Lawmakers balk at campaign finance reform – Jackson Clarion Ledger

12 months ago Comments Off on Lawmakers balk at campaign finance reform – Jackson Clarion Ledger

To say campaign finance reform hasn’t been a priority for the Legislature is a major understatement.

Prior to this year, it has barely been discussed. What few measures have been proposed have died in committee without even coming up for debate or a vote. Lawmakers — many of whom appear to use their campaign money as a personal expense account or second income — appear loathe to police themselves.

Already this legislative session, most reform measures — including any that would prohibit or regulate personal spending of campaign money — have died without a vote, although bills currently alive could be amended to revive them.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORT: Public Office. Private Gain.

As a practical matter, there are no rules for Mississippi politicians when it comes to campaign money. Mississippi lacks a clear prohibition against them using campaign money for personal expenses. The state also has weak campaign finance reporting and ethics regulations, and enforcement of the few campaign finance rules the state does have is nonexistent.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said they wouldn’t oppose prohibitions on personal spending of campaign money. House Speaker Philip Gunn said, “We’ve just got to get in a room and get some definitions of what those terms are, define personal expenses.” Gunn also filed a bill (which died) to require itemization of campaign credit card spending.

But so far, the Legislature hasn’t had an open discussion or debate on the issue.

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“I’ve been dealing with campaign finance disclosure for more than 20 years, first working at the secretary of state’s office and now nine years as a member of the Senate,” said Senate Vice Chairman of Elections David Blount, D-Jackson. “We haven’t made a lot of progress, and at the same time, there’s more money than ever in campaigns, and we ought to do something about it. … It should be more of a priority.”

A look at campaign-finance and related reform measures filed this session and their status:

House Bill 797. This is an omnibus election reform bill that survived committee and awaits a full House vote. It is mostly aimed at voting and election reform but contains a measure that would require politicians to itemize credit card spending from their campaign accounts. It contains many other code sections and could potentially be amended to allow more reforms.

Senate Bill 2580. This is the Senate version of the omnibus election reform bill. It was passed by committee, but only after adding a “reverse repealer,” ensuring it could not pass quickly without more changes and debate. It would allow amendments on campaign finance reform.

House Bill 685. This bill would have restricted personal or noncampaign use of campaign money and prevented politicians from cashing in their accounts when they leave office. It died in committee. Its author, Rep. Hank Zuber III, R-Ocean Springs, has introduced similar legislation for years to no avail.

Senate Bill 2232. This bill would have prohibited some personal spending of campaign money. It died without a vote in committee. Authored by Senate Vice Chairman of Elections David Blount, it would have required Mississippi politicians to follow federal regulations on use of campaign money.

Senate Bill 2674. This bill, which died in committee without a vote, would have totally banned personal use of campaign money. It was authored by Sen. Bill Stone, D-Holly Springs.

House Bill 660. This bill, authored by Zuber, would have prohibited legislators from lobbying the Legislature for four years after leaving office. It died in committee without a vote. Currently, lawmakers are restricted from lobbying for a year after leaving office.

Contact  Geoff Pender at (601) 961-7266 or gpender@jackson.gannett.com. Contact Kate Royals at (601) 360-4619 or kroyals@jackson.gannett.com. Follow @GeoffPender and @KRRoyals on Twitter.

Lawmakers balk at campaign finance reform – Jackson Clarion Ledger}

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