Siegelman urges ethics action over Marshall contributions

Siegelman and Marshall

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s Democratic candidate for attorney general on Friday urged the state Ethics Commission to review $735,000 in campaign contributions to Attorney General Steve Marshall that he believes violated the state ban on transfers between political action committees.

Joe Siegelman sent a letter to commission members contending the contributions from a group affiliated with the Republican Attorneys General Association violate the PAC transfer ban since the group received contributions before giving the money to Marshall.

“The person in charge of enforcing the law is the attorney general and he has decided it doesn’t apply to him, which is troubling,” Siegelman said.

Marshall and RAGA maintained the contributions are legal.

“It is unfortunate that our young, inexperienced liberal democratic opponent has decided to run a false and negative campaign,” the Marshall campaign said in a statement.

RAGA spokesman Zack Roday said that the “RAGA Action Fund was proud to support Steve Marshall’s primary campaign and both RAGA Action Fund and RAGA complied with Alabama and federal law.”

Siegelman is reviving an issue first raised by Marshall’s Republican primary opponent, Troy King, who filed a lawsuit and ethics complaint against Marshall. Siegelman urged commissioners to act on a complaint.

A judge dismissed King’s lawsuit in July after questioning how he would have jurisdiction. Marshall’s attorneys argued then there was no violation because the Washington, D.C.-based RAGA group didn’t fall under the Alabama law, and even if it did there was no wrongdoing by Marshall since the law allows PACs to give to candidates.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said Friday his office asked the Alabama Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion on the matter earlier this year.

“I think it’s very important for these individuals who have questions to have their questions answered,” Merrill said. He noted that it affects a large number of groups and not just RAGA, on both sides of the political aisle.

Merrill said the longstanding guidance from the secretary of state’s office “that has been adhered to so far” is that federal PACs, such as the RAGA group, are overseen by federal regulators and do not fall under the reporting and other restrictions of the state campaign finance law.

However, campaign finance law defines a political action committee as organizations “whether in-state or out-of-state” that spend money on campaigns. It makes no specific reference about the treatment of federal PACs.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton declined to comment on Siegelman’s letter.

Siegelman said he believes the law makes it clear that the transfers are illegal and argued Marshall is culpable because state campaign finance law requires candidates to return illegal contributions or face prosecution.

Beyond the debate over legality, Siegelman said there is also a broader question of who is providing the money to Marshall through the group.

“My opponent has accepted three-quarters of a million dollars from out-of-state special interest dark money, and I think that is concerning,” Siegelman said.