Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 1986, term expires 2016, 5th term.

Born: May 6, 1934, Birmingham

Home: Tuscaloosa

Education: U. of AL, B.A. 1957, LL.B. 1963

Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1963–78; City prosecutor, Tuscaloosa, 1963-71; U.S. magistrate 1966-70; Spec. asst. to Alabama atty. gen., 1969-71.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Presbyterian

Family: married (Annette Nevin) , 2 children

Alabama senior Sen. Richard Shelby has held the top Republican slot on committees dealing with banking and spying, and in 2015 returned as chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. But the issue for which he remains best known at home is spending. Adept at securing federal money for his state, he has five buildings at Alabama’s public universities named for him.

Shelby grew up in Birmingham, the son of a steelworker. After earning two degrees from the University of Alabama, he stayed in Tuscaloosa and practiced law with Walter Flowers, who was later a conservative Democratic congressman. Shelby, a Democrat at that time, was elected to the state Senate in 1970 at age 36. When Flowers ran, unsuccessfully, for the U.S. Senate in 1978, Shelby ran for his House seat. The critical contest was the Democratic runoff against Chris McNair, an African-American state legislator whose daughter, Denise, was one of the four young girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing. Although the district had the highest black percentage in Alabama at the time, Shelby won 59%-41%. In the House, Shelby had a conservative voting record, opposing the Voting Rights Act extension and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He ran for the Senate in 1986 and won the Democratic primary with 51% of the vote after then-Secretary of State (and later governor) Don Siegelman withdrew. In the general election, he ran ads against incumbent Republican Jeremiah Denton, a retired admiral who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, for voting to cut Social Security and for owning two Mercedes-Benz cars. Shelby won by 7,000 votes.

As one of a half a dozen or so conservative Southern Democrats in the Senate in the mid-1980s, Shelby at first attracted little notice. In 1992, he was reelected 65%-33%, breaking a jinx on a seat that before Shelby’s election in 1986 had had four different occupants in 10 years. Soon after President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Shelby broke ranks with the Democratic Party. At a meeting with Vice President Al Gore, he turned to the assembled Alabama television cameras and opposed the Clinton program as “high on taxes, low on spending cuts.” In response, the administration announced that a multimillion-dollar space facility would be built not in Alabama but in Texas (although it eventually was built in Alabama). The more he defied Clinton, the better Shelby’s favorable ratings were at home. The day after Republicans regained control of the Senate in 1994, Shelby announced he was switching parties, increasing the GOP majority to 53-47. Republicans happily allowed him to keep his seniority on the Banking Committee and gave him seats on Appropriations and its Defense Subcommittee.

Shelby got a seat on the Intelligence Committee as well, putting him on a course to assume the chairmanship of that panel in 1997. By the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Senate was back in Democratic hands, but Shelby, as the ranking Republican on the Intelligence panel, was an important player in the ensuing weeks and months. He had adopted an adversarial posture toward the intelligence agencies during the Clinton and Bush presidencies, and soon after the terrorist attacks, Shelby stopped just short of calling for the resignation of Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, who was appointed by Clinton and retained by Bush. Shelby also was critical of the lack of information about the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. In June 2004, when Tenet announced his resignation, Shelby said, “What was a surprise was that he held onto the job as long as he did.”

Aside from his positions on the intelligence agencies, Shelby was mostly supportive of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war on terrorism. In December 2001, he was one of 10 senators to sign a letter calling for a plan “to eliminate the threat from Iraq.” But he clashed with the two Intelligence Committee chairmen, Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and Republican Rep. Porter Goss, both of Florida. He helped push aside their choice of staff director for the joint probe of intelligence agencies, and he installed his own candidate. At first, he opposed the appointment of an independent Sept. 11 commission as unnecessary, but relented in 2002. He was out front in calling for the creation of a director of national intelligence after the intelligence agencies, in his view, were unable to work together and to share information. That position was later upheld by the 9/11 commission and adopted in the intelligence bill approved by Congress in 2004. That bill included a Shelby proposal to give the DNI ombudsman access to all intelligence for analytical reviews, but he was displeased that the new director would not be a Cabinet member.

On domestic issues, Shelby has compiled a conservative record. But he is not a free market purist. Despite his party switch, he has remained friendly with trial lawyers, who usually support Democrats in Alabama. Lawyers and law firms have been his biggest source of campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He opposed Alabama colleague Jeff Sessions’ amendment to cap lawyers’ fees in tobacco cases and insisted tort reform was a state issue. He voted against a 2004 bill to protect gun manufacturers from liability for actions of users of their products. He was the only Senate Republican to vote against financial services deregulation in 1999, and he opposed allowing federally insured banks to sell real estate or insurance. In 2013, Shelby was one of only five Senate Republicans to oppose the New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff agreement, saying that the bipartisan deal on taxes and spending “falls far short of the measures necessary to promote job creation, economic growth, and fiscal stability.”

