MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Tax records show a nonprofit formed to promote Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s political agenda raised and spent less than $100,000 last year and is now dormant in the wake of a scandal surrounding the governor’s relationship with a former aide.
The 2015 tax return indicates that the Alabama Council for Excellent Government was never able to raise much money. Also known as ACEGOV, it raised $90,600 in 2015, and spent $63,574, mostly for consulting, polling and web development.
The nonprofit was formed last year by former administration officials as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit in order “to advance the beliefs and policies espoused by Governor Robert Bentley.” Such nonprofits are sometimes called “dark money” groups because they do not have to disclose donors, but they are required to file public tax returns describing expenditures and activity.
In its 990-EZ tax form, filed last month with the Internal Revenue Service after a three-month extension, the group reported paying $22,500 for web development, consulting and social media content and $28,000 for polling and services in 2015. The tax filing does not elaborate where the money was spent or for what purpose. It also shows a balance of $27,026 at the end of 2015.
Richard Raleigh, an attorney for the nonprofit, said the organization still legally exists, but that’s about it.
“No dissolution paperwork has been filed to dissolve the corporation. But, you can also see from the return that it does not have much money,” Raleigh said in an emailed response to questions about the organization’s status.
The organization has been scrutinized since Bentley acknowledged in March — as recordings of his private telephone conversations were made public — that before his divorce that he engaged in inappropriate behavior with his former political adviser. The governor said he made inappropriate remarks and engaged in behavior that required him to apologize to his family, but denied having a sexual affair.
Rebekah Caldwell Mason resigned and disclosed her pay from the nonprofit as it became a political issue. Mason said she was paid $15,000 by the nonprofit for consulting work and $76,500 by Bentley’s campaign. She said that her work for the nonprofit was separate from her work as the governor’s direct adviser.
The voluntarily disclosure would indicate that almost one-fourth of ACEGOV’s spending went to Mason’s company.
According to its website, the group was busiest in the first half of 2015, when it promoted Bentley’s proposal to raise taxes to avoid cuts in government services during a budget shortfall. But ACEGOV appears to have gone inactive after getting caught up in the political and legal fallout from the scandal. Its social media accounts were deactivated six months ago. The group’s web page still discusses Bentley’s 2015 agenda.
A lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating if there are grounds to impeach Bentley, asked for any records in the governor’s office related to the non-profit as part of an exhaustive document request.
ACEGOV also was named as a party in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed by Bentley’s former law enforcement secretary, Spencer Collier, who publicly accused the governor of having an inappropriate relationship with Mason a day after Bentley fired him. ACEGOV’s lawyers want the group dropped from the lawsuit, arguing that it had nothing to do with Collier’s firing.