The answer to the first question is pretty clear: Riley’s fighting hard to kill electronic bingo in Alabama, and he needs money to finance the fight.
The answer to the second question, the source of the contributions, is much more difficult.
GOVPAC, the political action committee Riley chairs, has raised $305,450 and donated a large percentage of it, $282,000, to Citizens for a Better Alabama, the anti-bingo group. GOVPAC reported contributions of $158,000 since mid-February, and its largest contributor was the Alabama Republican Party, which donated $93,000 in March.
This is just one example of money passing through the books of two political action committees on its way to a group that doesn’t even have to report where it gets its money. As Alabama law defines PACs, the state Republican Party is a PAC but Citizens for a Better Alabama is not. Alabama’s campaign finance law requires that candidates and PACS disclose the sources of their contributions, but when major contributors are other PACS, there is no requirement that those contributions be broken down further. And because Citizens for a Better Alabama is not organized as a PAC and does not ask voters to support a candidate or a proposition on the Alabama ballot, it does not have to file financial disclosure reports with the secretary of state. So it’s impossible to know who contributed much of the money that’s being used to fight electronic bingo in Alabama, and it’s impossible for many small contributors to the state Republican Party to know for sure how their money is being used.
That’s the problem with those PAC-to-PAC transfers we keep complaining about. Political money takes such a circuitous route from the original contributor to the final beneficiary that no one can follow it, no matter how hard they try. It’s designed that way. It’s legal, but it smells corrupt.
What’s really ironic about this Alabama GOP contribution to GOVPAC is that Riley has crusaded against PAC-to-PAC transfers the whole time he’s been governor. The Legislature has failed to act on bills to stop them every year, and it looks like this year will be more of the same. Although a bill banning the practice passed the state House early this year, with only two days left in the regular session, the Senate version is lying dormant and is not likely to come to a vote.
It is disgraceful that Alabama’s elected legislators have let this go on for more than 20 years. Neither party can claim the high road on this issue. It is disappointing, though, that Riley is using for his own purposes the very loophole that he has argued so vociferously to close.