Gov. Bob Riley sells out Alabama schoolchildren with help from Ralph Reed and Dax Swatek

January 30, 2006
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Obligation,
Inc.

P. O. Box 26270
Birmingham, AL 25260
www.obligation.org

For Release: January 30, 2006
Contact: Jim Metrock
205.822.0080

EDITORIAL MEMORANDUM:

Did Governor Bob Riley Reverse Himself On Channel One To Benefit Adviser’s Client?

Ralph Reed’s Secret Funding Of Dax Swatek’s Sham “Coalition.”

In August 2003, Alabama Governor Bob Riley was on the verge of sending a letter* to local superintendents asking them to suspend the showing of the controversial in-school TV show Channel One until a committee he was to appoint could study the impact of the program on students and taxpayers.

Governor Riley’s concern about Channel One suddenly vanished. The letter was never sent.

Over the next year, Obligation, a Birmingham-based nonprofit child advocacy group, kept in contact with Dalton Smith, the Governor’s senior policy advisor. Mr. Smith assured Obligation that the Governor would still address the Channel One problem.

On July 27, 2004, Obligation made a presentation to the Governor. The Governor was shown video clips of numerous junk food commercials Alabama secondary school students had to watch in their classrooms. He also saw ads for movies with pro-drug, violent and sexual content. At the beginning of the meeting the Governor said he wouldn’t want his granddaughter to watch Channel One, however, at the end of the meeting he said he was “conflicted.” He said he was meeting with Channel One executives in a few weeks.

After he met with Channel One, Obligation never heard from the Governor’s office again. At a meeting two months later, the Governor answered a question about Channel One and said his staff was monitoring the show daily and no content had been inappropriate. He said he would send superintendents a letter urging them to pay better attention to the program, but Obligation believes even this milder letter was never sent.

Obligation contacted the Governor’s office and asked for the name of the person monitoring the show so assistance could be provided in evaluating program content. The Governor’s office did not respond.

The truth about what happened with the Governor came from an unlikely source several months later. A former employee of Channel One wanted to meet with Obligation. The meeting took place in New York City. This person said that when Channel One found out that Governor Riley might take some action that could adversely affect their ad revenue, the company went into “emergency mode.”

The former employee said a person with a distinctive name was the one orchestrating Channel One’s effort to turn Riley around. When Obligation’s president Jim Metrock suggested the name “Dax Swatek” the person didn’t wait to hear “Swatek” before immediately saying, “Yes!”

Mr. Metrock was told that Mr. Swatek arranged for CEO Jim Ritts and possibly others to meet with the Governor. Channel One is a vendor in Alabama schools. The company believed their contracts were in jeopardy and they had the connections to go straight to Governor Riley to convince him to “stand down.”

The ex-employee said Channel One offered the Governor and some other members of the state delegation to the 2004 GOP convention in New York City free accommodations at The Plaza hotel, but the offer was turned down.

Mr. Swatek’s connection to Governor Riley goes back several years. He was a consultant to Riley in a Congressional campaign. One example of Swatek’s unusual access to the Governor can be found in the Alabama State Plane Usage reports.* Records show that Mr. Swatek was a passenger on the Governor’s state plane two months before Swatek helped arranged the meeting with Channel One. Currently, Mr. Swatek is a spokesperson and consultant to Governor Riley’s reelection campaign.

Channel One loans schools TV equipment in exchange for a contractual promise that the 12 1⁄2-minute program be shown to students at least 90% of the school year. That means 31 hours, or five instructional days of school time, must be devoted to TV viewing. Governor Riley had an opportunity to explore the possibility of regaining these five “TV days” for 250,000 Alabama students. The waste of taxpayer money is one reason Channel One has been banned from all public schools in their home state of New York.

The Coalition To Protect Our Children

In May 1999, U. S. Senator Richard Shelby made known his desire to hold an informational hearing on Channel One. Although no legislation was proposed, Channel One began a massive and secret campaign to change Senator Shelby’s mind.

A week before the hearing was tentatively scheduled, ads began playing on Alabama Christian radio stations. “Channel One … tells teens to turn their backs on drugs, reject violence, and abstain from sex before marriage,” proclaimed one ad. “And it’s working…. But some on the radical left want Congress to ban such programming. Call Senator Richard Shelby … and tell him to stand up for Channel One’s right to teach our kids to say no to drugs and no to sex before marriage.”