A deft politician, he is quick to backslap with colleagues and recount war stories during downtime. But when it comes to legislation, Shelby is a notoriously tough negotiator, known for keeping his cards close to his chest and preserving his options for as long as possible. Such tactics can frustrate participants on and off Capitol Hill, and, at times, nearly thwart would-be deals. Between 2003 and the end of 2012, Shelby was either the chairman or the ranking minority member of the Banking Committee, and from that perch, was at the center of congressional attempts to stem problems in the mortgage and insurance industries.

His term limit on the panel forced him to step aside in January 2013 in favor of Idaho’s Mike Crapo. But Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran's re-election in 2014 led him to claim the Appropriations chairmanship, sending Shelby back to Banking. Because of Republican rules, he only can serve in that job for two years, adding to the already difficult task of maneuvering in a chamber that was widely expected to accomplish little in the presidential year of 2016.

He also had to work with a new ranking Democrat, the liberal populist Sherrod Brown of Ohio, though some held out hope of progress. "You're more likely to see [Shelby] supportive of changing or repealing existing laws than creating new legislation," Edward Mills, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, told American Banker. "What is exciting about Brown as a potential partner is that you have someone who is — oddly enough — on somewhat of the same page with these changes, which opens up the opportunity for some to occur."

But eyebrows were raised among committee observers after a January hearing at which Brown openly complained about Republicans' attempts to push through an Iran sanctions bill, citing what he called the GOP's unwillingness to listen to Democratic concerns. The committee subsequently approved the measure to impose additional sanctions on Iran if negotiations to curb the country's nuclear program falter. Democrats backing the bill, however, said they would hold off on supporting the bill on the Senate floor. At the same time, Shelby suggested his potential willingness to deal with another controversial proposal -- reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, an institution that other conservatives have pilloried for encouraging corporate welfare -- as long as it was reformed to help small businesses.

On a hotly lobbied issue in 2003, Shelby supported defining stock options as expenses, a measure opposed by the high technology industry. The same year, he presciently quizzed Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan about the increasing number of home loans to borrowers with weak credit histories, a trend that sent the home mortgage market into a tailspin by 2008. That same year, Democratic Chairman Christopher Dodd of Connecticut pushed a compromise housing bill that would allow bankruptcy judges to restructure mortgages and another proposal to refinance mortgages for millions of homeowners at risk of defaulting. Consumer groups pushed for both, but could not get by Shelby. The government, he said, should not engage in a “taxpayer funded bailout of investors or homeowners.”

He also opposed the $700 billion rescue of the financial markets in September 2008, though President Bush was pushing the legislation. Two months later, he opposed a massive government loan for the Big Three domestic automakers, which he called “dinosaurs.” He threatened to filibuster and the bill did not pass the Senate, though President Barack Obama proceeded with a successful administrative version. When he was criticized on the grounds that he was defending foreign automakers with plants in Alabama, he pointed out that he had voted against an earlier bailout of Chrysler long before the plants were built. In 2010, Shelby again came under fire for blocking the nomination of esteemed economist Peter Diamond to the board of the Federal Reserve. He insisted Diamond was not ready to serve and lacked experience and knowledge in monetary economics, comments that were derided by national media outlets after Diamond won the Nobel Prize in economics in October of that year. Diamond withdrew his nomination in 2011.

Shelby was a key player in efforts to reform the nation’s financial regulatory system in 2009-2010. The bill reined in the over-the-counter derivatives market as well as granted regulators the power to take over firms and liquidate them as a way to prevent future government rescues. Shelby and Dodd appeared ready to work together during the early stages of negotiations on the bill. When the Obama administration wanted to designate the Federal Reserve as the top regulator of systemic risk in the financial system, both Shelby and Dodd opposed the idea. They also agreed, in theory, with the creation of a consumer financial protection division or agency. However, a persistent sticking point surfaced over the details of creating the new entity. While Dodd and Obama wanted the new consumer protection agency to be housed within the Federal Reserve and given more independence, Shelby wanted to create a consumer protection division within the FDIC. The amendment failed 61-38.

Shelby expressed other reservations about the bill, including its failure to address Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the quasi-governmental mortgage agencies that received substantial rescue funds. When the initial financial services reform bill was passed by the Senate in late May, Shelby voted against it. In the final version, Shelby fought for and won an amendment giving the Securities and Exchange Commission greater powers and independence in monitoring the financial markets. His provision allowed the SEC to circumvent the White House and submit its budget request directly to Congress, and it gave the commission authority to use up to $100 million a year in reserve funds to respond quickly to unforeseen problems in the markets.

Despite his objections to the creation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program to assist failing banks, Shelby drew praise from the program’s special inspector general, Neil Barofsky. In a 2012 book criticizing Congress and the Treasury Department for its handling of the issue, Barofsky singled out Shelby for being more interested in substance than many of his colleagues. In one briefing with the senator, he wrote, “I probably covered more in fifteen minutes of rapid-fire questions and answers than in most hour-long meetings with other members of Congress.”

