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Eddie Curran: On the Campaign Trail with Roger Bedford

08 Jun 2012

written by Curran

Eddie Curran: On the Campaign Trail with Roger Bedford

Bedford 1

On the Campaign Trail with Roger Bedford

By Eddie Curran
Special For Mod Mobilian
June 8, 2012

On a day in March 2011, Alabama Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) or someone using his campaign fund American Express card downloaded a song from iTunes.

Cost: $1.08.

In the coming weeks, the state senator’s campaign credit card was employed for three larger iTunes purchases, totaling $113.85.

There really was nothing out of the ordinary with these purchases. Not, in any event, for Bedford.

According to his campaign report filed with the Alabama Secretary of State, Bedford’s campaign card made 12 separate charges to iTunes in 2011, totaling almost $320; was used at least five times at liquor stores ($835); on numerous occasions at Best Buy, with charges in the thousands; and for truly grand sums at bars, restaurants and hotels in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, where Bedford went to school and his son is now a student.

And that’s just a random sample from more than 600 individual expenditures totaling $130,802.42 by Bedford’s campaign fund in a 2011, a year in which he was not on the ballot.

Most of the expenses cited in this story were incurred in 2011, with some in 2010 and a few charges from prior years. The reports showing these records are public and can be viewed on the Secretary of State’s web-site. (http://arc-sos.state.al.us/CGI/ELCNAME.MBR/INPUT)

The 55-year old Bedford — a legendary figure on Goat Hill going back 30 years and currently the state senate’s top-ranking Democrat — declined to respond to questions e-mailed to him about his spending, or to assent to Mod Mobilian’s request for an interview.

In his one response — to an initial e-mail asking about his spending, including on iTunes — Bedford stated that he was busy catching up with his law practice following the recently concluded 2012 legislative session. He asked for more specific questions.

Mod Mobilian sent him a number of questions, including:

3. Have you used your campaign account to pay for meals, lodging, travel, game tickets and other expenses to go to Alabama football games, including “away” games? Did you go to South Carolina for the 2010 Alabama game in South Carolina and is that why you have charges to restaurants and a hotel there at that time?

You have charges to places in Tuscaloosa including Gallettes, the Bear Trap, and the Epiphany Cafe. What would be the relationship to those expenses and your campaign or duties as state senator? As on example, your campaign charged $763 last fall at Epiphany Cafe. Can you identify others besides yourself whose meals and perhaps drinks were included on that bill?

4. What was purchased last fall, for $250.80 at Painted Pink, a dress shop in Montgomery, and what was the relationship of that purchase to your campaign or duties as state senator?

6. You have been a public official for many years and, naturally, are familiar with the campaign laws. Will you, personally, state your understanding of the general purposes of candidate campaign funds, including what they can and cannot be used for?

7. I have not counted all the charges at gas stations as they are so extensive. Do others besides yourself use your campaign funds to buy gas?

9. Mobile Mayor Sam Jones agreed to provide the media with detailed receipts showing his campaign spending, including receipts of purchases at Sam’s Warehouse. Would you be willing to allow myself or someone in the media to review your supporting documentation?

11. It is impossible to know the actual vendor on some of the charges, including regular charges to “Cowboy,” “Aristotle,” and “El Patron,” and numerous other charges that can’t be identified from the available information, such as $529.70 from The Source in 2008. What is The Source and what was purchased?

He did not respond to that or a subsequent e-mail seeking to know if he would be willing to discuss the expenditures, whether in an interview or by e-mail.

This report, encyclopaedic as it may come to seem, won’t provide anything approaching a complete accounting of the senator’s spending in 2011, or in immediately preceding years, which were also reviewed.

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The Bedford Project

To do it right, “The Bedford Project” — an examination, say, of Bedford’s expenditures for just the past 10 years — would require a small army of data entry specialists, maybe an accountant, possibly a Supercomputer to crunch the numbers.

Suggested categories for entries would include but not be limited to: Liquor Store Purchases; Music and Technology; Meals that Cost More Than $300; Five Star Hotels; Groceries; Car Related (Gas/Jiffy Lube/Tire); Bars; Air Travel; Wal-Mart/Lowe’s Etc.; Impossible To Determine From the Available Records; Costs In Tuscaloosa and/or Apparently Related to Tide Football; even, Credit Card Late Fees and Interest.

