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

In June, 1819 News reported on the various funds given to the left-wing site, run by Bill and Susan Britt, from various state agencies, with the largest sums of money by a long shot coming from ALDOT.

SEE: State taxpayers bankrolling Alabama Political Reporter's anti-GOP screeds

SEE ALSO: Is ALDOT paying left-wing Alabama Political Reporter $64K for positive coverage?

After the initial coverage, 1819 News requested a series of public records between ALDOT and APR employees.

The communications show a back-and-forth between APR’s marketing and sales manager, Chandler Hines, and various employees at ALDOT. In September 2023, Hines personally messaged ALDOT, stating that APR's Bill Britt and ALDOT’s Communications and Government Relations Chief Tony Harris had already discussed the advertising purchases for 2024. Harris responded that same day, telling Hines, “If you can go ahead and send it, we will try to process it as soon as possible.”

Britt Harris Alabama News

The initial agreement between APR and ALDOT was for $85,000 for the 2024 fiscal year. After ALDOT said the payment had to be broken down into two invoices due to how ALDOT’s fiscal year runs (October – September.) The final invoice was for $63,750, as reported by 1819 News in June. ALDOT stated the remaining amount would be paid in a separate invoice. 

Corrected invoice Alabama News

1819 News initially reported in its story that APR did not receive any state funds from ALDOT in the 2023 fiscal year and before.

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

According to the state’s online checkbook, the Cunningham Group only received funds from one state agency in 2023 and 2024; that group is ALDOT.

ALDOT also cut a check for $100,000 through the Cunningham Group in 2022 and $88,000 in 2021, again going 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 covered the topic.

Communications between ALDOT and APR employees then became muddled, as ALDOT repeatedly requested corrected invoices and documents from APR.

At one point, ALDOT’s Drive Safe Alabama Coordinator, Allison Green, had to send a template for APR to reference so ALDOT could complete an invoice. ALDOT asked APR for a sole source provider letter, which is required to show that APR is the sole owner of its content.

Hines responded with a sole source provider letter from Susan Britt, which she sent to the Secretary of State’s Office in 2018. The letter. which began “To whom I may concern,” also referenced the “Secretary of Stat.”

Susan Britt letter Alabama News

ALDOT attached an unsolicited exculpation of its spending when it responded to 1819 News’s records request, stating the following:

“The materials are related to highway safety marketing by the Alabama Department of Transportation 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’s Drive Safe Alabama highway safety marketing messages include seatbelt use, promoting hands-free driving, speed limit laws, sober driving, work zone safety, railroad crossing safety, the Move Over law, and bicycle/pedestrian safety. The Drive Safe Alabama highway safety marketing program was developed in response to the national push by the U.S. Department of Transportation to make America’s roadways safer. Each year, ALDOT places highway safety ads with TV and radio stations, newspapers, billboards, and social media/websites.”

“ALDOT has chosen to place highway safety messaging with the Alabama Political Reporter media platforms because of its established place as a frontrunner on the political reporting landscape, its reach among stakeholders and the public alike, and its reach through an online presence and weekly TV show.”

ALDOT paid just $7,500 to the Alabama Media Group, the umbrella for the state's largest news site, AL(dot)com, in the 2024 fiscal year. In contrast, according to Google Analytics, APR has a fraction of AL(dot)com’s readership, making the eight-fold increase in spending for less reach a curious business decision.

According to TVEyes, an online media monitoring site that details local and national TV programs' viewership and ad value, "The V" has an average market viewership of just over 3,100 across all stations, with an average publicity value of $317.62. The quoted price accepted by ALDOT lists the price per 30-second advertisement at $1,230. However, APR applied an undisclosed discount to the price, making the gross final cost per 30-second ad $711.50, over $280 more than the show’s highest-priced publicity value in the Birmingham market, listed at $425 per 30-second advertisement.

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