Jury selection began today for Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who is charged with violating his own signature ethics law and is widely seen as the most corrupt politician in America.
Hubbard led Republicans to a takeover of the State House in the Tea Party wave of 2010 by campaigning as a reformer against a “culture of corruption” that he ascribed to the Democratic Party’s 136-year hold on power in Montgomery.
One of his first actions in office was to pass the Ethics Act, which forbids him from lobbying the governor’s office. At the time, the legislation was seen as so draconian that it might criminalize students giving apples to teachers.
And according to the prosecution, Hubbard promptly broke his new law by pursuing state contracts for his printing business.
Hubbard is accused of steering GOP campaign printing work to one of his companies; asking lobbyists and corporate leaders for employment, investments or help finding clients; lobbying the governor’s office on behalf of one of his clients; and taking legislative action that could have steered Medicaid pharmacy business to a client of one of his companies.
Prosecutors have painted Hubbard as a politician consumed by greed as he ascended to the top of the state’s political hierarchy. They are expected to introduce emails he sent that make him seem desperate for more work and investments.
His defense has suggested that prosecutors are stretching the bounds of the ethics law and trying to criminalize Hubbard’s efforts to make a living. Defense lawyer David McKnight described Hubbard as a salesman and entrepreneur who also happens to be a politician. He asked potential jurors if they ever sent an email they wouldn’t want read aloud in front of strangers, or if they would be offended by emails with “pushy” salesman language.
“Admittedly you are going to see some emails where he’s trying to get more business, trying to get more clients, trying to get more customers,” McKnight said.
Hubbard’s lawyers have already tried to argue his law is “overbroad” and that he has a First Amendment right to lobby for his business in defiance of legislation he wrote himself.
But since 2005, Craftmaster Printing has made much of its profits on the strength of Republican political campaigns. According to his detractors, since taking the company over that year, Hubbard has used his considerable power within the party to coax its candidates into using his services, creating a steady revenue stream.
The trial, which is set to begin next week, has been more than a year in the making: Hubbard was indicted on 23 counts of public corruption by a grand jury in October 2014. At the time, Hubbard had already spent $231,000 of his campaign money on his criminal defense.
Since then, his attorneys have repeatedly delayed the trial while Governor Robert Bentley attempted to quash the indictment through administrative means.
That effort helped lead to the public disclosure of Bentley’s torrid romantic affair with his political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, after the governor first ordered the state’s top law enforcement official not to submit an affidavit clearing the Hubbard prosecution of misconduct charges, then fired Spencer Collier when he refused.
Meeting with reporters, Collier then confirmed key details of Bentley’s relationship to Mason, which was a subject of widespread rumor and speculation. Birmingham News reporters also procured an audio recording of the governor having an intimate conversation with Mason that same day.
The Alabama House of Representatives has begun an impeachment proceeding against Bentley for misuse of state assets to conduct his affair, but the measure cannot move forward with Hubbard in charge of the House.
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