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Jewish World Review July 18, 2003 / 18 Tamuz, 5763

Quin Hillyer

Quin Hillyer
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Consumer Reports

A late attack on Pryor, courtesy of purloined memos | Using pilfered documents, Democrats on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee are making a last-minute attempt to derail the nomination of Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor for a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pryor's first problem is that, as an elected official and a participant in the political process, he has helped raise campaign contributions for his political party. How shocking. Next we'll discover that senators, too, raise money.

Pryor's second problem is that he answered a written question too precisely. This was a bad mistake. Faced with an open-ended question, Pryor should have made clear that his answer was not definitive. This he failed to do.

What this all involves is Pryor's role in helping found a group called the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the famed campaign finance reformer, asked Pryor at his June 11 committee hearing if a certain scenario, involving a donation to RAGA from a corporation that might one day be investigated by a state attorney general, would present at least the appearance of conflict of interest given your role in RAGA?

Feingold's question was purely hypothetical. Pryor answered that in no instance has he solicited funds from a company under investigation or otherwise failed in ensuring that the law is enforced against any potential contributor.

In a written follow-up, Feingold asked: Are you aware of any companies in the State of Alabama that are or were members of RAGA? Were you involved in the solicitation of any of these companies? If so, which companies?

To be a member of RAGA, as Pryor earlier had explained, required a contribution of at least $5,000. Pryor also had previously explained that at the request of RAGA's staff, he did make some fundraising calls, but that the Republican National Committee kept all records of who donated when -- and that the RNC co-mingled RAGA funds with money for Republican governors and other state officials.

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Pryor's answer to Feingold's question about Alabama companies was as follows: I am unaware of any Alabama companies being members of RAGA.

Fast-forward to yesterday. That's when committee staff contacted two former RAGA staffers, Ben Dupuy in Washington, D.C., and Claire Austin in Montgomery. They played phone tag with Austin, but were able to interview Dupuy. He said they asked if Pryor made fundraising calls to companies in Alabama. He said he told them Austin would know, because she was the one who handled fundraising.

Dupuy also said the process was mostly staff-driven. Documents show that RAGA staff had to plead with Republican attorneys general to secure a random hour on their schedules to make such calls. It's not as if every AG kept a record, of who the RAGA members were, in their wallets, Dupuy told me.

What was the point of all this? Apparently, to find some way to read certain documents as if to show that Pryor should have been aware that Alabama companies are RAGA members.

Would Bill Pryor know specifically who were members of RAGA? Claire Austin repeated a question of mine, rhetorically. I kinda doubt it. As a staff person, of course I remember all that stuff. ... That's what I did for a living.

Nevertheless, the committee has documents showing that Bill Pryor did ask some Alabama companies to contribute to RAGA. And some companies with Alabama subsidiaries, such as the Southern Company out of Atlanta (parent to Alabama Power), did become RAGA members.

Austin said the only Southern Company people she remembers attending RAGA events were out of their Washington office. As for conflicts of interest, Austin said that Bill would not make any calls to the Microsoft people because there was pending litigation nationwide. Pryor was that way about tobacco companies, too. In short, Pryor avoided any potential ethical conflicts that he saw.

Still, a friendly critic could say that Pryor's answer to Feingold wasn't good enough. Yes, he was unaware that any Alabama-based companies were members. (It's still not clear whether any were.) But he perhaps should have said that certainly Alabama companies -- ones not under any investigation -- were asked to join, and that some may well have contributed at or below the membership level. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, that there's anything wrong with that.

By this time, the committee Democrats were searching for a potential reason to assume that Pryor might have known that somewhere along the line there may have been an appearance of a conflict of interest. Obviously, that's about four removes from anything that should rightly disqualify a judicial nominee.

But what led them to this trail of questions is more interesting. Those documents they had -- documents that gave them more information about RAGA than Pryor himself has access to -- came from a former secretary of Claire Austin's by the name of Kelly Foradori. Foradori stopped working for Austin at the end of 1999, after helping with RAGA's first-ever major fundraiser (on Kiawah Island, S.C.).

Austin says she remembers confronting Foradori then to ask if Foradori retained any documents. Turns out, her suspicions were right. Foradori e-mailed those documents to the committee. Most were memos from Austin to vari ous donors. Only a few mention Pryor. But they do show names and affiliations of people who were scheduled to attend some RAGA events.

Foradori's motive in all this is unclear. When reached by cell phone yesterday, before I could even identify myself, she told me: I don't have any comment for you, and please do not call my cell phone again.

What is known is that Foradori was a longtime employee of lobbyist Lanny Young -- and a highly paid one at that, said Austin. Austin briefly had a business with Young, and she said Foradori came with Young (already making what for a clerical employee was a hefty salary) when Austin and Young joined forces.

Lanny Young last month pleaded guilty to bribing Nick Bailey, a top aide to former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Bill Pryor's office is working in conjunction with federal Justice Department officials in the ongoing investigation involving Young, Bailey and others in the Siegelman orbit.

Now Foradori, at least at one time a close associate and employee of Young's, has sent Austin's RAGA documents -- retained against Austin's wishes more than three years ago -- to committee staffers representing U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., a leading Pryor opponent. I think I smell a dirty political payback for an attorney general doing his job, which is prosecuting people for crimes.

But having looked at those documents myself, I see no smoking gun -- nor, for that matter, any gunpowder or bullets or even anything approaching a crime or ethical transgression, that would rightly block Pryor's nomination. Because when it comes to following the law, Bill Pryor is always precise.

Sometimes to his own political detriment.

JWR contributor Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer for the Mobile Register. Comment by clicking here.


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