Alabama Power has contributed 97% of the $3.9 million raised for a political action committee (PAC) since the PAC’s inception in late 2019, according to records maintained by the Alabama Secretary of State. Alabama Power contributed $1 million or more to the PAC each year in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
The PAC, called LION PAC, has, according to records, spent almost none of its money so far; of the $3.9 million, LION PAC has spent just $15,994.04, with 78% of that expenditure having been spent on one political vendor: Pash Communications, now known as SR Communications, which supports candidates by providing marketing and communications campaign services. LION PAC’s other expenditures appear to have been on minimal copying, accounting, mail, and registration fees.
Campaign finance filings detailing payments to Pash/SR Communications offer a glimpse into potential priorities for LION PAC. Alabama elections in 2022 include a U.S. Senate race as well as the Republican primaries for the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates Alabama Power.
Two PSC incumbents, Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker, are running for re-election. Oden is facing opposition from challengers Stephen McLamb, Brent Woodall, and John Hammock. Beeker is facing opposition from challengers Robin Litaker and Robert McCollum. There are no Democrats running for either office, so the race will be decided during the May 24, 2022, Republican primary.
SR Communications is partly owned by former Yellowhammer News editor Sean Ross. Yellowhammer News, an online media outlet, has frequently run articles in support of Alabama Power’s political agenda, and of the Alabama Public Service Commission, and the site lists Alabama Power as a sponsor. While at Yellowhammer News, Ross covered energy and regulatory issues, such as actions of the Alabama Public Service Commission, often including quotes from commissioners. Ross now serves as a spokesperson for Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Katie Britt. Britt’s husband, Wesley, worked for Alabama Power before stepping down because of her campaign, according to AL.com, which interviewed the Britts.
Alabama Power, Jeremy Oden, and Paul Shashy of Pash/SR Communications did not respond to a request for comment from the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI). Shortly after Shashy received questions from EPI, Pash Communications’ website was taken down.
LION PAC has been quiet until now
LION PAC was created in 2019 by Robin Stone, a long-time Alabama lobbyist, and Ashley Newman of Newman and Associates. Newman was listed as the treasurer of the PAC upon formation, but three days later her name was removed, although her email remained affiliated with the PAC.
LION PAC did not spend money beyond accounting and mailing costs until January 10, 2022, when it paid Pash/SR Communications $12,500 for “Consultants/Polling” according to its filings with the Alabama Secretary of State.
Only three candidates for office have paid Pash or SR Communications in 2022: Supreme Court Justice Mary Windom, who dropped her election bid in May 2021, Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth, who is running unopposed and whose Republican primary election was canceled after no candidate declared by the deadline of January 28, 2022, and Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden.
Oden’s campaign fund has paid Pash and SR Communications $6,500, according to campaign finance disclosures; SR Communications’ public Vimeo page shows a 30-second video and a 1-minute radio ad the company appears to have produced for Oden.
Pash Communications was created by Paul Shashy, the former campaign manager to U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville. The name of the firm changed to SR Communications when Sean Ross, former editor of the online blog Yellowhammer News, joined Shashy as 40% owner in October 2021, according to filings with the Alabama Secretary of State.
Pash Communications’ had an active website that was distinct from SR Communications’ site, and it displayed both Oden and Alabama Power as clients, however the website was taken down shortly after EPI asked Paul Shashy for comment. The site did not list Windom or Ainsworth as clients. The website also listed some of the work that the firm completed for Oden in what appeared to be mailers or other print literature from the 2018 campaign. Oden is using similarly styled literature and the same logo for the current 2022 campaign.
Pash Communications 2018 campaign work for Jeremy Oden
The Facebook Ad Library shows that Oden has spent $10,589 on Facebook ads for his campaign as of publication, though his campaign disclosures filed with the Alabama Secretary of State have not listed expenditures to Facebook. Oden may have paid an outside firm to run his ads on Facebook.
Oden’s disclaimers and spending on social issues, elections or politics on Facebook as of May 8, 2022.
Oden may have used his office for campaign purposes
In a mailing obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute, Oden may have used his public office for campaign purposes. The political mailer featured a photograph of Oden working inside his Public Service Commission office, encouraged recipients to vote for him, and disclosed that his campaign paid for the piece.
Candidates for office should not “use or cause the use of equipment, facilities, time, materials, human labor, or other public property under your discretion or control for the private benefit or business benefit of you, any other person, or principal campaign committee,” according to the Alabama Ethics Commission Guidelines for Public Officials and Employees.
State employees are prohibited from conducting political activities while receiving compensation from the state, though state employees may engage in political activities on their own personal time. It is unclear whether a PSC employee or a campaign representative took the photo, or whether it was an existing photo repurposed for campaign use. The Ethics Commission Guidelines tell candidates for office to not “solicit a “thing of value” from a subordinate or person or business with whom you directly inspect, regulate, or supervise in your official capacity other than in the ordinary course of business.”
Oden did not respond to questions from EPI about the picture in the mailer.
Political mailer from Jeremy Oden, obtained by EPI