For the last several weeks I’ve had some data on a very curious contract award made by the administration of Alabama Governor Bob Riley. I held off doing anything with it, and wondered: will the Alabama media pursue this story? Or is it completely dead? And it turns out that there are some vital life signs down in the Heart of Dixie.
The case involves a $3.7 million computer contract awarded a little more than a week ago to ACS Heritage, a part of Texas-based Affiliated Computer Services. ACS is a big player—a Fortune 500 company with some 58,000 employees. The curious thing is that the ACS bid was not the lowest bid by a very long shot; it was $500,000 more than the next bid. However, ACS had a decisive edge over its competitors: it hired Governor Riley’s former chief of staff, Toby Roth of Capitol Resources LLC.
State officials explain that there were factors other than just the price term to take into account. And it’s true that the low price term isn’t always the determinant factor—in awarding the bid, the contracting party needs to consider the reputation of the bidder, its track record in performing contracts of this sort, its ability to perform on issues like maintenance, training, and other issues. But ACS doesn’t exactly have an unblemished record. Its CEO recently stepped down in an ethics investigation. And it has only a bit more than a year’s experience in government contracting work to begin with. However, ACS had one thing the other bidders did not: Toby Roth. They hired him, said ACS president Will Saunders, “because he understands the Alabama environment.”
So how did our ‘Bama media do on this? The Huntsville Times gets a gold star. Bob Lowry at the Times authored two articles that developed and presented the essential facts—more fact than I was privy to. Lowry’s work can be viewed here and here. Similarly, the Associated Press weighed in with a reasonably good article by Bob Johnson.
Which major ‘Bama paper devoted none of its own resources to covering or reporting the story? No surprises here: The Birmingham News. Of course, I acknowledge that it’s not nearly so important as a story about Governor Riley’s boot size and his preference for alligator-hide boots, topics to which they recently devoted feature coverage. But you’ll recall that when the Jill Simpson affidavit broke, the B’ham News was quick out the gate with a story based on statements by the very same Toby Roth: he was quoted saying that the whole affair was just “sour grapes” on the part of disappointed contractors–and the News failed to tell its readers much of anything about Roth’s background.
Brian Lyman did a story on the contract for the Mobile Press-Register which can be viewed here. My initial report that it went uncovered in the Mobile paper was wrong.
Starting back in 1996, Toby Roth was the finance director for Harold See’s campaign for the Alabama high court. And who managed that campaign? Karl Rove. (In my opinion, this makes Roth’s claim that Rove’s involvement in the Siegelman case would have been “loony” less credible.) Roth went on to serve as chief of staff to Governor Riley. After a term in that position, he went to work for Jackson, Mississippi-based Capitol Resources LLC, an outfit set up by Trent Lott’s former chief-of-staff, John Lundy.
One of that firm’s most lucrative and important clients, the Mississippi Choctaw Indians, was represented by Capitol Resources jointly with Jack Abramoff. This raises the question: what did Jack Abramoff have to do with the Riley campaign? There is unpublished email correspondence that I have seen between Abramoff and his conspirator Michael Scanlon, which was uncovered by John McCain’s Senate investigations. This correspondence makes clear that sums of money from Mississippi gaming interests represented by Capitol Resources were directed into the election campaign of Bob Riley in Alabama.
Roth’s client ACS Heritage may actually have made the best bid—I truly do not know. But there are valid reasons to raise questions about the bid, related both to the influence of Roth and to the expertise of ACS Heritage.