Bill Pryor may have violated Alabama Campaign Finance Laws.

What was Pryor hiding?

Stories on the controversy about Bill Pyror's nomination to the 11th Circuit appear in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Birmingham News.

The Democrats are saying that Pryor lied to them when he said he did not remember soliciting contributions for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) from Alabama companies. The Republicans say (to quote John Cornyn), ''elected officials can and do raise money . . . It's perfectly legal.''

In his confirmation hearing, Pryor answered most questions with admirable candor -- except when it came to RAGA. As I have discussed before, RAGA was soliciting contributions from companies for the use in various state Attorney General campaigns. On this subject, Pryor's answers were something like, "I don't remember," "I don't have the records," "you'll have to ask the Republican committee for the records." Why the reticence?

I want to suggest an answer that fits the facts. The documents the Democrats have show that Pryor made calls for RAGA in September 1999 to some Alabama-based companies. Alabama law (Ala. Code 17-22A-7(b)(2)) prohibits legislative and state-wide elected officials are prohibited from raising funds for their own campaigns more than a year before the primary or general election. In September 1999, Pryor's next election was the primary in May 2002. To see this section, go the Alabama Code online and drill down to the proper section.

Of course, Pryor was not fundraising for his own campaign at the time. But the Attorney General of Alabama (Bill Pryor) issued an opinion (2001-176)to a legislator about whether he could solicit for a PAC during the prohibited period. The answer was as follows:

A member of the Legislature who participates in the establishment and operation of a political action committee is not prohibited by the FCPA from soliciting contributions on behalf of the committee. The legislator may receive contributions from this committee if the legislator does not have the sole authority to make contributions or expenditures on behalf of the committee to his own campaign and does not participate in the decision to make these contributions.

Applying that rule to Pryor's conduct, if he participated in the decisions of RAGA about its contributions, he was prohibited from this fundraising. And Pryor was on the the executive committee of RAGA. If the executive committee does not make those decisions, who does?

My hypothesis is that Bill Pryor was close-mouthed about his fundraising for RAGA because it violated state law and his own office's interpretation of that law. Documents I have not seen and skillful cross-examination of Pryor and others may prove the hypothesis.

UPDATE: An earlier AG opionion, issued when (now-US Senator) Jeff Sessions was AG and Pryor was Deputy AG, is even clearer that RAGA's and Pryor's activities (as I understand them) would be a violation of state law. The opinion is number 97-54 and states:

A member of the Legislature who maintains a principal campaign committee may participate in the establishment and operation of a separate and distinct political committee for the purpose of receiving contributions and making expenditures to other members of the Legislature and nonmembers who are candidates for election to the Legislature, if the political committee's organizational document prohibits contributions to or expenditures on behalf of the member of the Legislature participating in such establishment and operation.

Don't be confused by the reference to a "member of the Legislature." The opinion was requested by a legislator and the question was phrased that way, but the law applies to all elected officials and candidates.

Pryor cannot be prosecuted under Alabama law because the two-year statute of limitations has expired, Ala Code 17-22A-22, but it would still look bad for a person nominated for judge to have violated the state law, wouldn't it?


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