Many things about Saturday’s chaotic SDEC meeting in Montgomery ranged from the unbelievable to the truly bizarre. However, from a basic governance and transparency aspect, the so-called “Treasurer’s Report” pretty much summed up everything that’s wrong with the current leadership. Ed Gentle, the treasurer, was again absent from the meeting, so party chair Nancy Worley gave “report” in his stead. It consisted of this:
“As of August 31 – that does not include September, where we had many other bills. As of August 31, there was $276,753 in the non-federal account and $45,787 in the federal account. Thank you.”
An SDEC member then asked:
“Could you tell me how much the party has spent in legal fees on the fight to defend you and Randy Kelley? Could you tell me how much …(inaudible)… to the law firm that has represented you and Mr. Kelley, and could you tell me how much money you have raised for the party during the past year?”
Worley replied by not answering the questions:
“I appreciate you asking those questions. First of all, all of our finances are filed with the Federal Election Commission for federal finances and the Secretary of State’s office for non-federal funds. Those are filed online and anyone can see them. […] So there is no question that all our finances have to be reported and have to match up with what’s in the bank. It’s extremely important that you understand that we wouldn’t have to spend any legal fees if we hadn’t had challenges filed. When you have challenges filed, you obviously have to defend those… you have to deal with those. I simply cannot give you and exact dollar amount in legal fees, but you can look at those reports and you can tell us exactly how much you added up, because they’re all there.”
Now, it simply strains credulity that the party chair would NOT have that information ready to share with the membership. So I took Worley’s advice and looked at the SDEC’s FCPA reports.
Let’s look back a few years to get a more complete picture of what’s happened to party finances in 2019.
January 2016 beginning balance: $340,300
January 2017 ending balance: $269,367
January 2018 ending balance: $165,813
Confused by the difference between 2017 and 2018? Well, 2017 was an off-year, so there were no qualifying fees coming in to pad party finances and no fundraising to offset the expenses. Instead of building a huge “war chest” for 2018, the party just ate its seed corn instead.
2/28/18 Post-qualifying balance: $560,596
6/20/18 Post-primary balance: $527,318
Sept. 2018 itemized expenses: $4,500 (bank loan payments)
Oct. 2018 itemized expenses: $7,500 (bank loan payments and event sponsorship)
Nov. 2018 itemized expenses: $4,500 (bank loan payments)
Year-ending 2018 balance: $507,817
Note how the party really cashed in with the 2018 qualifying fees! This was supposed to be a “Democratic year” and we all eagerly anticipated the “Blue Wave.” All across the country, terrific Democratic candidates signed up to run for office. Many won or, in the case of Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina came heartbreakingly close. Once again, Alabama didn’t fare nearly as well as our neighbors, but it’s not our candidates’ fault. We fielded the best, most qualified group of statewide and legislative candidates in at least a generation. They worked hard and had popular support – but little support from the Alabama Democratic Party.
In an interview after the election debacle, Worley told the Tuscaloosa News that she “estimated that the party spent about $250,000 on efforts for candidates, including fliers that pictured all the statewide candidates, and five days of radio and TV ads urging people to vote Democratic.”
$250,000? WOW! Or…. not wow.
We know that money didn’t come out of the in-state funds, so I checked the FEC reports and added up any expenses that even appeared to have a connection to election activity:
- 11/27/18: $4,509 for yard signs
- 11/27/18: $1,005 for postage
- 11/4/18: $ 67 to MailChimp
- 10/24/18: $131,080 for advertising
- 10/22/18: $8,500 for ad production
- 10/19/18: $75 to MailChimp
- 10/7/18: $7,389 for printing
- 9/12/18: $2,571 for printing
- 9/11/18: $825 for Consulting/Field Organizing
- 9/11/18: $825 for Consulting/Field Organizing
- 9/11/18: $550 for Consulting/Field Organizing
- 8/7/18: $75 to MailChimp
- 2018 total: $35,292 paid to the DNC for access to the voter file.
That totals $192,763, which not “about” $250,000. Furthermore, it’s a stretch to consider the voter file amount for the entire year, since candidates didn’t have use of it for an entire year, but indeed, the party did make some effort, very late in the election cycle, to publicize candidates. Even so, the party ended the year still hoarding over half a million dollars it could have spent on statewide races – but didn’t.
It seems clear why. With zero fundraising from individual donors, the party is completely dependent on candidate qualifying fees to stay afloat. It’s quite the parasitic relationship. Candidates support the party with qualifying fees with the expectation that they party will give something in return: advice, assistance, messaging, GOTV, etc. You know, the kind of support successful state parties give to candidates. The irony is that, had the party actually offered meaningful help to candidates, they might not have won, but that visibility would have helped grow the grassroots and encourage potential candidates to run next time. That could increase qualifying fees collected, and might even encourage donors to support the party! Instead, the party leaders blamed the candidates in a series of nasty tirades that should keep any sane person from running again with the current crew in charge.
For example… Nancy Worley:
“She said critics such as Mallory Hagan and Tabitha Isner, Democrats who lost their bids to unseat congressional Republicans, were first-time candidates who didn’t understand the process and need to learn how to lose with humility. (There was a small smirk when she said that, for what that’s worth.)”
Off topic, but I did notice one quite odd thing in these handy online reports. I
n May 2018, the party spent $2,000 for a table at an event sponsored by Avera, an insurance company headquartered in South Dakota. T he support didn’t stop either. In October 2018, the party was not supporting candidates, but it did pony up $3,000 for an Avera event sponsorship.
UPDATE! A reader suggested that “Avera” could actually be the “Alabama Voter Education Registration Alliance,” a non-profit group chaired by Joe Reed – which makes much more sense. Per former SDEC Chair candidate, Peck Fox, “AVERA is an Alabama not-for-profit corporation with the stated purpose of encouraging participation in the democratic process at the local level.”
I’m leaving the original text with strikethrough, however, because it’s important to acknowledge and correct mistakes.
Now, let’s move forward to 2019 and answer the question that Chairwoman Worley refused to answer in public. How much has the SDEC spent on attorneys to defend herself and her co-chair, Randy Kelley? According to those handy, online FCPA reports, the total so far is $186,935. That includes a $42,402 payment made on 9/11/19 (which is perhaps one reason the “financial report” did not include September totals.)
This total doesn’t even include the $10,000 “party building” contribution the DNC had been sending monthly. It stopped when the state party leaders decided to act like spoiled, recalcitrant children and got the state’s allowance cut off.
And, since the party leaders are threatening a lawsuit, we can expect even more legal fees. All because an incompetent, out-of-touch leadership refuses to pass the torch or even follow the rules set by the DNC. Former House Minority Leader Craig Ford really said it best in 2016 in an open letter to Nancy Worley and Joe Reed:
“And over the years, it has become abundantly clear that you are far more concerned with holding on to your own power within the party than you are with trying to win back the offices Democrats have lost.”