In addition, pro-Channel One postcards* were sent to people on conservative mail lists. Both radio ads and postcards came from a previously unknown group called The Coalition To Protect Our Children. Dax Swatek identified himself as the president of the group in several letters* to Alabama papers.

In a New Republic article* reporter Russ Baker tried to find Swatek’s source of money, but Swatek would not respond. Swatek was a 28-year-old law student at the time. Channel One denied funding the campaign.

Mr. Metrock had an opportunity to ask Mr. Swatek in the summer of 2005 where he got his money and who was a member of his coalition. Swatek politely told Metrock it was none of his business.

On October 23, 2005 the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a front-page article* about Ralph Reed. Obligation was interviewed for the article. Reed for the first time publicly admitted that the 1999 “Coalition” campaign was his handiwork and that the funding had come from Channel One. (Recently convicted felon Jack Abramoff was Channel One’s main lobbyist from December 1998 to February 2004. (Abramoff’s main business associate, convicted felon Michael Scanlon, worked briefly for Congressman Bob Riley.) Abramoff and Reed worked closely on other projects. Channel One was one of Abramoff’s largest accounts. It would not be unreasonable to suspect Abramoff was in some way involved in the secret Alabama effort.)

Mr. Swatek misled the Alabama public. His efforts were intended to protect the profits of an out-of-state company, not children. Citizens hearing Swatek’s radio ads would have thought a number of child-related organizations had banded together to defend this TV show. Channel One appeared to have a ground swell of support in Alabama. Swatek’s sham campaign failed; the hearing was held. Swatek never had to answer any questions. His Coalition To Protect Our Children disappeared shortly after the hearing.

Now, in 2006, Governor Riley is asking taxpayers to fund five more days of school. This makes sense since our 175-day minimum year is five days less than the majority of states. What doesn’t make sense is continuing to waste that same amount of time watching a controversial TV show that has little to do with the curriculum. What happened between Dax Swatek’s client and Governor Riley happened behind closed doors. Alabama citizens deserve some answers.

*Supporting information:

May 1999 Front of postcard from Dax Swatek’s Coalition To Protect Our Children back

June 3, 1999 – Dax Swatek identifies himself as president of “Coalition” letter to the editor, Birmingham News.

October 25, 1999“Changingthe Channel” Russ Baker, The New Republic.

excerpt:

“And Alabama talk radio, Christian, and country-and-western stations began carrying ads emphasizing Channel One’s conservative credentials. “Channel
One … tells teens to turn their backs on drugs, reject violence, and abstain from sex before marriage,” proclaimed one ad. ‘And it’s working…. But some on the radical left want Congress to ban such programming. Call Senator Richard Shelby … and tell him to stand up for Channel One’s right to teach our kids to say no
to drugs and no to sex before marriage.’

“Jeff Ballabon, a Channel One executive vice president, denied funding the Alabama pressure campaign. Rather, the sponsor of the radio ads appears to be Dax Swatek, the only person publicly identified with a previously unknown group called the Coalition to Protect Our Children.


“ As a 28-year-old law student, though, Swatek wouldn’t appear to have the resources to mount such an effort, and Metrock’s camp says that a well-connected consulting firm, the McWhorter Group, was involved in developing the campaign against Channel One.


“ The firm’s head, Pat McWhorter, declined to say whether he had done any work on Channel One’s behalf or whether he had any ties to Swatek. But when my research assistant made a separate call to McWhorter’s office and asked for Swatek, a receptionist offered to provide his cell-phone number or even patch the call through to him. Swatek did not return messages left on his voice mail or with a man who said he was Swatek’s roommate.

“The impression that Metrock and other opponents have is that Channel One is directly behind the Alabama effort but works through middlemen.”
Russ Baker, “Changing the Channel,” The
New Republic, October 25, 1999.

August
19, 2003
Draft letter – Governor Riley to Alabama school superintendents.

May 2004 Dax Swatek flies with Governor on state plane. This closeness pays off three months later for Swatek’s benefactors at Channel One.

October 23, 2005 “Reed as consultant a master of stealth” Alan Judd, Atlanta Journal-Consitution. excerpt:

“Reed acknowledges that neither the letters nor radio ads … disclosed that he was behind the messages or that Channel One had paid for them.”

The Hidden Costs of Channel One – Arizona State University http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/CERU/Documents/cace-98-02/CACE-98-02.htm

According to the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at Arizona State the rental value of Channel One’s equipment is about $4,000 per school. Spending the money to replace Channel One TV sets is the smartest way to add school time with a minimum expenditure of money.

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