Category: Ethics and Reform

No Madonna, your vulgar, tasteless speech was not “taken wildly out of context”

In defending her profane rant at the women’s march the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Madonna said her words were “taken wildly out of context.” If you think her speech to hundreds of thousands of women was taken out of context, I suggest you watch the video of her vulgar remarks. At least three times she yells “F… you in her speech. Despite an Associated Press report that labeled her speech, among other things, as “fiery,”  there is nothing taken out of context when the singer-actress screams “F… you”. The really, really sad part is the three times when Madonna yell “F… you”, the assembled thousands attending the women’s march cheered Madonna. I repeat. That is pretty sad.

A Mississippi Senate staff member and the State Capitol used for political fundraiser

Sen. Bob Dearing, a Natchez Democrat, was a longtime and respected senator until he was defeated by Republican Melanie Sojourner in 2011. Sojourner’s tenure in the legislature was marked by controversy, and she was also Chris McDaniel’s campaign manager during his nasty GOP primary campaign against U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. Four years after his defeat, Dearing took on Sojourner again and won a very narrow victory. Legal battles over

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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,

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“Ten Percenters” help drive the campaign fundraiser train

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

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Disgraceful – Mississippi Legislature’s ethical lapse

Clarion.Ledger got it right; besides being a disgrace, it is “legalized bribery”

The 2016 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature recently adjourned. The women and children of the metro Jackson area are safe for the time being. I think very few objective observers would give an overall high grade to legislators for this past session. However, there is no greater embarrassment than the fact that legislators left Jackson when the House shot down campaign finance reform legislation. The Clarion.Ledger’s outstanding investigative series correctly called the current campaign finance laws “legalized bribery.” The series reported that elected officials spent campaign money on cars, clothes, apartments, expensive boots, personal trips out of state, tax bills, insurance, home improvements and no telling what else. Most contributions to these campaign accounts used as a second income for public officials came for lobbyists or other special interests. Prior to the House refusing to pass campaign finance reform, the legislation unanimously passed the Senate. Don’t get the idea that the Mississippi Senate is full of ethical angels. There are many state senators who use campaign accounts for personal expenses but they apparently fell in line when the measure was supported by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and the publicity from the newspaper’s investigative series. A day before campaign finance reform died in the House, it was reported the House was going to negotiate with the Senate to come up with some kind of reform. It didn’t happen. What’s even worse is when the House killed the reform measure, they did it on a voice vote. While it only took a small number of House members, 13, to call for a recorded vote, only a couple members had the guts enough to stand up and call for the vote. You can also blame the weak leadership of House Speaker Philip Gunn for campaign reform dying in the House. Gunn is another legislator who apparently spends campaign funds for personal use. Comments by a number of House members were an embarrassment to that body. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus), a powerful committee chairman, said the Legislature should police their own campaign finances. That’s bad policing. According to political editor Geoff Pender, similar anti-reform comments were made by John Moore (R-Brandon), Mark Baker (R-Brandon), John Hines (D-Greenville) and Omeria Scott (D-Laurel). And note that Baker has also been reported as having an interest in running for state attorney general. That’s sad. Veteran Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson) said campaign finance reform needs to be studied. Why does something that is so wrong need to be studied?

Political repercussions?

Some would suggest that the most recent legislative session was one of the most partisan in recent history with Republicans having a supermajority in both the Senate and House.

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Will Governor Increase His Campaign Account IRA?

