By Phillip Rawls
A conservative, pro-business foundation is airing radio ads to tell Alabama voters that updating the state constitution and removing its decades-old racist language could help the state's economic recovery.
The Alabama Public Policy Foundation, which was formed in 2003 to fight then-Gov. Bob Riley's tax plan, is running the radio ads on stations in some of Alabama's largest cities. The ads say Amendments 4, 9 and 10 would be good "for jobs in Alabama."
The foundation has strong ties to the Alabama Farmers Federation and its sister organization, Alfa insurance. Also on the board are state leaders of Eagle Forum and the National Federation of Independent Business, as well as a former Alabama leader of the Christian Coalition.
As in 2003, the foundation has carefully worded its ads not to mention Election Day Nov. 6 and not to specifically say vote "yes." That prevents it from having to disclose its campaign contributors.
Amendment 4 removes no-longer-enforceable language in the constitution providing for segregated schools and the payment of poll taxes to vote.
The poll tax language dates back to 1901 and the schools section to 1956.
Amendments 9 and 10 update the parts of the constitution dealing with corporations and banking to reflect modern business practices.
The foundation's radio ads use the voice of a lobbyist for Alfa and the Farmers Federation and use the same address as the Farmers Federation. The foundation's board includes Jerry Newby, president of Alfa and the Farmers Federation.
With an unusually long list of 11 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, foundation secretary Brian Hardin said the nonprofit group is trying to make sure voters take the time to read and understand the amendments rather than skipping them.
"We hope people will see the advantage of moving forward," said Hardin, assistant director of government and agricultural programs for the Alabama Farmers Federation and a lobbyist for Alfa.
Amendments 9 and 10 are the work of a state commission that has been helping the Legislature update the constitution one section at a time. Hardin said he hasn't heard of anyone else running ads for or against those two constitutional amendments.
Hardin said the foundation supports updating Alabama's constitution one topic at a time, rather than writing a new constitution with a constitutional convention, because that allows voters to focus on each issue.
Amendment 4 has drawn opposition from the Alabama Education Association, black political groups and some top Democrats because it reaffirms language in the constitution, also dating to 1956, that says there is no right to an education at public expense in Alabama.
Hardin said the foundation likes Amendment 4 because it removes outdated racist language without changing current education policy.
The Alabama Public Policy Foundation was formed in 2003 to help defeat Riley's $1.2 billion tax plan. In that campaign, the foundation worded its ads to avoid mentioning the date of the statewide vote on the tax plan. The ads criticized the plan without urging a "no" vote. That allowed the foundation to raise money without disclosing its donors because it did not qualify as a political action committee.
Janice McDonald, director of the elections division in the secretary of state's office, said the foundation would not have to report because they are informational and don't ask for a yes or no vote.
The Alabama Education Association, the state teachers' organization, is running TV ads that mention the Nov. 6 election and encourage people to vote against Amendment 4. AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry said Wednesday the organization's name is clear on the ads and it will report its expenditures to the secretary of state.
"We have been real up front about this," he said.