Donald V. Watkins
Joe Perkins Confessed to Breaking Federal Election Laws
Updated: Jan 20, 2022
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on November 7, 2021
It’s all there in a Federal Election Commission (FEC) file labeled: “In the Matter of Joseph W. Perkins, MUR 2797.” MUR stands for “Matter Under Review.” [Click here to read the FEC file.]
The FEC file confirms what those of us who follow Alabama politics closely have known for a long time – Joe Perkins is a slimy political operator in Alabama. His little-known 1992 confession to the FEC about violating federal election laws removes all doubt about this fact.
The FEC received the case from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on August 24, 1988. In early 1986, the DOJ opened a criminal investigation into a “pattern of illegal corporate political contributions … made through conduits by Alabama businessman Joseph Perkins.” The DOJ investigation determined that approximately $8,000 was given by Perkins to the 1986 Alabama congressional campaign of Roy Johnson in the names of several of his employees.
Because the contributions were made in 1985, rather than in 1986, the special three-year statute of limitations applicable to criminal violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act had run on this matter. As such, the DOJ was barred from prosecuting Perkins under the criminal section of the statute. Thereafter, the DOJ’s criminal division referred the matter to the FEC for an appropriate investigation and civil enforcement proceedings.
Perkins Represented the State’s Political Kingpins
Perkins’ best known clients have been the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and the Alabama Power Company (APC). For decades, these two organizations have been regarded as political kingpins on Alabama’s political scene.
Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace publicly stated that he never trusted APC. After Wallace left office in 1987, APC succeeded in convincing the Alabama state legislature to pass a law guaranteeing the company a 5% return on its equity undergirded by taxpayer dollars, to the extent necessary to achieve this minimum return. APC is the only public utility in the nation that has this taxpayer-guaranteed return on equity arrangement.
AEA was originally named as a Respondent in the FEC’s investigation of Perkins. Dr. Paul Hubbert headed the AEA at the time, and he supported Johnson’s candidacy. The FBI provided the FEC with evidence suggesting that AEA provided the money Perkins and his company, Perkins and Associates (P&A), used to make the illegal campaign contributions to Roy Johnson’s campaign.
On March 9, 1992, after a nearly four-year fight with the FEC, Joe Perkins threw in the towel and confessed to making illegal campaign contributions to Johnson’s 1986 congressional campaign, in violation of 2 U.S.C. Sections 441b(a) and 441(f).
After the DOJ opened its criminal investigation of contributions to his campaign, Johnson dropped out of the race. In 2002, Johnson was selected as chancellor of the Alabama College System. By 2006, Johnson had become engulfed in another criminal enterprise.
Perkins’ confession (in the form of a “Conciliation Agreement”) was accepted by the FEC on March 30, 1992. Perkins pledged that Perkins and Associates, Inc. (P&A), which he owned and operated, “will not conduct [political] business in the future.” He paid a $5,000 civil penalty to the FEC and the matter was officially closed.
Perkins Purposefully Violated Federal Election Laws
On March 29, 1985, Joe Perkins caused $10,000 in cash to be withdrawn from a P&A checking account. This $10,000 was then distributed by Harry Ferguson, P&A’s business manager, to various P&A employees as “cash bonuses”. On the same day, each P&A employee who received a $1,000 bonus turned around and made a $1,000 contribution that day to the 1986 congressional campaign for Roy Johnson.
The P&A employees who received the $1,000 cash bonuses were: Harry Ferguson, Jr., Cynthia Perkins, Ivy Hunter, W. Lee Hudson, Fred DeLoach, Laurie Enslen, Sheri Arnold Brown, Joyce Miller Albright, and Joseph W. Perkins, Jr. All of these employees admitted to receiving a cash bonus from Harry Ferguson, Jr. The size of the bonuses was large in comparison to the yearly salaries these employees earned in 1985. These salaries ranged from $20,000 down to $8,000 per year.
Ferguson directed the P&A employees to use the bonus money to make donations to Johnson’s congressional campaign in their individual names, which they did. With these actions, each employee who complied with Ferguson’s request committed a direct violation of Section 441f.
Perkins’ scheme to make illegal campaign contributions to Johnson’s congressional campaign in the name of the bonused employees resulted in the FEC taking enforcement action against Cynthia Perkins, Ivy Hunter, Laurie Enslen, Sheri Bushery Arnold, and Joyce Miller. These individuals signed confessions (or Concillation Agreements) and paid civil penalties, as well.
Despite a diligent search, the FEC was never able to locate W. Lee Hudson and Fred DeLoach to respond to the charges of making illegal campaign contributions to Johnson’s campaign. Declaring that further efforts to locate Hudson and DeLoach would be “useless,” the FEC closed its file on these two contributors on December 26, 1991.
On December 9, 1991, Joe Perkins signed a sworn affidavit, which he submitted to the FEC, stating that: (a) P&A was founded in 1981 to provide consulting services to various businesses in Alabama; (b) P&A became unprofitable and he was forced to close the company on January 31, 1990; (c) all of P&A’s assets and accounts receivable had been assigned to and/or were secured by liens filed by AmSouth Bank of Tuscaloosa; (d) P&A had no money, no office, no employees, and conducted no business, as of the date of the affidavit; (e) P&A “will not conduct business in the future” and (f) at the time P&A ceased doing business (on January 31, 1990). P&A owed approximately $200,000. Even though P&A was financially destitute, the company never declared bankruptcy or dissolved as a corporation.
