New leadership in the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) has provoked a conversation within political circles questioning if the organization is trending to the ideological left.
This week, the BCA named Helena Duncan its president and CEO, filling the vacancy left by Katie Britt, who resigned when she announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate in June 2021.
Duncan, who had once contributed to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), had consistently voted in the Democratic primaries over the years.
If this is indeed a trend for the BCA, it would be a complete reversal of the organization's political leanings over the past decade and a half.
The BCA was founded in 1985 to advocate for Alabama's business community and has long been considered an organization that lines up with Republican policies.
Britt, Duncan's predecessor, won a landslide U.S. Senate victory as a Republican, beating U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and U.S. Army veteran Mike Durant.
The examples are numerous.
In 2006, the BCA supported GOP candidate Benjamin Lewis, who defeated 32-year Democratic incumbent Joe Carothers for the 86th District seat in the Alabama House of Representatives. The BCA was one of only three entities to give to Lewis, donating $57,000 to the campaign.
BCA support was also instrumental in the 2010 campaign that elected Alabama's first Republican legislature in 136 years.
However, in recent years, disagreements with Republican state legislators on policy has presented questions regarding the shifting alliances of the BCA.
Most notably, during the second special session of 2021, the BCA vehemently opposed a bill requiring employers to allow employees to claim an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs.
The legislation, Senate Bill 9 (SB9), sponsored by State Sen. Chris Elliot (R-Josephine), had overwhelming Republican support in the legislature, despite the BCA's opposition.
The bill was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey on Nov. 4, 2021.
"This version continues to put employers and particularly federal contractors in a no-win situation between existing federal rules and conflicting proposed state laws," The BCA said in a statement opposing the bill. "Non-compliance with the federal mandate could result in the loss of current and future contracts and jobs for their companies and communities."
According to multiple sources intimately aware of the situation at that time, the BCA had pledged a sum of money to the House Republican Caucus for a retreat, which the BCA pulled after SB9 passed.
Since 2015, the BCA has regularly contributed to the Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP), donating $20,500 from 2015 to 2021.
According to public filings, there have been no donations to the GOP since the passing of the Vaccine Mandate bill. However, the BCA has continued to donate to specific GOP candidates.
Through the BCA's Progress PAC, there have been donations to candidates in both parties over the years, albeit primarily Republican.
However, the PAC made no donations to Democratic candidates from Nov. 11, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2021, while Republican contributions surpassed $650,000. No donations were made to Democratic candidates from just before Britt took over as president until shortly after the second special session of 2021.
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