On Oct. 8 Gov. Phil Bryant will host his annual statewide fundraiser in Madison, MS. (It is labeled “statewide”, but he has had many more during his current re-election campaign.)  Contributors have a choice of sponsoring and contributing to The 2015 Victory Fund or to the Friends of Phil Bryant. According to the invitation, Contributions to Victory 2015 will be used to “elect the best conservative leaders for Mississippi’s future.” Contributions to the Friends of Phil Bryant are for Bryant’s re-election campaign. There are a couple of initial impressions. On his most recent campaign finance report filing, Bryant listed $2.8 million cash on hand. I don’t think anyone questions that $2.8 million is enough to handle his November opponent, Democrat Robert Gray. Gray spent zero in his surprising win of the Democrat nomination. Gray, a truck driver, has even received a lot of national publicity for his primary victory. Still, there is no person in Mississippi who seriously thinks the likeable Gray represents any sort of serious challenge to Bryant’s second term. Bryant could probably spend little or nothing of his $2.8 million to turn back Gray’s challenge. The second impression is his Oct. 8 fundraiser will raise contributions for other Republican candidates running for statewide office or to ensure that the GOP remains in control of the Mississippi Senate and House. The obvious statewide race is the campaign for attorney general of Mike Hurst against Democrat incumbent Jim Hood. Hood is the last remaining Democrat to hold statewide office and the contest is the only real competitive race slated for November. To date, Bryant has done little or nothing to help Hurst financially in his challenge to Hood. Contrast this with former Gov. Haley Barbour. During his two campaigns for governor Barbour gave and directed millions of dollars to assist other GOP candidates for statewide office and the legislature. The sponsor levels for Bryant’s statewide event are not modest. The “Chairman” level is $25,000, the “Co-Chairman” level is $10,000 and someone can be listed as a “Host” for a mere $5,000. The cost to attend is $1,000. At this point there is no way to make an educated guess of how many contributors on Oct. 8 will give to the Victory Fund or will elect to contribute to the Friends of Phil Bryant.

There’s a lingering suspicion, even among many Republicans, that Bryant will have a huge cash on hand balance after he is elected to his second term and final four years as governor. Under the state’s current, and very pitiful campaign finance law regulations, Bryant will be allowed to convert any leftover campaign funds to personal use as long as he pays the applicable federal and state income taxes. Thus, many people view his campaign account balance as sort of a campaign contribution IRA. As one veteran Republican told me earlier this week, reporters, at every opportunity, should ask Gov. Bryant if he intends to convert any campaign funds to personal use.

“Black Lives Matter” activists boo and heckle D.C. mayor

National Review magazine reports that murder is way up in the District of Columbia. The new mayor, Muriel Bowser, says she intends to do something about the soaring murder rate and will put more cops on the street in the most violent neighborhoods. At a meeting when she made the announcement, Mayor Bowser was booed and heckled by “Black Lives Matter” activists.

It’s not fantasy sports, it’s fantasy gambling

During the past few weeks, there is hardly a time when I listened to a TV or radio broadcast that I didn’t hear an ad for a fantasy sports website. A small blurb in USA TODAY made it clear.  Combined sum daily fantasy sports websites DraftKing and FanDuel spend $27 million on television ads during the opening week of the NFL season. If you’ve heard or seen the ads, most tell you to pick your sport, pick your team (players) and pick up your cash. Sure, quit your day job and just participate in fantasy sports gambling. In August, Mississippi casinos had $172 million in gaming revenue. It is more accurate to say gamblers lost $172 million at the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River casinos.

 

Will Gov. Bryant Step Up to the Plate for Republican AG Nominee?

In reality, there is only one statewide race that will be competitive this November. That contest is between Republican challenger Mike Hurst and Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood. The seven other incumbent Republicans holding statewide office face only minor Democrat, Reform Party or Libertarian Party opposition. None of those races is expected to produce an upset. Hood easily defeated his Republican opponents in his three previous races for attorney general. Some Republicans feel Hurst could, by far, be Hood’s strongest opponent he has faced. There’s also a feeling Hood could be more politically vulnerable than he was in his previous races. Hurst was highly regarded when he was on the staff of former congressman Chip Pickering, and his reputation was enhanced as an assistant U.S. Attorney until he resigned to become the Republican nominee for AG against Hood. He did not have primary opposition.

