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Public records show that ALDOT’s payments to a left-wing Alabama political reporter were much higher than originally reported

Public records show that ALDOT’s payments to a left-wing Alabama political reporter were much higher than originally reported
Public records show that ALDOT’s payments to a left-wing Alabama political reporter were much higher than originally reported

Payments by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) to left-leaning media site Alabama Political Reporter (APR) appear to be much higher than initially reported, after documents from a public records request show that enormous sums of money were paid by ALDOT to APR through several advertising agencies.

In June, 1819 News reported on the various grants awarded to the left-wing website run by Bill and Susan Britt from various government agencies, with by far the largest sums coming from ALDOT.

SEE: State taxpayers fund Alabama Political Reporter’s anti-Republican rants

SEE ALSO: Is ALDOT paying a left-wing political reporter from Alabama $64,000 for positive coverage?

Following initial reporting, 1819 News requested a series of public records exchanges between ALDOT and APR staff.

The communication shows an exchange between APR’s marketing and sales director, Chandler Hines, and various ALDOT employees. In September 2023, Hines sent ALDOT Director John Cooper a personal message explaining that APR’s Bill Britt and Cooper had already discussed the 2024 ad buys. Harris responded the same day, telling Hines, “If you can send it to us, we’ll try to get it processed as quickly as possible.”

Britt Harris Alabama News

The original agreement between APR and ALDOT was for $85,000 for fiscal year 2024. However, ALDOT said that due to the length of the fiscal year (October – September), the payment had to be split into two invoices. The final invoice was $63,750, 1819 News reported in June. ALDOT stated that the remaining balance would be paid in a separate invoice.

Corrected Bill Alabama News

1819 News initially reported in its article that APR had not received any state funding from ALDOT in fiscal year 2023 or prior.

However, documents show that ALDOT paid APR over $76,000 in 2023 through a marketing and public relations firm called Cunningham Group Inc. The money was reportedly for ads in APR’s newsletter, on APR’s website and on the Britts’ television show “The Voice of Alabama Politics,” or “The V.” ALDOT also used another marketing firm called Style Advertising to pay APR an additional $20,280 for additional advertising.

According to the state’s online checkbook, the Cunningham Group received funding from only one state agency in 2023 and 2024: ALDOT.

ALDOT also wrote a check for $100,000 in 2022 through the Cunningham Group and $88,000 in 2021, also to APR. This use of consulting firms and advertising agencies is why the money did not appear in ALDOT’s initial expenditures to APR when 1819 News first reported on the issue.

Communication between ALDOT and APR staff subsequently became shaky as ALDOT repeatedly requested corrected invoices and documents from APR.

At one point, Allison Green, ALDOT’s Drive Safe Alabama coordinator, had to send a template to APR so ALDOT could complete an invoice. ALDOT asked APR for a sole vendor letter proving that APR is the sole owner of the content.

Hines responded with a letter from Susan Britt, who claimed to be the sole supplier, that she sent to the Secretary of State’s office in 2018. The letter, which began “To the appropriate agent,” also referred to “the Secretary of State.”

Susan Britt Letter Alabama News

When ALDOT responded to 1819 News’ request for records, it included an unsolicited apology for its expenses, stating:

“The materials relate to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s highway safety marketing with the Alabama Political Reporter and its various media platforms, including its TV show ‘The Voice of Alabama Politics.’ ALDOT’s highway safety marketing is conducted under the umbrella of its Drive Safe Alabama program. ALDOT Drive Safe Alabama highway safety marketing messages include seat belt use, promoting hands-free driving, speed limit laws, sober driving, work zone safety, railroad crossing safety, the Move Over Law, and bicycle and pedestrian safety. The Drive Safe Alabama highway safety marketing program was developed in response to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s national effort to make America’s roads safer. Each year, ALDOT places highway safety ads on television and radio stations, newspapers, billboards, and social media/websites.”

“ALDOT has chosen to place traffic safety news on the Alabama Political Reporter’s media platforms because of its established position as a leader in the political reporting landscape, its resonation with both stakeholders and the public, and its reach through its online presence and weekly television broadcasts.”

ALDOT only pays $7,500 to Alabama Media Group, the parent organization of the state’s largest news site, AL(dot)com, in fiscal year 2024. In contrast, APR has only a fraction of AL(dot)com’s readership, according to Google Analytics, making increasing spending eightfold for less reach a strange business decision.

According to TVEyes, an online media monitoring site that tracks the viewership and advertising value of local and national television programs, “The V” has an average viewership of just over 3,100 and an average advertising value of $317.62 across all stations. The bid price accepted by ALDOT is $1,230 per 30-second ad. However, APR applied an undisclosed discount to the price, making the final gross cost per 30-second ad $711.50, over $280 more than the show’s highest advertising value in the Birmingham market, which is listed at $425 per 30-second ad.

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