The next local, legislative and statewide elections are not until 2019, but the train to raise campaign funds never slows down. Each week many current elected officials have numerous campaign events. It is expected candidates for statewide elected office, incumbents or others with statewide ambition, never slow their efforts to raise money. Most of the events for incumbent state legislators are held in Jackson. These events are not so the good folks back home can contribute to help their political friends or good candidates for legislative office get elected. Legislators from all over the state have campaign events in Jackson so they can tap the pockets of lobbyists and other special interest groups. There are several things that drive these events, even though the primaries are almost three years away and the 2019 general election is even further in the distance. One reason is more than a handful of legislators have ambition to run for statewide office. Even those who just plan to seek re-election to the legislature want to build a big war chest to discourage potential opponents. More important to some incumbent legislators is the fact that under our state’s pathetic campaign finance laws, elected officials frequently use their campaign contributions for personal, non-campaign related expenses. This unethical practice has been well documented by numerous articles written by Clarion.Ledger political editor Geoff Pender and others who write for that newspaper. Even if an elected official spends his or her campaign funds for personal expenses, under current state law all they have to do is report that part of their spending on their taxes as personal income. It would not be a stretch to say a lot of that personal spending is not properly reported when these elected officials file their federal income tax returns. The fourth reason for the endless off-year campaign fundraising events is what I will call the “ten percenters.” These are individuals and firms who make their living, or part of their living, as professional
fundraisers. The usual percentage of take for these fundraisers is ten percent and that take is above any overhead costs of the fundraising events. In numerous cases, the candidate does not even have this overhead expense. Very frequently, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, or other similar pro-business organizations, big law firms or other special interest associations will host a candidate’s event at their facility. They will also furnish any booze and food served at the event. To meet the legal requirements, all they have to do is report these costs as an in-kind contribution.
Rep. Jay Hughes makes strong campaign reform proposals
First term Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford is the new darling of Mississippi liberals and many public educators. He has received lots of press in his first term, and it has been suggested that he has ambition for statewide elected office. If that’s the case it’s fine with me. Although the WeidieReport has taken several shots at Hughes in the past, Hughes is right on his proposed campaign reforms he made public several weeks ago. His proposals are even stronger than the legislation introduced in the past by Rep. Hank Zuber, a Republican from Ocean Springs. Despite Zuber’s strong reputation as a legislator, his legislation has been killed every time it has been introduced. Honest and ethical government is not a partisan issue.
If the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker want campaign finance reform, it will be done
If Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn want legislation as it has been proposed by Zuber and Hughes, it will be passed. If Reeves and Gunn have the balls to push reforms and not worry about their “constituents”, it will be passed. ” The “constituents” are the members of the Mississippi House who elected Gunn as speaker and the members of the Senate that Reeves needs to pass, or defeat, legislation he proposes, or opposes, in the Mississippi Senate.
Will legislators remain ethically challenged?
If Reeves and Gunn don’t step up to the plate and give strong support for campaign finance reform, legislators and other state elected officials will remain at a low level of ethical standards. As stated on the front page of this blog, are our elected officials motivated more by self-service than they are by public service? Our current campaign finance laws make it clear that many are motived by self-service. And the needed campaign finance reforms have nothing really to do with the free booze and food that lobbyists use to buy legislative souls.