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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Pine Street Strategies: What Are We Getting for the Money?

Updated: May 11, 2019

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on May 10, 2019

On October 3, 2017, Randall Woodfin soundly defeated incumbent William Bell in the race for mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. On November 28, 2017, Woodfin was sworn in as Birmingham’s 30th mayor.

Shortly after assuming office, Mayor Woodfin awarded Washington, D.C. based lobbying firm named Pine Street Strategies a lucrative contract to represent the City of Birmingham, Alabama on Capitol Hill in Washington. The contract is ongoing.

According to the firm’s registration form in the U.S. House and Senate, Pine Street began representing the City of Birmingham on March 21, 2018. The firm’s quarterly disclosure reports since March 21, 2018 state that Pine Street has engaged in lobbying activities for the City on issues involving: (a) environmental protection/SuperFund, (b) municipal transportation, (c) economic development, (d) municipal taxes, (e) federal banking regulations, and (f) municipal housing.

Pine Street's chief executive officer (Donald Calloway, Jr.) and chief operating officer (Jarrod Loadholt) are listed in the disclosure reports as its designated "lobbyists" for the purpose of lobbying members of Congress. Calvin Harris, whose name is not listed in the disclosure reports, serves as Pine Street’s Senior Vice President for Communications and Messaging. Harris, Loadholt, and Woodfin are Morehouse College alumni and personal friends.

Pine Street takes full credit for helping Randall Woodfin defeat Bell. The City’s lobbying contract is the firm’s reward for this political achievement.

Today, the City of Birmingham is prominently listed on Pine Street’s website as one of the firm’s six anchor clients. Also listed is the prestigious Environmental Defense Fund, whose board of trustees and executive officers are among the global leaders in the clean air policies and initiatives.

City records show that Pine Street has been paid a total of $270,000 since the firm began lobbying for the city. Yet, the firm’s disclosure forms in Washington report payments of only $170,000 for these services.

While the records do not identify what lobbying services Pine Street provided for the other $100,000 the City has paid the firm, I have confirmed that Pine Street arranges out-of-state fundraisers for a Political Action Committee (PAC) Woodfin launched in May 2018 called “Next Generation Alabama.” The PAC was formed to “elect the next generation of progressive Democratic leadership in Alabama.”

Woodfin attended “Next Generation Alabama” fundraisers this year on January 12th in Memphis and March 29th in New Orleans. Pine Street’s professional services fee for arranging these fundraisers was not paid from the PAC's monies and was not listed as a “gift” to the PAC or an “in-kind” contribution.

Pine Street, which was founded in 2016, reported $420,000 in total lobbying income in 2018 from all clients. This money includes $160,000 from Anheuser-Busch InBev, $110,000 from the City of Birmingham (even though separate disclosure form completed by the firm reported $140,000 from the City for 2018), $30,000 from the Environmental Defense Fund, and $120,000 from the National Bankers Association.

The Birmingham city council has authorized Mayor Woodfin to spent up to $600,000 on Pine Street Strategies for legislative lobbying services. However, a review of the minutes of city council meetings and council committee meetings since March 21, 2018 does not show where Pine Street has provided the City with deliverables for the $270,000 in payments Birmingham has made to date under the contract.

Pine Street is not Registered as a Lobbying Firm in Alabama

Pine Street is not registered as a lobbying firm in Alabama even though the firm has engaged in lobbying activities on behalf of the City of Birmingham relating to recent environmental matters. These activities have been performed primarily by Mr. Iva Williams, III, Pine Street’s paid Birmingham subcontractor.

Pine Street has not disclosed the amount of city money Mr. Williams has been paid for his lobbying services in Birmingham. Likewise, Pine Street has not disclosed the amount of payments to the firm's other subcontractors and agents in Birmingham.

Mr. Iva Williams appears to be Pine Street Strategies’ corporate face and brand in Birmingham. He lives and works in the city as a community organizer. Mr. Williams prominently displays photos and messages on social media that highlight his close personal and professional relationship with Mayor Woodfin and other city officials.

