Copyright 1992 Freethought Today
Reprinted with permission
GOVERNOR HUNT PROBE WIDENS
An ethics review of Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt's use of state transportation
for paid preaching engagements around the country has widened into a
grand jury probe.
Alabama Foundation members and the national office of the Freedom From
Religion Foundation had originally called for an ethics probe when it
was reported that Hunt was traveling at taxpayers expense to accept
preaching invitations where he received cash "loving offerings." He is
a Primitive Baptist minister.
The ethics review panel, with a 4-0 vote in September, 1991, found
probable cause that using taxpayers money for preaching and personal
gain was an ethics violation. Attorney General Jimmy Evans is still
investigating whether Hunts acceptance of donations for preaching while
using the state plane was a violation. Evans created an 18-member grand
jury panel in May to consider whether to make an indictment.
In September, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Elmore County
taxpayer Ralph Windom has a right to sue the governor over the plane
trips, and ordered Hunt to produce his tax records.
The suit demands that Hunt repay the state an estimated $200,000 for
the preaching trips. Windom, a World War II and Korean War veteran,
says Hunts' use of the state plane violates the Alabama Constitutions
ban on the use of tax dollars to support a religion.
The grand jury is also investigating Hunt for his personal and campaign
finances. Hunt received $10,000 from a businessman whom he later
appointed to the state liquor board. Hunt called the money a personal
gift and did not report it as a campaign contribution or on his
personal income tax return. The donor, Don Martin, awaiting federal
charges of defrauding $290 million from savings and loans and other
investors, says it was a campaign contribution.
The state jet costs about $800 an hour to operate. Last year Hunt paid
the state $9,724 for cash offerings he took on 18 church flights from
1987 and 1991, after Associated Press disclosed the trips, and promised
to quit using state vehicles to preach. However, Hunt later led suit
claiming the ethics law did not apply to him, partly because it
infringes his "religious rights." He lost the suit in federal court and
was ordered to pay all court costs. But Hunt insists he will bill
taxpayers for his share. The attorney general's office has spent at least
$62,000 defending against Hunt's suit.