A partner in the Alabama law firm whose members and political action committee donated $28,000 to the 2017 Senate campaign of Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) represented a real estate development company in which Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) has a 13 percent interest in a sweetheart deal that put over $100,000 of sales tax revenue paid by customers at the McGowin Park retail center in Mobile, Alabama in the pocket of the junior senator from Tennessee in 2016.
This revelation comes just days before President Donald Trump is set to campaign for Strange in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday night–and the White House is distancing itself and the president from this real estate deal. Many media reports note that it was Corker–in a meeting with the president last Friday–who finally convinced the president to campaign for Strange ahead of the September 26 GOP primary runoff for the U.S. Senate. Corker, of course, is facing his own primary battle in Tennessee next year, something intricately connected to the goings-on in Alabama’s race politically and financially.
“It’s absurd to say that the President is responsible for actions of others,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Breitbart News in an email on Tuesday when asked if Senator Corker informed President Trump about his sweetheart investment in the Mobile, Alabama retail development when the two met in person at the White House on Friday.
“That’s like when someone gets shot and people say it’s the gun [manufacturer’s] fault. As a staunch conservative who I know must believe in personal responsibility I can’t believe you would argue otherwise,” she added.
While Sanders has not answered directly when asked whether Corker informed the president of this sweetheart investment deal during the meeting in which Corker convinced the president to campaign for Strange–in this quote or in follow-up emails–she generally said that the White House knows nothing about it.
“As for this alleged deal we know nothing about it, ” Sanders said of Corker’s sweetheart investment in McGowin Park, LLC.
In July 2013, Alvin Hope, a partner in the Mobile law firm of Maynard, Cooper, & Galerepresented a real estate development company known as McGowin Park, LLC before the Mobile City Council and the Mobile County Commission and secured extraordinary deals in which both local governments agreed to allowed the developer to keep 28 percent of city sales taxes and 30 percent of county sales taxes collected from retail stores in the development for 20 years.
A year later, on July 11, 2014–still a year before the first retail store opened in the McGowin Park development–Corker purchased a 13.7 percent interest in McGowin Park, LLC for between $1 million and $5 million, according to financial disclosure documents he filed with the United States Senate. Six days later, on July 17, 2014, McGowin Park, LLC made a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing in Alabama disclosing that it secured a loan of an unknown amount from Wells Fargo to finance the project.
At the time the deal was approved by the Mobile City Council and Mobile County Commission in 2013, Luther Strange was halfway through his first four-year term as Alabama Attorney General, a position he held until February 2017 when now disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley appointed him to the United States Senate, which Alabama developer Stan Pate referred to as a “corrupt bargain” when he filed a complaint against Strange with the Alabama Ethics Commission on August 9.
It is unclear what, if any, oversight responsibilities Strange may have had over the McGowin Park, LLC/Mobile City Council/Mobile County Commission deal in his role at the time as Alabama Attorney General. Nor is there any indication that Mr. Hope or any attorney with Maynard, Cooper, & Gale sought or received any formal or informal advisory opinion or guidance from Strange or any other lawyers in the Alabama Attorney General’s office when preparing to present the proposal to the city or county governments in Mobile.
Corker and Strange appear to be close political allies in the United States Senate.
Between May and June of this year, Rock City PAC, which is Senator Corker’s Leadership PAC, donated $10,000 to Senator Luther Strange’s campaign, according to FEC records.
Since 2007, Karen Hutton, CEO of the Hutton Company, the Chattanooga, Tennessee real estate development company that appears to be the majority partner in McGowin Park, LLC, has donated $18,300 to Rock City PAC and $6,890 to Senator Corker’s campaign committees, according to FEC records.
Then last Friday, in a meeting at the White House, Corker asked President Trump to visit Alabama in the last days before the September 26 Republican primary runoff election for the U.S. Senate seat previously won by Attorney General Sessions between Strange and his conservative opponent, Judge Roy Moore, to support Strange.
Though President Trump endorsed Strange prior to the August 15 Republican primary election in which no candidate obtained a majority and Moore and Strange qualified for the runoff, Trump had not been very visible in his support for Strange since that initial election.
“Strange’s Republican colleagues got in on the push, too. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is up for reelection in 2018 and faces the prospect of a primary challenge, spoke extensively with Trump on Friday. According to two people familiar with the conversation, Corker told Trump that Strange’s fate hinged on the president going to bat for him,” Politico reported about that meeting.
“Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) encouraged Trump to make the trip to Alabama when the two met at the White House on Friday, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions,” The Hill reported on Tuesday.
This Friday, President Trump and Strange will appear together at a Huntsville, Alabama campaign rally, an effort to reverse the tide currently favoring Moore. The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Moore leading Strange by 8.8 percent.
Corker’s investment in McGowin Park, LLC appears to be one of those cases where behind-the-scenes knowledge has proved very lucrative.
In his Annual Report for Calendar 2014 filed with the United States Senate, Corker lists the value of his interest in McGowin Park, LLC between $1 million and $5 million. (see page 12)
In his Annual Report for Calendar 2015 filed with the United States Senate, Corker lists the value of his interest in McGowin Park, LLC between $1 million and $5 million. In addition, his interest in McGowin Park Shopping Center is also valued at between $1 million and $5 million, as is his interest in City of Mobile Limited Obligation Project Revenue Warrants and Mobile County Project Revenue warrants.
His 2015 income from McGowin Park Project Sales Revenue was reported to be $40,349, while he received rent/royalties from McGowin Park Shopping Center greater than $100,000 and less than $1 million.
In his Annual Report for Calendar 2016 filed with the United States Senate, Corker lists his interest in McGowin Park, LLC but places no value on it. However, he continues to list the value of his interest in McGowin Park Shopping Center at between $1 million and $5 million, as is his interest in City of Mobile Limited Obligation Project Revenue Warrants and Mobile County Project Revenue warrants.
His 2016 income from McGowin Park Project Sales Revenue was reported to be $108,682, while he received rent/royalties from McGowin Park Shopping Center greater than $100,000 and less than $1 million.
While it is not unusual for a private individual who makes an investment of between $1 million and $5 million in a large retail development to make a profit on that investment, the details of this particular investment are unusual in that the size and scope of the McGowin Park Project’s improvement districts deals between McGowin Park, LLC and the City of Mobile and Mobile County appear to be much larger than any other improvement district deal made in the State of Alabama before or since.
Authorized by the Alabama Improvement District Act passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in 2000, an improvement district “allows developers to issue bonds to finance public infrastructure, usually in exchange for tax incentives,” as Lagniappe Weekly reported.
Thirteen years later, the McGowin Park Project became the first improvement district authorized by the City of Mobile and Mobile County.
“The Mobile City Council and the County Commissioners, during separate votes Tuesday, voted to unanimously endorse a development agreement that provides sales tax rebates for the construction of a new regional shopping center,” AL.com reported on July 23, 2013