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Alabama Governor’s Checks Won’t Stop Ethics Investigation

September 7, 1991

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Gov. Guy Hunt’s $9,724 in payments to the state won’t stop a state ethics panel’s investigation of his use of state airplanes to go to out-of-state churches where he preached and received donations.

Hunt’s checks equal the amount he said he received for preaching at Primitive Baptist churches from Virginia to California. The Primitive Baptist church is a conservative, fundamentalist sect found mostly in the South.

Taxpayers who filed the complaints that prompted the Alabama Ethics Commission’s investigation said the payments don’t negate the fact he accepted the money on tax-funded trips.

″He’s moving in the right direction - showing there was something to these trips. But payment is not what I want. I want the Ethics Commission to tell us if these trips are legal or not,″ said Charlie Tipton, a Bibb County coal miner.

Alabama’s ethics law prohibits use of public office for private financial gain.

A 1980 Ethics Commission opinion gave governors broad discretion in their use of state aircraft.

Hunt, a Primitive Baptist minister, wrote a $1,750 check to the state Aug. 22 to cover donations he received on two of his preaching trip aboard a state plane and a $7,974 check Friday to cover 16 other trips during his 4 years in office.

Tipton and John Crowder of Florence filed complaints with the Ethics Commission after seeing news accounts of some of Hunt’s trips. That started the commission’s first investigation of an Alabama governor since it was formed in 1974. Tipton’s complaint was accompanied by a petition signed by 493 Alabamians.

State law prohibits the commission from discussing specific investigations, but Assistant Director Howard McKenzie said Saturday: ″Generally speaking, when the commission starts something, the commission will finish it.″

The finish comes when the commission votes to clear an official of a complaint or to refer the case to a prosecutor. About the only thing that will halt an investigation is the death of the person under scrutiny, McKenzie said.

The commission’s next meeting is Sept. 20, but Tipton and Crowder said they had not been notified whether the commission would vote on the Hunt case that day.

Crowder said he is curious ″why the decision wasn’t made initially to turn over″ all of Hunt’s donations on Aug. 22 rather than waiting two weeks.

Hunt’s first check preceded the start of the Ethics Commission’s formal investigation on Aug. 27 and the second check came after.

Hunt’s legal adviser, Bill Wasden, said in a letter Friday to the Ethics Commission that the governor has been reviewing his travel records.

Wasden’s letter reiterated Hunt’s belief that his trips were within advisory opinions issued by the Ethics Commission about the use of state transportation. Wasden said Hunt wanted to write the checks ″to avoid the appearance of any impropriety.″

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