Florida Politics

Miami attorney opposed Alabama’s abortion ban. The state university may return his millions.

Hugh_Culverhouse University of Alabama

The Coral Gables philanthropist who became one of the University of Alabama’s top donors in recent years has found himself in open rebellion against the university after calling for a boycott of the state over the passage of a law to ban most abortions there.

Now, the former prosecutor may see his name come off the university’s law school and his $21.5 million donation to the law school returned.

Hugh Culverhouse Jr., a former prosecutor who owns a development company in Sarasota but spends the majority of his time in Coral Gables, said University of Alabama System Chancellor Fess St. John’s decision to recommend that the Board of Trustees return his donation and strip his name from the school appears to be retribution for his recent call to action.

“It’s bulls---,” he told the Miami Herald on Thursday.

The university system cited an “ongoing dispute” between Culverhouse and the law school in a statement Wednesday explaining the chancellor’s recommendation that the university sever ties with Culverhouse, son of the original owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team.

The statement attempted to make clear that passage of the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which would ban abortion except for when the life of the mother is in jeopardy, and Culverhouse’s boycott were unrelated to the university’s split from the donor. The bill, one of several abortion-restricting measures to pass state legislatures this year, would make performing an abortion a felony in almost all cases. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the legislation into law on May 16, and it is scheduled to go into effect in six months unless a judge challenges it, according to the Associated Press.

The university system said Culverhouse asked for the return of $10 million last week and repeated “numerous demands about the operations of the University of Alabama Law School.”

“None of the issues between the Law School and Mr. Culverhouse had anything to do with the passage of legislation in which the university had no role,” the statement said. “Donors may not dictate University administration.”

Culverhouse said the university system did not speak publicly about his disputes with the law school until news media began running stories about his boycott effort. He said he asked the university to return the $10 million temporarily until the law school increased student enrollment. The money had been intended for scholarships, but was instead “sitting there” unused, he said. The student body at the law school has steadily declined, he said.

Culverhouse’s $25 million donation to the law school in 2018 was considered the largest gift in the university’s history, the school said at the time. He said he gave $11.5 million to the school and entered into a payment plan over the next four years. The $10 million was paid forward ahead of schedule, he said.

The university system’s Board of Trustees will meet next week, but Culverhouse said he is unlikely to attend. A longtime pro-choice activist, Culverhouse said he has donated to Planned Parenthood in the past. His father, Hugh Culverhouse Sr., was on the board of the Planned Parenthood branch near Jacksonville, he said.

His plan with the boycott is to pressure “every business” to stop spending money in Alabama, and for out-of-state students to stay away from state schools until the measure is repealed.

“Boycott enough to when Alabama says, ‘Wait a minute. This is affecting our dollars, our employment,’” he said.

Nine states have passed bills to limit abortions this year. The bill that passed in Alabama is the most restrictive. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio have passed so-called heartbeat bills that restrict abortions after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, when fetal heartbeats can be detected by doctors. Utah and Arkansas voted to limit abortions to the middle of the second trimester.

Following the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, most state laws agree abortions are legal until a fetus reaches viability around 24-28 weeks. Florida law currently prohibits abortions after 24 weeks in most cases, but legislators introduced four bills last session to restrict abortions, including a fetal heartbeat measure. None passed.

Culverhouse said his boycott push would serve as a “dry run” for a potential boycott in Florida if any more restrictive abortion measures are passed next session, which begins January 2020.

“If Florida f---s with women, I’m gonna f--- with Florida,” he said.