Bentley returns donation from school reform group; Donations to re-election campaign down in November
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Dec 04, 2013 | 4461 views |  0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley
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MONTGOMERY — Gov. Robert Bentley returned a $5,000 campaign contribution from a well-known school reform group in November, a sign of just how volatile education issues are in the run-up to the 2014 election.

Campaign finance records show Bentley returned a donation from Students First, a California-based group founded by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

"We felt like there were some people that could misinterpret that donation, and we wanted to be clear," said Bentley campaign spokeswoman Rebekah Mason.

For the past three years, StudentsFirst has been lobbying for changes to education that often overlap with Republican school policy. The group supports efforts to give parents a choice of schools, and it's often at odds with teachers unions on issues such as tenure and merit pay.

Alabama's Republican lawmakers, too, have often been in conflict with the state's largest teachers' organization, the Alabama Education Association. Earlier this year, AEA unsuccessfully filed suit to block implementation of the Alabama Accountability Act, a bill that provides a tax credit to some parents who are willing to pull their children out of schools the state deems to be "failing." That bill also included wording that would allow schools to "flex out" of some state rules if they can so an academic reason to do so.

Mason indicated that accepting the donation might send a message that Bentley does not, in fact, support the flexibility portion of the bill.

"By accepting the StudentsFirst check, one could interpret that he's not in support of local schools having that flexibility," Mason said.

Asked if the organization took exception to parts of the Accountability Act, StudentsFirst declined comment.

"We're not going to comment on that matter at this time," said Calvin Harris, regional press secretary for Students First.

A little less than a year from the election, Bentley isn't hurting for money. Campaign finance records, filed Tuesday, show the governor with a little more than $2 million in campaign funds at the end of November. Stacy Lee George, Bentley's challenger in the Republican primary, has $58. No Democrat has entered the race yet.

November was a slow month for Bentley, and for many others reporting contributions in November.

The governor's biggest November donations were a $25,000 check from the Illinois-based American Society of Anesthesiologists and a $20,000 gift from CARE PAC, which is affiliated with the Alabama Nursing Home Association.

Other large donations include $5,000 from General Electric, $1,000 from Boeing and $5,000 from United PAC, a committee funded largely by Tennessee developer Franklin Haney.

Bentley's November total was a fraction of what he pulled in during earlier months of this year. Mason said the Thanksgiving holiday and Bentley's economic development trip to Japan were the reasons for the slump.

"When the governor's in Japan for a week, it's hard to hold a fundraiser," she said.

A few Anniston-area candidates also saw a fundraising slump in November, while others continued bringing in money.

-- Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, reported $28,450 in donations, fleaving him with $110,909 in campaign funds. Marsh's biggest donations were $10,000 from the Alabama Bankers Assocation PAC and $10,000 from FGA PAC, which is largely funded by the Drummond coal company and Great Southern Wood Preserving. Marsh has no opponent yet.

-- Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, reported a $1,000 donation from A PAC, ending the month with $24,217. Also known as Alabama Political Action Committee, A PAC is funded by the Poarch Creek Band of Indians. Boyd is, so far, unopposed.

-- Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, reported $3,550 in donations for a month-end total of $117,512. His donations included $1,000 from IMPAC, a group funded by Drummond and Great Southern Wood Preserving. Wood has no opponent yet.

-- Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, reported $8,325 in donations, almost all of them from individual Calhoun County donors. There was no report on file Alexandria Democrat Ted Copland, Brown's opponent. Reports aren't required until the candidate raises $1,000.

-- Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, reported a single donation of $1,000, from Alabama Lenders PAC, for a month-end total of $6,413. Primary challenger Steve Dean ended the month with $11,285. He raised $2,250 in November, with donations from donors in Munford and outside the state.

In the Senate District 13, incumbent Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, outpaced his opponents in November Fundraising. Democrat Darrell Turner reported $2,375 in individual contributions, ending November with $50,771.

Dial's Republican primary challenger, Tim Sprayberry, ended the month with $8,788 after spending more than $5,000 and collecting no contributions.

Dial pulled in $34,000, and ended the month with $95,220. His biggest donor, at $9,000, was Alabama 2014, a PAC set up to aid GOP candidates. Other major donors include the Retailers of Alabama PAC and BIZPAC. Major donors to BIZPAC in 2013 include the Franklin Haney Company and the American Pharmacy Cooperative, an Alabama-based drug-purchasing cooperative.

Capitol and statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter: @TLockette_Star.

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