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Hartselle Enquirer

Dr. Bentley’s AEA problem

Political reporter George Talbot’s reporting in The Mobile Press-Register this past Sunday has created a significant buzz in a governor’s race that has seemed as deathly quite as a funeral march.
Talbot reports about the days leading up to the primary runoff election between Bradley Byrne and Rep. Robert Bentley and the infusion of financial support by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) to Rep. Bentley.
It was no secret that AEA sought Byrne’s defeat because of his repeated attacks on the teacher’s organization and its leader, Dr. Paul Hubbert.  But AEA could place its huge financial resources in Bentley’s campaign to help him defeat Byrne was the question.
As the election date approached the Bentley campaign was running out of cash with nowhere to go for the bankroll it needed to win. The question was do they visit Dr. Hubbert or do they wait for AEA to approach them?  Either way it had to be a clandestine affair.
Talbot reports thusly: “As the runoff election neared and Byrne’s momentum increased, documents show that the Bentley campaign took a calculated risk – reaching out to Byrne’s archenemy, the Alabama Education Association.
Working through back channels with Bentley’s campaign, the AEA pummeled Byrne with a barrage of attack ads and automated phone calls, according to e-mails and telephone records obtained by the Press-Register.
Talbot reports that the information obtained by the newspaper “appears to contradict Bentley’s repeated statements that he was an “innocent bystander” in the feud between Byrne and AEA. He also reports that “the correspondence could put Bentley in violation of Alabama election law, which requires that candidates disclose in-kind contributions in addition to direct cash.”
Despite Bentley’s innocent bystander claim concerning AEA involvement, last Tuesday he filed an amended report with the Secretary of State disclosing an additional $21,000 in-kind contribution reported on Oct. 12 from A VOTE, the AEA PAC. On the same day, A VOTE filed an amended report indicating the in-kind contribution to Bentley’s campaign.
Rep. Bentley and his campaign consistently denied their involvement in the AEA alliance. Back in July at a campaign stop, Bentley was questioned about the AEA attack ads on Byrne. Asked to denounce the ads, he refused and said they were not a benefit to his campaign.
“I wish they would not run them but I have no control over that,” Bentley told reporters. “I actually think they hurt me because I think some people see them and think I’m doing that and I’m not.”
At 9:45 a.m. the following day, Bentley’s campaign manager, Bob Wickers, flashed an e-mail to Stan Pate, a Tuscaloosa businessman and close adviser to Bentley.
“I need you. Can we speak this morning?” Wickers asked, according to information gathered by the Press-Register.
In one call event AEA blasted Bentley’s 30-second robocalls out to more than 500,000 phone accounts daily over three days. You can read the rest of the story and all of Talbot’s reporting including emails and phone messages on the web at al.com. Search for George Talbot.
It is unclear to me how this will affect the vote on Nov. 2 but it certainly can’t help the Bentley campaign according to political observers with whom I have talked, particularly since Rep. Bentley has attempted to burnish an image of “Mr. Clean” on his resume.
Neither the Bentley campaign or AEA would comment on the issue, but I suspect that Rep. Bentley will have to address it before the election.
The polls
Most of the polling I have seen gives Rep. Bentley around a 10-point lead over Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks.
However, the Sparks campaign appears to be picking up some momentum as the election heads into the final stretch.
Roby out raises Bright in 3rd Quarter
Republican Martha Roby had a strong third quarter in fundraising. According to the most recent FEC reports covering July 1 through Sept. 30, Roby raised $363,691 and  Democrat Bobby Bright raised $209,602.
However for the total campaign, Bright has a half-million dollar lead, $1,414,511 to Roby’s $932,911.
In other news on the 2nd District congressional race, the Cook Political Report has moved the AL-02 district from lean Democratic to toss-up even though the Democratic Party touts a poll showing Bright up nine points over Roby.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com

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