Obviously Hurst must raise the necessary money to make a competitive race against Hood. That’s where incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant comes into play. When Bryant was elected governor, he was more or less in the big shadow of his predecessor, Haley Barbour. If Bryant goes full steam politically to support Hurst, he can do something Barbour could not do. Barbour was very successful in making sure that Republicans Al Hopkins in 2007 and Steve Simpson in 2011 had the financial resources to make a strong challenge to Hood. The efforts went for naught. Many Republicans feel if Bryant makes sure Hurst has similar campaign resources like Barbour gave to Hopkins and Simpson, 2015 could result in a different outcome for Hurst and Republicans. At the end of July Bryant had more than $2.8 million cash on hand for the general election against surprise Democrat primary winner Robert Gray. While no politician should ignore any political opponent, if Bryant spends only a fraction of his almost $3 million he will defeat Gray. Contrast this with Haley Barbour. Nobody has ever questioned Barbour’s capacity to raise huge amounts of campaign money, both for his own races and other Republicans.  In 2007 Barbour had a well funded Democrat opponent in John Arthur Eaves. In 2011 term-limited Barbour was

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Will the Farce of Mississippi’s Campaign Finance Report Law Continue?

Many races were decided by the August 4 first primary. The others will be determined by the August 25 runoff or November general election. Hopefully, when incumbent and newly elected state legislators return to Jackson in January of 2016, one issue won’t be neglected – Mississippi’s pitiful campaign finance laws. Those laws garnered attention before August 2 when Clarion-Ledger political editor Geoff Pender reported State Auditor Stacey Pickering was being investigated by the FBI for issues involving his campaign account. The issue of candidates using campaign contributions for personal rather than campaign expenses has also been raised regarding Attorney General Jim Hood, State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, and Sen. Will Longwitz. Make no mistake. This issue is far more widespread than just a handful of legislators or some statewide officials. In an excellent column the Sunday before the first primary, Pender wrote about what can best be described as legal fraud is allowed because of the state’s campaign finance laws. He wrote about Rep. Hank Zuber, a Republican from Ocean Springs, offering several bills to prohibit campaign donations from being used for a politician’s personal expenses. Somewhat tongue in cheek Pender said Zuber’s bills he has introduced during more than one session have been referred to the “Committee of the Azalea Bushes.” He added that Zuber’s bill also died in the “Tico’s Steakhouse Committee.” Tico’s is a Jackson dining and watering hole where many legislative souls have been bought with steaks and booze. During the 2015 legislative session, Zuber filed HB 169 which would make it unlawful for a candidate to use any campaign contribution for any personal reason unrelated to the candidate’s campaign. HB 169 was  double refered to the House Judiciary A Committee and the Apportionment and Elections Committee. A double referral is used more often than not to make sure a bill is never reported to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote by all members. Judiciary A is chaired by Mark Baker of Brandon and the Apportionment and Elections Committee is chaired by Bill Denny of Jackson. Both are Republicans. Of course, HB 169 died in committee.

Dark Horse Mississippi nails two leading Senate Repubicans

Dark Horse Mississippi is a political blog that tilts to the left and favors Democrats. A couple of things about DHM bother me. The site hides behind anonymity. I think any blogger or anyone making comments on a blog that uses anonymity is gutless. If

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State Campaign Finance Reports Are a Farce; An Explosive Story About Stacey Pickering’s Campaign Expenditures

More than eight months ago I wrote that the campaign finance reports candidates must file with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, especially the reports on candidate expenses, are all but worthless. Because no real documentation is required candidates can use their campaign contributions to pay personal expenses instead of legitimate campaign expenses. All that blew up in the headlines this week with an excellent story by political editor Geoff Pender of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The story was first posted online early Thursday evening and headlined that the FBI is probing State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s campaign funds. The story raised a lot of serious questions and could certainly become an explosive issue that could seriously hurt Pickering’s re-election campaign. The issue regarding Pickering’s campaign expenditures was first raised a few weeks ago on the Gulf Coast by his Republican primary opponent. Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler raised the issue of the state auditor’s campaign disbursements being used for personal expenses. The original  story in a  Gulf Coast newspaper did not receive widespread coverage. That certainly won’t be the case with Pender’s story. Pickering can talk all he wants about “negative campaign tactics” and last minute dirty politics, but a capable reporter like Pender does not play a political game against any candidate or for the benefit of any candidate. Anyone who has bothered to review Pickering’s campaign finance reports for several years knows there are some very obvious questionable items regarding his campaign expenses. Forget about all the BS about last minute dirty campaign tactics. Just read Pender’s story about the FBI probe of Pickering in the newspaper or go to the Clarion-Ledger online and read the story. Too often reporting about campaign finances only deals with the big question of how much money a candidate has raised or how much cash they have on hand for the rest of their campaign. That is not the case with Pender’s story.  Remember, Chicago mobster Al Capone eventually went to prison for tax evasion, not the many murders he was alleged to have been involved with. If Mississippi candidates are taking money for personal expenses out of their campaign accounts they should be reporting it on their federal and state taxes as income. (Editor’s note: The column above was written prior to Pickering’s written response to the article by Geoff Pender. In a word, Pickering’s statement can only be described as weak and  still left unanswered questions. His statement would almost indicate that the Clarion-Ledger article about the FBI probe of his campaign finances was written by his opponent, Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, rather than by Pender.)

