In October, four Alabama state legislators and three lobbyists were among the 11 people indicted in an influence peddling scandal. The indictment alleged that the lawmakers and lobbyists broke the law by trading votes for cash and other perks in order to pass legislation allowing electronic bingo.
Gambling is against state law, but some counties allow an exception for bingo, and gaming interests responded by creating a form of electronic bingo virtually indistinguishable from slot machines. The gambling industry has tried year after year to make gambling legal statewide. One of the lobbyists indicted allegedly offered to provide campaign contributions "until the damn cows came home" in exchange for a legislator's pro-gambling vote.
Two of the four legislators who were indicted were reelected in November.
Indicted state senator Quinton T. Ross Jr., a 41-year-old Democrat, will keep his seat after running unopposed. Ross is alleged to have sought campaign contributions from gambling lobbyists and businessmen the day before and after a key vote on the pro-gambling legislation last spring. He was charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, attempted extortion, among other charges. The other indicted state senator who was reelected in November, Harri Anne H. Smith of Slocomb, a Republican turned independent, allegedly lobbied other legislators to support legislation in exchange for promises and payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbyists and businessmen.
Prior to the indictments, longtime Democratic State Senator James Preuitt switched parties and became a Republican, winning the GOP primary. He then dropped out of his reelection race in September and was arrested and charged in October.
The only indicted incumbent who lost, Democratic Sen. Larry P. Means, won 47 percent of the vote, and attributed his loss more to a GOP wave than to his legal troubles. "I don't know that the indictment hurt me," said Sen. Means. "I think it was just that straight Republican ticket."
But the national GOP wave was particularly pronounced in Alabama, where Republicans took control of the state house and senate for the first time since Reconstruction. Auburn University-Montgomery political science professor Bradley Moody says that the indictments, and a perception of corruption, may have accounted for the extra Democratic losses in Alabama.
"The bingo issue and the indictments served to reinforce an image or perception that already existed," said Moody. "The overall outcome would probably have been the same, but the degree to which the Republicans captured control of the legislature might not have been so great."
Two months before the indictments, student journalists working for ABC News had found four Alabama lawmakers and a gambling lobbyist enjoying a round of golf together at a posh Kentucky golf course.
The National Conference of State Legislatures annual convention was in full swing in Louisville, Kentucky, on the afternoon of July 27, with a well-attended session called "How Good Is Your Legislature?" But at 3 p.m. the student reporters found Alabama gaming lobbyist Greg Jones, Rep. McCampbell and three other Alabama lawmakers more than 20 miles away on the links.