Mr. Williams is best known locally for his 2013 public confession that he suffered from severe depression and considered suicide. He was also arrested in 2015 on assault and battery charges stemming from a physical confrontation involving his former wife. Mr. Williams’ last known arrest occurred on August 3, 2017 on contempt charges which landed him in the Jefferson County jail. The mugshot of Mr. Williams’ 2017 arrest appears below.

Like Pine Street, Mr. Williams is not registered as a lobbyist with the Alabama Ethics Commission, either in his own name or as a subcontractor/agent for Pine Street. Yet, Mr. Williams has actively assisted Pine Street with rendering lobbying services relating to (a) environmental concerns over Sherman Industries’ concrete manufacturing plant and (b) purported rezoning options available to the city council for the potential plant site in the Five Points West community.

Mr. Williams' recent articles and posts on his public Facebook page also confirm his lobbying activities on behalf of Pine Street and the City of Birmingham. Additionally, they show when and where Mr. Williams wrote correspondence to city officials with the specific intent of influencing their official position on matters that may requiring their vote.

Williams Showcases his Close Bond with Mayor Randall Woodfin

Mr. Iva Williams often showcases his business relationship with Pine Street Strategies and his strong personal relationship with Mayor Randall Woodfin. While representing Pine Street Strategies, Mr. Williams dabbles in legislative and regulatory affairs, corporate public affairs consultation, targeted communications, and messaging on environmental matters for Mayor Woodfin and the City of Birmingham.

The repetitive nature of his lobbying work suggests that Mr. Williams acted within the line and scope of his authority with Pine Street Strategies whenever he engaged in messaging activities that were designed to shape City Hall’s narrative on Sherman Industries’ controversial plan to relocate its downtown concrete manufacturing plant to a stable black neighborhood in the Five Points West community.

The relocation plan, which was supported by Mayor Woodfin and his staff for four months after it was first unveiled on January 24, 2019, has come under increasing attack in recent weeks from residents in the Five Points West community. The plan is now a political “hot potato” that Woodfin is trying to toss to the city council.

On Tuesday, Woodfin reconsidered his original position on supporting the plant relocation plan, reversed course, and publicly opposed the plan for the first time. This political sea change mirrors the advice and messaging Mr. Williams posted on his Facebook page.

On May 9, 2019, I revealed that Sherman Industries is an affiliate of the German-based HeidelbergCement Group, the world’s largest concrete manufacturer. The HeidelbergCement Group, which operates 3,000 plants in 60 countries, collaborated with Adolf Hitler during his reign of terror in Nazi German. Hitler’s Holocaust killed an estimated six million Black German, Jews, Gypsies, and Gay people during World War II.

Instead of exploring the ramifications of the HeidelbergCement Group’s role in Hitler’s genocide and forced sterilization programs in Nazi Germany and other salient factors that bear on the Sherman Industries controversy, Pine Street Strategies unleashed Iva Williams to attack me because of my special series of investigative news articles and commentaries on Sherman Industries’ controversial relocation plan.

My investigation into Pine Street Strategies' lobbying work and the City's payments to the firm will continue. At some point, the city council and public must find out (a) what Birmingham is receiving for the tax dollars it has paid to Pine Street Strategies and (b) who has shared in these payments.

Stay tuned.

PHOTO: Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin (left) checking in with Pine Street Strategies subcontractor/agent, Iva Williams (right) on November 19, 2018 at Williams' Birmingham home. Birmingham taxpayers did not know they were paying Mr. Williams for local lobbying services when Mayor Woodfin paid Pine Street Strategies for lobbying services in Washington. Mr. Williams was an unregistered lobbyist when he received the money.

PHOTO: Jefferson County, Alabama Jail Mugshot of Iva Williams, dated August 3, 2017.

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Carl Maurice Green
Carl Maurice Green
16 may 2019

Something's Fishy!

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