Valid campaign expense reports issues raised in Republican Sen. Will Longwitz’s re-election campaign

While Pender’s story of the alleged FBI probe of Pickering’s campaign is making the big headlines, campaign finance reports of state Sen. Will Longwitz are also a legitimate campaign issue. As I noted last December, Mississippi campaign finance reporting laws are so weak that one could report a $2,000 campaign check to American Express. No

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Hospital Saga Continues; Supervisors’ Feeble Attempt to Save Their Political Butts

Why the problems at a hospital in Jackson County are a statewide problem

The only real daily newspaper on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is the Sun Herald. In the newspaper’s reporting and editorials, it has done an excellent job in the best tradition of first-rate journalism. Some readers may ask why this writer and others have devoted a lot of time to an issue that some think is not a statewide problem. Singing River Health Systems (SRHS) in Jackson County is a county-owned hospital system. The secrecy and lack of financial accountability at SRHS is an issue that is important to dozens of other county-owned hospital systems in Mississippi. Sadly enough, if the problems at SRHS had not become such a major issue for hospital retirees, employees, and the taxpayers of Jackson County, the Mississippi Legislature this past session would not have passed a bill to remove the exemptions of county-owned hospitals from the state’s open meetings and public records laws. Many keep hoping to see positive developments on the issue. That is just not happening.

Last week the hospital trustees and officials released the details of a new proposal to save the underfunded pension plan. Active employees enrolled in the plan would be eligible for a retirement plan when they reach age 67 and the benefit would be about 88 percent of what was originally promised retirees. This proposal, which still must be approved by the courts, is still a slap in the face to the retirees and taxpayers of Jackson County. For example, an employee who had been with the system for more than 30 years could have previously retired at an earlier age and received a pension higher than the proposed 88 percent they would get now. But on the heels of the pension plan announcement by hospital officials, in just a matter of days, county supervisors said they will release the “full story” explaining what happened financially at the hospital and the failed pension plan. The footnote was they would explain what they can “legally reveal.” How bogus.

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Transparency Test for House Speaker Philip Gunn

House failure on hospital open meetings, public records could reflect poorly on Gunn and GOP leadership

When the Mississippi House of Representatives voted to restore statewide transparency for hospitals, there was applause and cheering that I presume came from both the floor of the House and from some of those in the gallery. Let’s hope that applause and newspaper headlines heralding the vote were not premature. SB 2407 had previously passed the Senate unanimously, but there was a lot of concern when the House Public Health Committee reported out the bill with the provision that it only applied to the Singing River Health System in Jackson County and not all publicly owned hospitals in the state. The amended bill that was later passed by the full House restored the statewide provision, but there was a catch. The House included a “reverse repealer,” which in short meant that the bill would have to go to a Senate-House conference committee instead of going to Gov. Bryant for his signature. Now the wait is on for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn to appoint conferees to determine the final fate of SB 2407. There’s no question what the Senate will do, so the ball rests in the court of Gunn. Anything less than the conference agreeing to the clean Senate bill would look as if Gunn caved to the Mississippi Hospital Association. There were reports at the Capitol this week that the House conferees would agree to the original Senate version of SB 2407. That would be a turn of events from the bill that came out of the House Public Health Committee and what was later passed by the full House. After Gunn and the House Republicans lost this week on the tax cut compromise and because of their narrow majority in the House, taking a hit on transparency and accountability would not be good.

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