2017 Legislative Session: Will Campaign Finance Reform Become A Reality?

Will legislators put an end to “legalized bribery”?

The upcoming 2017 session of the Mississippi Legislature will face the usual mix of key issues: funding for public education, transportation, meeting the needs of state agencies while balancing the state budget despite stagnant revenues, providing much need health care for Mississippians, job creation and on and on. The ugly issue of political ethics (i.e. campaign finance reform) will again get much needed attention even if it will not be a favorite issue with many legislators. The past Sunday Clarion-Ledger political editor Geoff Pender reported that House Speaker Philip Gunn says campaign finance reform will be a top priority. Gunn should have, and could have, done something about campaign finance reform during the 2016 session when the bill died a shameful death in the House. Gunn claims he had nothing to do with the disgraceful failure of campaign reform during the last legislative session. That is either a lot of bull or Gunn is admitting he is a weak leader of the Mississippi House. Campaign finance reform unanimously passed the Mississippi Senate before being killed in the House without even a roll call vote. Pender’s excellent column pointed out our current campaign finance laws and how campaign expenses are reported are nothing short of “legalized bribery” paid for by lobbyists and other special interests. He wrote, “As long as they avoid tax scrutiny (reporting as taxable personal income), Mississippi politicians can spend campaign money in ways that would land them in jail in most other states.” Pender noted a  Clarion-Ledger investigative series earlier this year showed “many politicians – legislators in particular – use lax campaign finance laws, farcical reporting regulations and nonexistent enforcement” to spend campaign donations “on clothes, cars, groceries, apartments,

children’s parties, taxes, car insurance, investments” and vacation travel. Gunn may now be jumping on board for campaign finance reform because he has bigger political ambitions than being speaker. Gunn did said something troubling to Pender. As far as legislators using campaign funds to buy automobiles, Gunn said, “The use of an automobile by a legislator for legislative business, I think it can be used for that.” Give me a break. Being in the state legislature is a part-time job. That is far different than being a full time statewide official or a member of the U.S. Congress.

The “very few” elected officials who serve for the right reasons

A friend of mine recently commented about a state senator.  He said this legislator was one of the “very few” who served in elective office for all the right reasons. That’s very sad. There are obviously many important issues legislators will have to deal with in 2017. But a lawmaker who skirts ethical issues is also a legislator in whom I would have little faith in dealing with other important issues for Mississippi.

Churchill was right – on both counts

Lee Pollock, executive director of Chicago’s Churchill Centre, recently wrote a column about what the great U.K. leader Winston Churchill would think about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The best part of the column were two quotes by Churchill.  During World War II Churchill said:
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

The other Churchill quote cited by Pollock: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms.” The two quotes seem at odds but Churchill was right on both counts.

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