BIPEC stands for the Business and Industry Political Action Committee. The organization is very powerful in state politics despite the organization’s non-profit 501 (c) (6) status with the Internal Revenue Service. BIPEC gives grades to state legislators and members of the Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The grades are based on legislators and judges who BIPEC says are pro-business and support free enterprise. The organization says it is composed of businesses, professionals and more than 30 trade associations. While BIPEC cannot make contributions, have a PAC or take an active political role, to say it is not a conservative political organization is like saying the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center are not liberal organizations that favor Democrats. The director of BIPEC is a former staffer at the Mississippi Republican Party.
Some Republicans in the Mississippi House got dinged for making the conservative vote
While BIPEC has traditionally been known for its advocacy of lower taxes, the organization’s vote ratings for the 2017 session of the Mississippi Legislature has concerned, and even angered, a number of conservative Republicans in the House. One of the key votes used was HB 480 which would have designated 70 percent of voluntary taxes collected on internet sales by out of state firms to be directed to the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Mississippians who support increased funding for highways and bridges know that a per gallon fuel tax won’t fly with the legislature. Even stranger in the BIPEC ratings is the fact that four House Republicans opposed HB 480 and it was rated a “vote against business.” Yet, these four GOP members received an A grade from BIPEC. Nine other House Republicans voted against HB 480, their only “vote against business” and yet received an overall B grade for the session. BIPEC called this part of their grading as the “subjective portion” of their ratings. BIPEC said that 35 business and professional leaders (mostly lobbyists) participated in the ratings. Nationally there are
many organizations on the political left and right that score members of Congress. I have never seen where “subjective” ratings impact the final scores when members voted the same way on an issue. House members who received an A rating from BIPEC were declared to be “Business Champions” for their “strong business support.” Nine other Republicans who had identical voting records received a overall grade of B. More than a few conservatives and Republicans, especially GOP House members that got a B grade, wouldn’t agree that opposing HB 480, a user tax on consumers, should lower their BIPEC vote rating from A to B, especially when the “subjective portion” is considered.
Did BIPEC cave to pressure when rating Mississippi House votes? Was there a hint of corporate welfare?
Many have questioned why BIPEC would use HB 480 as one of its key votes in its ratings. The organization had to know using HB 480 would cause a division among conservatives and other Republicans. There is a pretty solid consensus that BIPEC succumbed to pressure from the Mississippi Road Builders Association, the Mississippi Asphalt Pavement Association, longtime and vocal Republican activist Jennifer Hall, the wife of Central District Highway Commissioner Dick Hall, and powerful businessman Joe Frank Sanderson Jr.. Sanderson, CEO of Sanderson Farms, the nation’s third largest poultry producer, led the Mississippi Economic Council’s major push for more transportation funding. Also, retired MEC President and CEO Blake Wilson, no doubt encouraged other state businesses to get on board for the internet sales tax increase. In the case of the road builders and asphalt paving group, and even Sanderson whose Sanderson Farms is a major highway user, would put that group of BIPEC supporters and members as looking after their own self-interest. Some could rightly argue that this support is a form of corporate welfare. They would not be the first conservative Republicans to put a higher value on their own business self-interest in the form of a corporate welfare benefit.