Based upon Perkins’ sworn representations, the FEC took no further action against P&A. The agency closed its file on P&A on December 26, 1991.
On March 9, 1992, Perkins finally “fell on the sword” and confessed to the following illegal acts in his Conciliation Agreement: (a) “[Perkins] knowingly permitted his name to be used to effect a $1,000 contribution to the Roy Johnson for Congress Committee, in violation of 2 U.S.C., [Section] 441f;” (b) “[Perkins] actively assisted [P&A] in making contributions in the names of its employees to the Roy Johnson for Congress Committee, in violation of 2 U.S.C. [Section] 441f;” and (c) “[Perkins], as an officer of [P&A], consented to contributions by that corporation to the Roy Johnson for Congress Committee, in violation of 2 U.S.C. [Section] 441b(a).”
On March 12, 1992, Harry Ferguson signed a confession (or Conciliation Agreement) in which he acknowledged making an illegal campaign contribution to Roy Johnson’s congressional campaign, in violation of Section 441f. Like Perkins, Ferguson paid a civil penalty in the amount of $5,000 to the FEC.
P&A Resurrected as Matrix, LLC
After dodging a criminal prosecution, Perkins effectively hoodwinked the FEC by resurrecting P&A’s activities under the business name of Matrix, LLC. Like P&A, Matrix is owned and operated by Perkins and performs essentially the same portfolio of consulting services offered by P&A.
Perkins offered his services to a plethora of companies, colleges and universities, political action committees, campaign organizations and political candidates under the Matrix brand. Over the decades, Matrix expanded its client base to represent industrial giants like British Petroleum (BP’s American affiliate), the Southern Company (APC’s parent company), and NextEra Energy (Florida Power and Light Company’s parent entity).
There is no indication in the FEC file that Perkins ever notified the federal elections oversight agency that he resumed his political consulting operations under the name of Matrix, LLC, despite his sworn pledge to stay out of this business zone.
By 2014, Perkins was ranked number 15 on Yellowhammer News’ list of “Power and Influence” players in Alabama. By 2019, Perkins had risen to #8 and by 2021, he cracked the top 5. The Mobile Press Register labeled Matrix as “the closest thing Alabama politics has to a non-government secret agency".
Perkins rose to power in the aftermath of his FEC confession by becoming the “Go-To” guy between Alabama’s overwhelmingly white and conservative corporate community and the state’s growing body of black elected and appointed officials, from the mid-1990’s to the present. Many corporate CEOs in Alabama had no desire for a direct relationship with high-profile black public officials who were perceived to be too outspoken, too controversial, and/or too tainted to be embraced publicly by the white business community. These CEOs wanted a buffer between themselves and Alabama’s black political leadership, and Joe Perkins served as this buffer.
In the process, Perkins became the chief fundraising guy for nearly all black elected officials in the state who were deemed by lobbyists for the state’s corporate power-brokers as necessary to support the business community’s special-interest political agenda. This unique liaison role catapulted Perkins back into political prominence.
To this day, Perkins appears to have more influence and sway over the decision-making of black elected officials in Alabama than their black political constituents, who constitute 26.8% of the state’s population. For example, Perkins uses his fundraising connections with the state’s corporate community to effectively control the voice and political actions of Mayor Randall Woodfin (Birmingham), Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Alabama), and most members of the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus.
One of the few black political leaders who does not appear to be controlled by Joe Perkins is Steven Reed, Montgomery’s first black mayor. Reed’s father, Dr. Joe L. Reed, is a well-known civil rights leader in Alabama. Dr. Reed bravely carried the fight for equal opportunity and participatory democracy for blacks in Alabama when nobody else of color was allowed in the room with the all-white oligarchy that ran the state.
On September 2, 2021, Matrix’s former CEO Jeff Pitts filed a lawsuit in Florida that accused Joe Perkins of: (a) attempting to extort $4.5 million from Pitts, (b) operating an ongoing criminal enterprise, and (c) abusing the Alabama judicial process. Pitts worked for Matrix for 15 years and knows where all of Perkins’ “political bones” are buried.
Earlier this month, Perkins came under scrutiny for his $15,000 per month payments from Auburn University for unspecified “Professional Services.” These payments began in September 2019 and continue to this day.
It is unclear whether Perkins informed APC, the Southern Company, NextEra Energy, Auburn University, or any of his other institutional clients that he confessed to the FEC in 1992 to breaking federal election laws. If Perkins made this disclosure, it is unknown why these public entities hired a confessed FEC lawbreaker to perform work for them.
Joe Perkins’ old friend, Roy Johnson, was not as lucky as Perkins. The statute of limitations saved Perkins from a criminal prosecution, but it did not save Johnson from a host of federal criminal charges that were lodged against him in 2006.
In 2008, Johnson pled guilty to 15 felony counts of bribery, witness tampering, and obstruction in connection with a kickback scheme that involved $18 million in public contracts that Johnson awarded to his family members, friends and business associates while serving as chancellor of the Alabama College System. Johnson was sentenced to 6.5 years in federal prison.
As was the case with Perkins’ FEC case, his institutional clients, employees, independent contractors and business associates are expected to be swept up in the Florida criminal investigation into Jeff Pitts' racketeering charges against Perkins. Investigators are bound to ask the publicly-traded entities whether Perkins fully discussed the nature and scope of his illegal FEC activities to them before they hired Matrix and/or Perkins to handle their most sensitive matters.
Stay tuned for more developments in this breaking news story.
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