As the 2016 primary elections get closer, the funding behind a majority of the candidates vying for two contested seats on the Mobile County Commission is starting to pile up.
In District 3, incumbent Jerry Carl is facing current State Rep. Margie Wilcox, who is seeking to leave the statehouse after a single term. The pair has squared off in the fundraising arena over the past two months with Carl raising around $34,000 to Wilcox’s $49,000.
Overall, Carl seems to have the upper hand in available funding with a current balance of $102,000 as if the end of November. Wilcox, who announced her campaign in September, has $65,000 in the bank.
Carl’s biggest contributions thus far have come from Burk-Kleinpeter Inc., a New Orleans-based engineering and architectural firm that has maintained an office in Mobile since 2007, and local contractors SJ&L. Each of those corporations gave $2,500 to the campaign, but Carl also received a $2,000 personal contribution from John White-Spunner.
From PACs, Carl has received $2,500 from South Alabamians for Good Government, which is chaired by Richard Weavil. In a previous report, Weavil told Lagniappe the organization was “simply raising money and preparing.”
In September, sizable contributions to the Good Government PAC were made by Clifton Inge Jr., the managing director of IPC Capital Partners, and former Mobile Chamber of Commerce President Winthrop Hallett III to the tune of $5,000 and $2,500, respectively. However, over the past six months, the PAC has raised thousands and currently holds more than $200,000.
Carl received his largest contribution from GulfPAC. Founded just this fall, GulfPAC is self-described as a “Retiree PAC for the University of South Alabama” and has contributed a total of $4,500 to Carl’s campaign in two separate contributions.
Contributions to GulfPAC have been made by Stan Hammack, vice president for health systems at USA; Abe Mitchell, a longtime philanthropist with numerous ties to the university; and lobbying firm Tom Coker & Associates. Each gave $2,000.
So far, Wilcox’s largest outside contribution has been from the Citizens for Better Roads PAC, which is organized by the Mobile County Road Builders Association. Based on its own filings, the PAC began October with only $216.63 before receiving a $3,500 contribution from County Engineer Joe Ruffer. The only other contribution the PAC received in October was $300 from Paul Weaver, the co-owner of Hosea O. Weaver and Sons Inc.
According to state records, Wilcox received $300 the day after Weaver’s donation — two days before Ruffer’s $3,500 contribution — $500 of which appears to have been split between Ludgood and Hudson. The remaining $3,000 was contributed to the Wilcox campaign, leaving Citizens for Better Roads with $216.63 once again at the end of October.
Wilcox turned down multiple opportunities to speak with Lagniappe about her campaign and its finances, but John G. Walton, the chairman of Citizens for Better Roads, said the organization represents the “road building industry as a whole” since its establishment in 1988.
Charlotte Kopf, the PAC’s treasurer, added it gives members of the road builders association an opportunity not only to support local candidates, but also to support advertising efforts related to the county’s longstanding “Pay-As-You-Go” road building program.
“Over the years, the PAC has accepted money from members and their employees, and as the money becomes available, the PAC committee will agree to donate to different campaigns,” Kopf said in an emailed response. “Money is usually given to multiple candidates during races.”
However, prior to the calls from Lagniappe on Dec. 4, records showed the PAC had not contributed to Carl’s campaign. Yet three days later, on Dec. 7, Carl confirmed he’d received a $500 contribution from Citizens for Better Roads.
The members of the association include several contractors such as Walton, whose company was awarded more than $8 million in county projects between January 2013 and December 2014. Walton said all of that “was on a low-bid basis.”
However, in light of Ruffer’s contribution appearing to pass directly to Wilcox’s campaign using a PAC chaired by a public contractor, Lagniappe reached out to the Alabama Ethics Commission for clarification given Ruffer’s involvement with the bidding process. After three days, Chief Legal Counsel Hugh Evans responded only to say, “we can only give an opinion to the person wanting to make the donation or the person receiving it.”
In lieu of a comment, Evans did point to an Alabama law stating any campaign contribution from a public official or employee is not considered a conflict of interest, “if [it] is actually used for political purposes and is not given under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that the purpose of the contribution is to substantially influence a public official in the performance of his or her official duties.”
Commissioner Merceria Ludgood has no opposition in District 1 and by all appearances hasn’t focused as much effort on fundraising as her colleagues. Still, according recent campaign filings, Ludgood raised upwards of $13,000 in November — from a combination of businesses, political action committees and individual donors.
In District 2, incumbent Connie Hudson has raised significant funds over the past two months, according to the same filings. Hudson took in more than $28,000 in October and another $21,000 in November, leaving her campaign with a balance just shy of $60,000.
Notable contributions to Hudson’s campaign were received from the South Alabama PAC for Higher Education and Volkert, Inc., which has contributed to every candidate, though not equally. Hudson’s largest donation came from a political action committee known as COMPAC, in its first year of operation.
Based on Fair Campaign Practices Act documents submitted to the Alabama Secretary of State, COMPAC was registered in October and is chaired and overseen by J. Benson O’Connor III, a comptroller with White-Spunner Investments LLC. In its first three months of operation, COMPAC recorded $10,000 in contributions, with half going directly to Hudson’s bid for reelection.
Though Hudson has no opposition in the March Republican primary, she will face Democratic candidate Lula Albert-Kaigler in the general election in November. According to records with the Mobile County County Probate Court, Albert-Kaigler filed her principal campaign documents, but has not yet recorded any political contributions or expenditures despite covering her qualifying fees for election.
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