Freethought Complaint Ends in Rev.-Gov. Hunt's Indictment The Headlines Tell The Story [T

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Freethought Complaint Ends in Rev.-Gov. Hunt's Indictment The Headlines Tell The Story [This is excerpted from a panel talk by Roger Cleveland on Dec. 5, 1992 at the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in San Antonio. Roger is director of the Birmingham-Area, Alabama chapter. He documents a uniquely successful state/church complaint. Missing is the spontaneous, generous crowd laughter as Roger read just the headlines from the stories generated by his original complaint.] By Roger Cleveland Guy Hunt, an ordained minister in the "Primitive Baptist" denomination, is the governor of Alabama. He's the first elected Republican governor in our state in 112 years. His election was something of a fluke. The state Ethics Commission is now investigating Gov. Hunt's use of the state airplane for preaching trips at state expense. This first came to our attention in August, 1991, right after Hunt started his second term. Some of our Birmingham members sent us news articles stating that Hunt had been flying around the state on preaching engagements and receiving what they call "love offerings." Melvin Cooper, our Ethics Commissioner, said that the Ethics Commission couldn't do anything about it because they had had no complaints. So I guess you know what happened then. We wrote a letter on August 19 to Mr. Cooper at the Ethics Commission complaining that this was a violation of the separation of state and church, according to the Constitution. He wrote back, informing us that the Ethics Commission couldn't do anything about a Constitutional violation. (To me, violating the Constitution is unethical--that's the way we were looking at it.) However, he did send us a little booklet on how to approach the situation. We found under Article 36.25.5: "No public official or employee shall use an official position or office to obtain direct personal financial gain for himself or his family or any business with which he or a member of his family is associated unless such use or gain is specifically authorized by law." So, what Cooper was letting us know was that we could complain because of the "love offerings." We wrote again, asking if they would investigate the offerings received from flying around on state planes to preaching engagements. Foundation president Anne Gaylor also wrote a strong letter to the Alabama Ethics Commission, and I want to thank her for helping to get this thing going. In September we received a response from Cooper telling us that they were investigating, and inviting us to testify at a hearing before the Commission in Montgomery. I was sick on the date of the hearing, but my sister Melody and her husband Barney went to testify. So did my wife Pat, and the president of the local ACLU chapter. Foundation member Hank Shiver, who had also sent a letter of complaint, came from Mobile. It turned out that our testimony was not needed. They had already decided that what Governor Hunt was doing merited an investigation. After further investigation, they turned it over to the Attorney General's office. After quite a long investigation by the Attorney General's office, it has been turned over to the Alabama Grand Jury. So right now, our governor is under investigation by the Grand Jury! Here are some of the headlines from the Alabama papers. This is only a small part of the huge scrapbook we have assembled. August 16, 1991: "Hunt won't reveal nature of family's use of state plane." The governor doesn't want to talk about it--it's none of the people's business. "Hunt says family travel secrecy is okay." "Hunt's secret trips involve preaching in three southern states." "Taxes finance Hunt's flights to churches." Then Hunt filed a suit against Attorney General Evans (a Democrat) saying that the governor doesn't come under the ethics law. Something about the separation of powers. "Hunt poses new questions for Ethics panel." "Hunt charged $7,615 for trips." That's the expenses he charged the state for his preaching trips. "Governor defends use of state plane." "Hunt meets with Ethics Commission." "Hunt pays the state $1,750 to settle fuss over plane." In this article they started calling him "Air Hunt." "Neighbor governors less frequent fliers." "State-paid vacation included preaching trips." "Hunt advisor checking out air travel records." They're really on to him about his records --where, when, what he did. "Hunt flights not recorded on tax returns." I'll tell you, before this is over with, they really get him to do his stuff. "Hunt's reimbursement is questioned." This is the $1,750. "Hunt's ethics probe first in Alabama." "Hunt aides discuss preaching trips." "Governor gives up flights as the Ethics Panel starts probe." "Hunt may face suit over travel." "IRS looks over Hunt tax forms." September 5, 1991: "Hunt opts for highway travel to church." September 15: "Hunt takes own car on church trip." "Panel believes Hunt violated the law." "Judge okays ethics probe but won't dismiss Hunt's suit." July 23, 1992: "Hunt's ratings at all-time low." Here's an article where they asked not only about Hunt's tax returns, but his wife's and children's returns as well. Hunt said that this could expose all officials' tax returns. "News media is urged to investigate Evans." Hunt called for the Attorney General to be investigated. "Hunt opens special session with warning: 'I'm still here!'" "Most don't think Hunt honest." This was a poll. Hunt is a Primitive Baptist preacher in Alabama! You're supposed to respect them folks. "Hunt probe widens." "Grand Jury focuses on Hunt's use of campaign money." Someone who had made a $10,000 contribution to Hunt's campaign had been appointed to the Alcoholics Control Board. They caught this person doing something underhanded, and kicked him out of office. Another poll: "Voters say Hunt nation's worst governor." "Evans traces reunion funds in Hunt probe." "Hunt ethics probe expands." "Hunt charges there's a plot to oust him." This is the most recent headline, and my favorite, November 29, 1992: "Hunt asks for stronger ethics law." * * * * Postscript. Three weeks later, the Grand Jury made its decision. Here are further headlines from various Alabama papers that Roger Cleveland has sent to the Foundation offices. December 29, 1992, front page, huge headline: "Hunt Indicted." "Governor indicted for stealing money." "Jury hits Hunt with 13 counts." "Hunt: 'These outrageous charges are absolutely false'." Subhead: "Blames indictment on 'galling attack' by political enemies." "Church elders saddened by indictment." "Tough year all around for governor." "Questions about Hunt fund go back to 1988." "Hunt's finances, debts an issue since '86." "Hunt to plead innocent at Jan. 20 hearing." On Christmas Eve, the Daily Home ran a story about Hank Shiver: "Former Hunt supporter cared enough to complain." [The Attorney General publicly thanked the original complainants to the Ethics Commission, noting that without these complaints, no indictment would have been possible.] ------------------------------------------------------------------------- This article is reprinted (with permission) from the January/February 1993 issue of Freethought Today, bulletin of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. For more information, write Freedom From Religion Foundation P. O. Box 750 Madison, WI 53701 USA (608) 256-8900

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