BY: Sam Hall | Clarion Ledger
(T)he questions surrounding (State Auditor Stacey) Pickering still swirl. His explanations to date have been more about politics than the expenditures. He seems fairly content to blame Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, his Republican primary opponent, for this story making headlines. However, we would never have run a story about an alleged FBI investigation on just the word of a political candidate or a former campaign staffer. Butler has been talking about the car Pickering bought with campaign funds and that his daughter has driven as a student at Ole Miss for months. That’s nothing new. Neither are revelations about a garage door. What’s new is that federal authorities have taken a serious interest in these and other campaign-related expenditures, along with no-bid contracts let by the auditor’s office.
The biggest question Pickering has so far avoided is this: Has he claimed funds he spent on personal-use items as income on his state and federal income tax returns?
Pickering acknowledges personally paying insurance, tag and taxes on the car purchase, but that’s completely separate from claiming the funds spent on the purchase as income and paying state and federal income taxes on it. In explaining why he paid tax, title and insurance on the car and RV, Pickering admitted that it was to cover any personal use of the vehicles. However, that’s not what the law prescribes. The law says campaign funds shall not be used for personal gain unless said funds are claimed as income for state and federal income tax purposes.
Pickering said the RV was so his family could be close to him on the campaign trail. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. Campaigns do that all the time, though most of those vehicles are leased or rented for the duration of the campaign and then returned, not purchased as in Pickering’s case. Campaigns often pay the tax, title and tag on those vehicles as well.
But it seems Pickering and his family have treated these two vehicles as personal property as much if not more than for campaign use. The car has been used by his daughter at college. The RV has been seen at state parks routinely and used for family vacations to Walt Disney World.