In one sense, Bedford actually “over-disclosed” on his campaign reports. Candidates must report their expenditures, including payments for credit card bills. Separately, at the end of the forms, they must report all credit card purchases greater than $100. Bedford, or whoever compiled his reports, listed all his credit card charges. Had this not been done, there would have been no way to know about the iTunes purchases and many others to be noted here. The majority of the charges in this story come from those credit card bills.

In another respect, Bedford “under-disclosed.” All reported expenditures must include, in addition to amount, the date of the expenditure and the address of the recipient.

Bedford’s credit card charges can’t be dated specifically, but by the month of the bill. The bigger problem is the identity of the vendor. A “Marriott” hotel, no address given, could be anywhere, and Bedford stayed frequently at Marriott’s. If the upscale chain has a frequent sleeper points program, he’s loaded with them.

Mod Mobilian used Google searches to identify — as best could be — other vendors, and in most cases, the level of certainty is reflected.

As an example, the following are consecutive charges made with the campaign’s American Express card and from a bill dated Feb. 26, 2010:

— ATTM Phone, $335.10

— Bellagio, $477.67 (Is hotel by that name in Las Vegas, Nev.)

— Cafe Med Sunset, $330.34 (Google places this place in West Hollywood, Calif..)

— iTunes, $12.90

— Wal-Mart, $149.44

— Good Spirits, $82.43

— iTunes, $2.10

— SAZA Restaurant, $72.70 (Pizza Restaurant located in Montgomery, Ala.)

Here’s another list of consecutive if relatively humdrum charges:

— Sinclair’s, $413.63 (Well known Montgomery restaurant, watering hole favored by political crowd.)

–Myrick’s, $65.68 (Possibly a car wash in Montgomery)

–Publix Grocery Store (city unknown), $228.94

— Paradis Restaurant, $418.44 (According to Google, is such a place in Paradise Beach, Fla.)

— Chevron, Chevron, Chevron (3 charges in a row), $190.22

–Painted Pink, $250.80 (the Montgomery dress shop)

— Ray’s Grocery, $27.36

— Target, $168.74

— Wal-Mart, 618.53

Here are his total campaign expenditures for the past five years:

2011: $130,802 (no election)

2010: $892,346 (when he was re-elected after facing a Republican challenger)

2009: $181,269 (no election)

2008: $151,717(no election)

2007: $243,230 (no election)

The four Mobile/Baldwin area state senators — Trip Pittman ($24,919), Vivian Figures ($18,129), Rusty Glover ($13,809) and Ben Brooks ($9,784) — spent a combined $66,641 in 2011. That’s just over half of what Bedford spent from his campaign fund. (Corrected)

Whether Bedford’s campaign spending will rank as a scandal is anyone’s guess, but if so, it won’t be his first.

During his 1996 campaign for U.S. Senator, which he lost to Jeff Sessions, it was revealed that Bedford used state funds to build a water line to his hunting camp, which wasn’t even in his district.

In 2003 he was found not guilty of criminal charges accusing him of trying to force local officials to buy land at vastly above its market price from one of Bedford’s business partners. The state senator chose to withhold state funding when the local officials refused to buy the land.

Bedford’s most recent disclosures with the Alabama Ethics Department — filed in April to report income from 2011 — suggest that he and his wife are getting by.

In reporting last year’s income, Bedford checked the maximum box — “more than $250,000” — next to his Russellville law firm. He reported salaries and dividends between $150,000 and $250,000 from Valley Lumber Company; that his wife, who runs the Southern Development Council, was paid between $150,000 and $250,000; and, lastly, that he received between $150,000 and $250,000 in salaries and fees from ?.

That is not a typo. Inside the source of revenue box is a question mark.

Whatever it’s answer, he and his wife pulled down, at a minimum, more than $700,000.

And that doesn’t include the $57,542.97 Bedford was paid by the state in FY 2011 for serving as a state senator.

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If Roger’s name was Sam

Bedford should feel blessed, and not just because he has three campaign credit cards, an AMEX, a Visa and a Discover.

Blessed, because he could be, say, the mayor of Mobile.

Here, Mayor Sam Jones’s campaign fund expenditures are getting a fine tooth comb treatment almost surely unprecedented in the history of Alabama politics. This, despite expenditures so humdrum they couldn’t wake Bedford, such as from slumber in a Five Star Hotel after a $500 meal.

Far more worrisome for Jones is the news that the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office has opened a criminal inquiry into the mayor’s campaign spending.

One can only imagine the Category Seven Hurricane Jones would find himself in if his campaign records showed the following:

$235 at BCBG, which is the French acronym for bon chic bon genre (in English, “good style, good class”). Google tells us so, and also, that BCBG is a line of women’s clothes.