Working with a new banking committee chairman, South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, in 2011 and 2012, Shelby remained at the forefront of Republican efforts to delay the Obama administration’s implementation of the new consumer protection bureau. He demanded changes to the bureau’s structure before he would consider approving a director to lead it; the objections by him and other Republicans eventually prompted Obama to circumvent the Senate in January 2012 and make a recess appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

In his role on Appropriations, Shelby looks out for Alabama’s interests. When it comes to earmarking, the special provisions tucked into spending bills by individual lawmakers, Shelby has “made a kind of art form out of it,” former Alabama GOP Rep. Jack Edwards told the Mobile Press-Register. When the sock industry in DeKalb County stood to be hurt by a 2002 free trade bill, Shelby held up the bill to get protection from socks produced in the Caribbean, and in 2004, he got country-of-origin labeling for imported and domestic socks. He has obtained some $70 million for University of Alabama at Birmingham medical campus buildings, one of which is named for him, and funds for refurbishing the Vulcan statue on Birmingham’s Red Mountain—a favorite target of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has crusaded against earmarks. He registers near the top of the annual list of wasteful spending earmarks compiled by the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. He was critical of the Senate’s earmark ban adopted in November 2010, saying it would put a significant crimp in his long-term goal of securing $1 billion for science, engineering, and research projects at the state’s colleges.

Shelby’s party switch caused him no trouble in increasingly Republican Alabama, in part because he routinely raises significant amounts of money to discourage serious challengers. In 1998, he was reelected 63%-37% over a retired ironworker who mortgaged his pickup truck to pay the $2,672 filing fee. For the 2004 election, his Democratic opponent was Wayne Sowell, Alabama’s first black Senate nominee and a telephone claims representative for the Social Security Administration in Birmingham. Shelby spent only $2.3 million of the $11 million he had stockpiled for the contest, and won 68%-32%, running behind in only nine black-majority counties in the Black Belt.

He easily won reelection in 2010 against Democrat William Barnes, a Birmingham lawyer. He said in January 2015 that he would run again in 2016, when he would be 81. To frighten off any would-be challengers from the tea party or elsewhere, he had amassed a campaign war chest of more than $18 million -- and with his Banking chairmanship was likely to take in many millions more.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5744

(202) 224-3416

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 304
Washington, DC 20510-0103

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5744

(202) 224-3416

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 304
Washington, DC 20510-0103

DISTRICT OFFICE

(205) 731-1384

(205) 731-1386

Robert S. Vance Federal Building Suite 321
Birmingham, AL 35203-2113

DISTRICT OFFICE

(205) 731-1384

(205) 731-1386

Robert S. Vance Federal Building Suite 321
Birmingham, AL 35203-2113

DISTRICT OFFICE

(256) 772-0460

(256) 772-8387

Huntsville International Airport Suite 20127
Huntsville, AL 35824-2107

DISTRICT OFFICE

(256) 772-0460

(256) 772-8387

Huntsville International Airport Suite 20127
Huntsville, AL 35824-2107

DISTRICT OFFICE

(251) 694-4164

(251) 694-4166

Federal Courthouse Room 445
Mobile, AL 36602-3606

DISTRICT OFFICE

(251) 694-4164

(251) 694-4166

Federal Courthouse Room 445
Mobile, AL 36602-3606

DISTRICT OFFICE

(334) 223-7303

(334) 223-7317

Frank M. Johnson Federal Courthouse Suite 208
Montgomery, AL 36104

DISTRICT OFFICE

(334) 223-7303

(334) 223-7317

Frank M. Johnson Federal Courthouse Suite 208
Montgomery, AL 36104

DISTRICT OFFICE

(205) 759-5047

(205) 759-5067

2005 University Boulevard Suite 2100
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401-2816

DISTRICT OFFICE

(205) 759-5047

(205) 759-5067

2005 University Boulevard Suite 2100
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401-2816

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 1091
Tuscaloosa, AL 35403

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 1091
Tuscaloosa, AL 35403

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Aerospace

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Agriculture

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Animal Rights

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Arts

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Banking

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Budget

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Campaign

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Commerce

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Crime

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Disability

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Disaster

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Education

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Energy

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Family

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Finance

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Foreign

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Gambling

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Govt Ops

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Grants

Emily Taylor
Press Assistant

Gun Issues

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Health

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Homeland Security

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Human Rights

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Insurance

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Intelligence

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Judiciary

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Land Use

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Military

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Native Americans

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Privacy

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Public Works

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Religion

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Science

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Small Business

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Social Security

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Telecommunications

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Trade

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Transportation

Dayne Cutrell
Legislative Assistant

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Urban Affairs

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Veterans

Hamilton Bloom
Legislative Correspondent

Welfare

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Women

Morgan Carter
Legislative Assistant

Kara Conrad
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2010 GENERAL
Richard Shelby
Votes: 968,181
Percent: 65.18%
William Barnes
Votes: 515,619
Percent: 34.71%
2010 PRIMARY
Richard Shelby
Votes: 405,398
Percent: 84.35%
N. C. "Clint" Moser
Votes: 75,190
Percent: 15.65%
2004 GENERAL
Richard Shelby
Votes: 1,242,200
Percent: 68.0%
Wayne Sowell
Votes: 595,018
Percent: 32.0%
2004 PRIMARY
Richard Shelby
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2004 (68%); 1998 (63%); 1992 (65%); 1986 (50%); House: 1984 (97%); 1982 (97%); 1980 (73%); 1978 (94%)

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