Dr. Robert Bentley is out today with a statement posted on the campaign’s website, regarding the Mobile Press Register story that ran in the Sunday edition. Allegations in the story were that the Bentley campaign secretly conspired with the Alabama Education Association to pummel his runoff opponent Bradley Byrne with a “barrage of attack ads and automated phone calls.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Rebekah Caldwell Mason 334-782-4661
"I pledged not to run a negative campaign and I have not. I have not made a single negative ad or recorded a negative message to the voters. No member of my staff or any of our hired consultants have ever been authorized by me to make a negative ad. No member of my staff or any of my paid consultants were authorized or directed by me to participate in any third party, independent negative political campaign. I pledged to run a positive campaign and I have done just that. There is no connection between our positive robo-calls and negative attacks ads."
"Unfortunately running a statewide campaign is expensive. I was outspent almost 4 to 1 in the primary. I mortgaged my house, and borrowed from my retirement fund and my life insurance policy just to have the money we needed to stay in the race. I have called on hundreds of people asking for their financial support of my campaign, including AEA. I have acknowledged that contribution and we have reported it on our financial statement with the secretary of state's office. AEA pledged additional support if needed, but we made a decision not to accept further help now or after the election. We are not taking any money directly or indirectly from the AEA now or after the campaign."
"During the final days of the runoff campaign I was contacted by our campaign staff and asked to record positive "robo calls." Which I did. We were billed for calls made during the runoff by Dresner Wickers and Associates and reported those expenditures. We were notified on October 11 of the amount of additional In-Kind expenditures related to robo calls and we immediately reported those in an amended Financial Disclosure Report to the Secretary of State's office. That amendment was filed on October 13. We have made every effort to contact donors, volunteers, and staff to ensure that all in-kind contributions are reported accurately."
The short analysis of this “October Surprise” is that the ordinarily sharp George Talbot flubbed the story in Sunday’s Press-Register. This statement in the story is the key: “Working through back channels with Bentley’s campaign, the AEA pummeled Byrne with a barrage of attack ads and automated phone calls, according to e-mails and telephone records obtained by the Press-Register.
The problem is, the emails “obtained” by the Press-Register don’t show Bentley’s involvement in attack ads at all. They do, however, show that operatives on Bentley’s campaign staff worked the backchannels to get AEA’s robocalling system to blast out a series of phone calls in the days just before the runoff election. Talbot’s unfortunate wordsmithing conflates AEA’s cooperation with the Bentley campaign on the robocalls with AEA’s separate and completely uncoordinated media assault on Bradley Byrne.
This gives the Bentley Campaign an easy out—simply admit to accepting support from AEA but deny—truthfully—that there was any involvement in the attack ads. Then play the underfinanced underdog role while defending the “omission” in campaign finance documents as a miscommunication. Bentley wiggles out of the jam because Talbot’s story accused his campaign of engaging in an activity that the documentation doesn’t demonstrate, and the worst of the two activities alleged is the one with the least amount of evidence behind it. Follow me, here:
- Accepting AEA campaign contributions: Bad.
- Accepting in-kind services from AEA: Bad.
- Working with the AEA to run negative ads while denying involvement in any negative campaigning: FATAL.
Oh and, by the way. Pretty much anyone covering or closely following politics in Alabama has seen and read the emails Talbot used in the story. They’ve been floating around for weeks. Like I wrote yesterday, there’s no smoking gun there that directly ties Bentley to the negative campaign ads that buried Bradley Byrne.
Ed. Note: The Mobile Press-Register endorsed Bradley Byrne in both the primary election and the runoff.