— $199.16, Nike Golf, (golf clothes or gear from web-site?)

— $82.82, Legal Directory Publishing (Company that touts itself as the, “Legal Search Engine,” and is for people who need to locate lawyers. Bedford is in its database.)

Nationwide Insurance (2 payments totaling $743 in 2011)

— Jim Bishop Chevrolet (two payments totaling $912.27 in 2011)

— Creative Leasing, Orlando (four payments totaling $5,611.05 to auto leasing/ finance company.)

— $249.82, Hobby Lobby

— So many gas purchases and phone bills as to boggle the mind

— $568.54, Delmonico’s Restaurant, Miami.

— $205.16, Peachtree Package, Atlanta

— $826.24, Ritz-Carlton (location unavailable from records)

That, Mod Mobilian readers, is how you spend campaign funds. (And we’re getting as addicted to listing them as Bedford is to spending the cash, so those won’t be the last!)

Truth be known, in the World of Serious Campaign Finance spending, Mobile’s mayor is a Dud.

A Wallflower.

A Piker.

He’s lucky to reach 72 mph when motoring down the Alabama Campaign Finance Superhighway.

If what I’m reading is the sum of this scandal’s parts, Mobile’s mayor didn’t have the financial smarts to charge himself rent for his campaign’s use of the Castle on Costarides.

I believe that bears repeating: Jones owns the Castle on Costarides; he could most assuredly use campaign funds to pay himself a reasonable rent. He does not.

Would it be, say, out of the range of Christian charity to give the Mayor credit for that? You know, cut him a little slack?

Jones even — yes, he did this — had three different power meters installed at the Castle so he wouldn’t be paying the bill of his tenant, the Epiphany Salon. After Lagniappe and later the Press-Register pissed away so much ink with reports on the power bills at the Castle, Jones asked Alabama Power to go out there. Turns out the placing of the meters — or something like that — caused the larger “Epiphany” bills to go to Jones’ campaign, and his smaller ones to go to the salon. (His campaign has, or so it was reported, asked Epiphany to repay the free power it got these past years.)

If you live in Mobile and have a pulse, you know about the Castle. As best I can tell, with the Alabama Power angle evaporated, the only issue left to inflate is the damn dipsy-dumpster. I think someone needs to crawl into the dumpster, find and photo the hair and measure it vs. mass of the “dumpster,” and turn that hair into some hay and hell to pay.

But give the “Jones expenditures” story it’s due. It has developed into perhaps the most explosive political scandal in Mobile since the mayor’s long-time foe, Steve Nodine, burned rubber down a Gulf Shores road with his girlfriend bleeding to death at the end of a driveway.

I’ve got some more soap-boxing to do, but it’s time for a commercial break. Please consider the following advertisers, as presented to you, his money doing the talking, by State Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, in this special “Roll Tide” segment, partial though it is.

— $437.30, Hotel Capstone in Tuscaloosa

— $29, Gallettes bar, on the “Strip” near the stadium

— $202.92, Hotel Capstone

— $200, Auburn University ticket office (presumably football, and that year’s Tide game)

— $525, University of Alabama (football) ticket office, $525

— $763.04, Epiphany Cafe in Tuscaloosa, $763.04.

$56.17, Bear Trap, bar, also on the “Strip”

— $221.96, Inn at USC. Hotel in Columbia, S.C. Charge was on Nov. 1, 2010 bill. (The Tide played University of South Carolina in October 2010, and charge may be possibly related to that)

— $338.91, Garibaldi’s (Restaurant in Columbia, same bill)

— $172.65, Dianne’s on Devine (Restaurant in Columbia, S.C., same bill)

— $537.63, Epiphany Cafe

— $21, Gallettes bar

— $68.50, Bear Trap

—  $417.97, Chuck’s Fish

— $203.97, Dreamland barbecue

— $622.63, Yazoo Courtyard, restaurant in Tuscaloosa

Put Mayor Sam’s name next to one of those, and you’ve got toast.

Was Bedford Source of Missing Meat?

Lagniappe — the Mobile bi-weekly that broke the Jones story and has pursued it with unrestrained vigor — has questioned Jones’ campaign expenditures down to the penny (not an exaggeration), and has managed to imply wrong-doing if not criminality with each spent cent.

Recently the paper embarked a new line of inquiry: Not spending by the mayor’s campaign fund, but lack of spending — at a barbecue.

