Consultant: No direct order to use party chairman's firm

AP News
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Posted: May 26, 2016 7:56 PM
Consultant: No direct order to use party chairman's firm

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — A Florida political consultant testified Thursday that he believed he had to subcontract Alabama Republican Party campaign printing work back to a company owned by the party's chairman, but also said he had no direct orders to send the business there.

The chairman at the time was Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, now on trial for ethics charges accusing him of using his political positions to make money. Jurors on Thursday heard conflicting evidence about Hubbard's role in Republican Party work that got sent to his companies while he was party chairman.

Randy Kammerdiner, co-owner of Majority Strategies, designed glossy direct mail pieces for the Republicans' 2010 campaign to take over the Alabama Legislature. He testified that he "certainly believed" party officials wanted the fliers printed at Craftmaster, where Hubbard was a co-owner. However, he did not elaborate why he believed that was the case.

Prosecutor Matt Hart asked Kammerdiner if he felt he had any other option but Craftmaster for the printing work.

"No," Kammerdiner replied. Prosecutors also showed jurors an email Kammerdiner sent a state party employee. "Per Mike, we're printing at Craftmaster and just passing the actual charges on to you all."

And in another email exchange reacting to a message from Hubbard, Kammerdiner and another Majority Strategies executive appeared to lament "being forced" to use Craftmaster when they produced material for Republican campaigns.

"Because I am a greedy bastard I would rather us swallow our pride and also make a lower profit margin in order to keep the client rather than getting black-balled in a state because we think the printer is making too much money and we don't like being forced to use them," Kammerdiner wrote in a 2011 email.

Hubbard's defense pushed back on the assertion that Hubbard steered this deal. Under cross-examination by attorney Lance Bell, Kammerdiner said "I never had a specific conversation with Mike Hubbard saying I had to use Craftmaster."

The political consultant also testified that the firm had previously used Craftmaster before Hubbard became party chairman, and that the party was probably getting a "better deal" by avoiding the markup he would have applied to the cost of another printer.

The Republican Party money steered to Hubbard's media companies is the focus of four of 23 ethics charges he faces.

Prosecutors have accused Hubbard of using his political positions as speaker and party chairman to make money and solicit favors such as investments from lobbyists. Defense lawyers say the transactions were above board.

Other testimony on Thursday focused on language in a 2013 budget bill that could have benefited one of Hubbard's consulting clients.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency in 2013 was studying the possibility of one day hiring a pharmacy benefit manager to provide prescription drugs for Medicaid patients. Medicaid officials testified Thursday that they were caught off guard when the House added a budget amendment setting requirements for any manager that might be hired.

The group that qualified under the amendment, the Alabama-based American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc., had a $5,000-per month consulting contract with Hubbard.

"We had great concerns it was creating a monopoly for one group," Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar testified.

Former State Health Officer Don Williamson said he met with Hubbard to get it removed, and Hubbard agreed.

Hart asked Williamson if he was "shocked" when he later discovered that Hubbard had a relationship with the company.

"I was surprised," Williamson replied.

On cross-examination, defense lawyer Bill Baxley tried to suggest that another legislator was responsible for the insertion.

Azar acknowledged that Rep. Greg Wren became "unreasonable angry" in a meeting over taking the language out.

Wren later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ethics charge that forced him out of office, acknowledging that the cooperative had ties to another company paying him $8,000-a-month for consulting.

The budget language was stripped in conference committee.