Sanders defends allocations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Alabama state Sen. Hank Sanders offered no apologies Tuesday following a story in The Birmingham News highlighting his use of political clout to channel millions of dollars in education money to non-profit organizations with links to members of his family.

He dismissed the allegations as &uot;old charges in a new form.&uot;

The story, which ran Sunday, detailed how Sanders has helped to allocate more than $5.1 million in state funds and special grants and allocations since 1996 to five non-profit groups.

Most of that money came from the Education Trust Fund, which Sanders oversees as education budget chairman.

Among the allocations were $2.3 million for the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, which was created by Sanders’ wife and is run by his daughter; $1 million for the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, which was also created by his wife; $455,382 for the McRae-Gaines Learning Center, which is run by Sanders’ mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother; and $479,909 for the Black Belt Human Resources Development Corp. and the Coalition of Alabamians Reforming Education, which were created by Sanders and his wife.

Sanders pointed out that a number of similar organizations around the state are funded through the Education Trust Fund, including Constitution Hall Village in Huntsville, the McWane Center in Birmingham, Montgomery’s Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and the Exploratorium in Mobile.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival alone has received nearly $6 million since 1996, he added.

Sanders said it is an oversimplification to imply that money spent on such projects would otherwise automatically revert to schools.

Sanders said that each of the groups he has helped to fund maintains a separate account for all state monies received. He also said that no state money goes to pay salaries.

He argued that just because an organization has someone related to him working in it should not automatically disqualify that organization from receiving state money if it is otherwise deemed worthy.

Citing the McRae-Gaines Learning Center in Selma as an example, Sanders pointed out that both the valedictorian and salutatorian of the 2001 graduating class of Selma High School attended the Center.

Sanders also contends that organizations such as the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma serve an important educational function.

In addition, he said the museum attracts thousands of tourists to Selma, not only during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee but throughout the year.

Sanders said he was especially troubled by the timing of the story. Sunday marked the 38th anniversary of the day known as &uot;Bloody Sunday.&uot;

Sunday was also the date of Gov. Bob Riley’s first official visit to Selma and to the Black Belt. Sanders had organized a &uot;Unity Service&uot; to welcome the governor, who used the occasion to discuss his formation of a Black Belt Commission to boost economic development in the area.