“Mayor’s spending habits appear hard to break,” published May 30, appears, as best as I can tell, to suggest that Jones’ annual Mardi Gras barbecue last year was either:

1. Low on meat, at least in ratio to other ingredients; or

2: That some mystery source “contributed” the meat but the meat wasn’t dutifully disclosed as an “in-kind contribution” on Jones’ 2011 campaign report.

(In-kind contributions are donations of goods or services, but not money. For example, when a rich CEO  flies a candidate around on the corporate jet, such as to campaign stops, that’s an “in-kind contribution,” which would be the estimated sum of the gas, pilot time, etc..)

Several weeks ago, pummeled into submission, Jones turned over receipts reflecting the minutia of his campaign’s spending at Sam’s and other spending as well to the Press-Register, which reported on them and put the records on-line for all to see and go blind with.

Jones is not the first, second, or even 300th politician to spend campaign funds at Sam’s, but I’d wager he’s the first to ever provide the media with the details of every, yes, penny spent. If someone can prove otherwise — another politician who has done this — I’ll eat one of the damn puffer jackets used by Sam’s money, presumably a campaign staffer, to buy.

Damn I’m rambling. Back to the barbecue. The following is verbatim. This was not, incidentally, lifted from National Lampoon, Mad magazine or, “The Onion.”

“Interestingly, while there are purchases of charcoal, cups, 3.5 gallons of barbecue sauce, lighter fluid and Creole seasoning and other items that would correspond with that, the only meat purchase was 120 hot dogs. There was also only one package of bread purchased by the campaign in 2011. There are also no records on Jones’ campaign reports showing purchases of meat products from any butcher or grocery story (probably a typo), or any in-kind donations.”

Did Sam and his guests just drink the damn Creole Sauce?

Assuming not begs the question: Where’s the Beef/Meat?

Some possibilities:

1. Some of the mayors’ buddies slaughtered a posse of deer or wild pigs or some of both and people cooked and ate that meat.

2. It was BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat).

3. Roger Bedford rolled into town with a truckload of  Beef, Pork and “Conecuh Sausage,” the Meat got tenderized, Creole seasoned, grilled above charcoal pre-doused with lighter fluid, smothered in the 3.5 gallons of BBQ sauce, and was consumed  “sandwich style” in buns also donated by Roger. (I’m partial to this one because it solves the “only one package of bread purchased by the Jones Campaign in 2011” quandary.)

Also: Bedford’s AMEX campaign card was swiped 43 times last year at Northside Grocery, which is in his hometown of Russellville.

Total: $1,620, give or take a few bucks (And that doesn’t include a whole lot more charged at Wal-Mart, Sam’s and other known distributors of Meat and Bread.)

That wore me out, as has trying to keep count of all of Bedford’s charges.

Saying Goodbye with a Song

Jones may be on the cusp of becoming the third person in the quarter century since passage of the “Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act” to be criminally prosecuted for violations of the law.

One of them was former Mobile County Commissioner Freeman Jockisch. The law, by the way, is not a local one. It applies to all of Alabama, even Montgomery, not that you’ll find any evidence of actual enforcement there.

The Jockisch prosecution — preceded by a media drumbeat not unlike that which we’re seeing with Jones — bounced Jockisch out of office and allowed his challenger (Nodine, one and same) to coast into the job.

We may be about to see a repeat of that. Jones, instead of Jockisch, ousted or gravely wounded, at which time the challengers will show their heads.

I’ve made my point. Time to move on, to end this.

Let’s play “Bedford Jeopardy,” final round, category: “Computers/Technology/Tunes.”

— $40.26, iTunes

— $399.16, Best Buy

— $1,593.79, Best Buy

— $2,000, Russellville Computers

— $447.29, Apple Store

— $262.81, Best Buy

— $221.37, Best Buy

— $1,593.79, Transcription Gear (Google search reveals this as the “Dictation Superstore.”)

— $483.47, Best Buy

— $296.89, Apple Store.

And, last but not least:

— $1.07, iTunes (Available records make it impossible to know what song was downloaded but Mod Mobilian has reason to believe it was, “We are the Champions,” by Queen.)

If you think this story was long, you should read Eddie Curran’s book, “The Governor of Goat Hill: Don Siegelman, the Reporter Who Exposed His Crimes, and the Hoax that Suckered Some of the Top Names in Journalism.”

Even the title is long, so long that at times like this author has to look at his tattoo to make sure he’s got it right.

www.eddiecurran.com

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Modmobilian.com.


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