Documents reveal GOP group's secret donors

Beer wholesalers, Pfizer among Alabama House Republican Conference bankrollers

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Companies including Alabama Power, drugmaker Pfizer and insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama helped fund the secretive “social welfare” nonprofit arm of the Alabama House Republican Caucus during 2012, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.

The Alabama House Republican Conference, organized under section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code, focuses on “research, education and policy development,” according to tax records.

Media reports from Alabama also indicate Republican lawmakers in part use the nonprofit, which is not required by law to publicly reveal its donors or the amounts donated, as a vehicle for allowing lobbyists and special interests to hobnob with them — for a price.

But when the Center for Public Integrity asked Rachel Adams, the communications director for Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, for a copy of the group’s most recent tax form, she provided a version that is typically only delivered to the Internal Revenue Service and includes contributor names and contribution amounts.

This document named 16 contributors — including several corporations, trade associations, political action committees and one labor union, the Alabama Education Association. Each entity donated between $5,000 and $15,000.

The Center for Public Integrity also discovered that Pfizer, which produces such popular brands as Advil, Lipitor and Viagra, voluntarily self-reported a $2,500 contribution to the group. The pharmaceutical giant is among a growing number of companies that are voluntarily disclosing information about their giving to politically active nonprofits.

Collectively, these 17 organizations gave $100,000 — or about 49 percent of the $204,000 the Alabama House Republican Conference raised in 2012. The remainders came from donors who each gave less than $5,000.

Adams declined to answer specific questions about how the Alabama House Republican Conference raises money, saying only that the group “is funded via private fundraising.”

Republicans currently control nearly two-thirds of the seats in the 105-member House of Representatives. Hubbard is one of the three directors listed in the Alabama House Republican Conference’s 2012 tax return.

The largest donor to the GOP nonprofit in 2012 was the PAC of the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association, which gave $15,000 — an amount it previously disclosed to state campaign regulators.

The group, which is a chapter of a national trade association, represents the interests of about a dozen independent beer distributors in the state. The Alabama Beverage Control Board controls the state’s alcohol beverages through distribution, licensing and enforcement.

Currently, Alabama regulates the sale of beer with a limit on bottle size and alcohol by volume, and until 2013, it was one of only two states that outlawed homebrewing.

Officials with the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, at least $25,000 that the Alabama House Republican Conference raised in 2012 came from the pharmaceutical and health industries. Of these donations, the largest was from drug-maker Eli Lilly’s PAC in the amount of $7,500. 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest health insurer, gave $5,000 to the GOP nonprofit, as did the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and the PAC of the Alabama Nursing Home Association, a trade association for facility owners, operators and administrators. 

For their part, House Democrats formed a “social welfare” nonprofit group in October of 2012, and tax records show it raised less than $2,400 between its launch and December 2012.

House Republicans in Alabama also operate a nonprofit foundation organized under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. Tax records show this group raised $143,600 in 2012 from an unknown number of anonymous donors.

Research by the Center for Public Integrity has, however, revealed the identity of one of these donors: rail company Norfolk Southern, which voluntarily reported giving $1,000 to the foundation during 2012.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman declined to elaborate on the donation, although the company’s website states that it “supports public officials and candidates whose views match those of Norfolk Southern.”

Adam Wollner contributed to this report.