Indicted speaker says ethics law vague

Published 9:06 pm Saturday, September 12, 2015

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard said Alabama’s ethics law is unconstitutionally vague, did not apply to him as Republican party chairman and that he had a free speech right to lobby for his clients, according to a court filing unsealed Friday.

In the filing, Hubbard asked the court to dismiss the case against him, arguing that the state’s ethics law he once championed is unconstitutional and that prosecutors and a grand jury stretched the bounds of the law when they charged him with 23 felony ethics counts.

Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker unsealed the motion Friday after redacting confidential grand jury material.

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Hubbard is accused of using his offices as speaker and former position as Alabama Republican Party chairman to benefit his businesses by soliciting investments and clients and lobbying the governor’s office. His defense lawyers, in the lengthy motion filed last month, argued that some of the activities and payments were constitutionally protected free speech and that portions of the law were unclear.

“The Ethics Act, as charged in the indictment is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. In its current form, the Act, as applied does not provide the citizens of Alabama fair warning as to what constitutes legal versus illegal conduct,” defense lawyers wrote.

Some of the charges accuse Hubbard of illegally using his official position to obtain payments by companies and for being paid to represent those companies before the governor’s office and the Department of Commerce.

His defense lawyers said the law’s blanket prohibition forbidding legislators from lobbying the executive branch is both overbroad and a violation of Hubbard’s right to free speech.

“Hubbard’s right to lobby on behalf of his or her business’ clients is a fundamental right constitutionally protected by the First Amendment,” defense lawyers wrote.

Four of the charges accuse Hubbard of using his position as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, a position he held from 2007 to 2011, to direct campaign business to his companies, Craftmaster Printers and the Auburn Network. The party paid a Florida-based company, Majority Strategies, for campaign work and materials. Majority Strategies sent printing business back to Hubbard’s company, Craftmaster.

Defense lawyers argued that the ethics law should not cover political party heads and that the “First Amendment protects the manner in which political parties choose to use their privately raised funds because such a choice constitutes political speech.”

Hubbard was the architect of the Republicans’ 2010 push to win their first legislative majority in Alabama in more than a century. The 2010 ethics revamp passed during a special session on ethics reform was one of the first actions of the new GOP majority. Hubbard praised the new ethics law as a major step forward for Alabama, saying it would help end its reputation as a “corrupt state.”

“We promised the people of this state they would see a difference in the way their government operates,” Hubbard said in a statement after the bill was signed into law. “This new Legislature is committed to being more transparent, more accountable and more responsive to the people’s needs than ever before.”

“The law that my client voted for is not the way it is being applied,” defense lawyer Mark White said Friday. “Everything the speaker did was entirely appropriate.”