Alabama’s new and embattled senator, Luther Strange (R), who faces a tough primary election on Tuesday, September 26, owns a large chunk of an EB-5 regional center. These centers are U.S.-based and Department of Homeland Security-licensed, and play a middleman role between aliens essentially buying visas, and U.S. real estate developers who use the investments.
While the senator’s financial stake in the EB-5 business is minimal compared to the involvement of the Kushner family real estate firm in different EB-5 matters, its existence popped up at an awkward time for the man who is replacing, for the moment, anyway, Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate.
Strange was appointed to the Senate by a Republican governor, Robert Bentley, who soon thereafter was forced to resign because he pled guilty to two charges relating to handling campaign finances and was enmeshed in a sex scandal.
Strange then found himself coming in second in last month’s three-way Republican primary, which was won by the state’s former chief justice, Ray Moore, a conservative noted for erecting a copy of the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn. The vote was 39 percent for Moore, 33 percent for Strange, and 20 percent for Rep. Mo Brooks.
Brooks then endorsed Moore, a scenario that would usually assure the selection of the front runner in next week’s runoff. (There will be a general election in December, but the Democrat’s chances are not regarded as good., so the GOP primary is likely to determine the next senator.) Polls most recently showed Moore ahead by eight points.
It was in this not very happy setting for the senator that the website “Alabama Today” broke the story of the EB-5 holding, using this headline on Monday: “Luther Strange’s disclosure exposes double talk on immigration”.
Meanwhile — and I have been watching elections for more than 50 years — Judge Moore did something I have never seen before with the inevitable election day photo op. He rode a horse to the polling place during the first round of voting in August.
Balancing at least some of these problems for Strange is the fact that President Trump has endorsed him.
Back to EB-5. The senator owns a hair less than one-sixth (16.665 percent) of Sunbelt EB-5 Regional Center, an entity that seems to have concentrated on hospital construction and that apparently has not attracted any bad press. The firm is not listed as being involved in any of the 115 EB-5 lawsuits recorded by the website EB-5 Investments, and neither the center nor its CEO, Curtis James, can be found in the PACER files of federal court cases.
The senator could simply announce that he will not vote on any EB-5 legislation; that would be a safe promise, as EB-5 extensions, as we report from time to time, have never in recent years been subject to a recorded floor vote, as they float through as virtual footnotes on must-pass appropriations legislation.
Owning one-sixth of a regional center is not like owing a block of stock in a publicly traded company; it is not always easy to sell at a reasonable price. (It is like owning a minority position in a store or a saloon.) Though how much Strange paid for it is not known, I would doubt that his stake is worth less than a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
Come next Tuesday night, however, holding a stake in Sunbelt may no longer be a problem for the senator, as lame duck senators don’t have to worry about such things. If he loses in next week’s primary, he will continue to serve until his successor is chosen in the December special election.
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