in AlabamaOctober 27, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    wah wah wah

    Yes, Anonymous. Hubbaard is going to cry. And Big Luther and Bobbo will once again show all of us what creepy creeps they really are. They will try to cover for Mikey Boy. Not sure how. Probably tell us no laws were broken, no ethics violations, and this is business as usual and quickly get as many state agencies to follow suit to show how normal this is. But, that's just the way these boys (sociopaths) down in Montgomery work it.

    Piss in our ears and tell us it's only rain.


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