The Mississippi Senate unanimously voted Wednesday to stop Mississippi candidates and elected officials from spending campaign money for personal use.
The Senate amended House Bill 797 to prohibit using campaign funds for “any use other than expenditures related to gaining or holding public office.”
“I’m pleased they took my amendment, and I was a bit surprised they adopted the amendment under the circumstances,” said Sen. Chris McDaniel. “The bill itself is a very encompassing bill, but I didn’t think it went far enough on campaign finance reform because what we’re seeing there is basically legalized corruption. It literally is legalized bribery.”
The amended version of the bill prohibits spending campaign money on:
Any residential or household items, supplies or expenditures, including mortgage, rent or utility payments for any part of any residence of a candidate or officeholder or a member 158 of the candidate’s or officeholder’s family
Mortgage, rent or utility payments for any part of any nonresidential property that is owned by a candidate or officeholder or a member of a candidate’s or officeholder’s family and used for campaign purposes, to the extent the payments exceed the fair market value of the property usa
Funeral, cremation or burial expenses, including any expenses related to deaths within a candidate’s or officeholder’s family
Clothing, other than items of de minimis value that are used in the campaign
Automobiles, fuel, vehicle repair and maintenance costs and other expenses
Dues, fees or gratuities at a country club, health club, recreational facility or other nonpolitical organization, unless they are part of a specific fundraising event that takes place on the organization’s premises
Salary payments to a member of a candidate’s family, unless the family member is providing bona fide services to the campaign. If a family member provides bona fide services to a campaign, any salary payments in excess of the fair market value of the services provided is personal use
Admission to a sporting event, concert, theater or other form of entertainment, unless part of a specific campaign or officeholder activity
Loans of any type, including loans to candidates
Out of state travel expenses
Payment of any fines, fees or penalties assessed pursuant to Mississippi law
McDaniel said this isn’t the first time he has proposed campaign finance reform.
“There have been several times I’ve attempted, and I’ve been met with resistance, naturally, with politicians living outside of their campaign finance reports and their funds,” he said. “These men and women are buying cars. They’re buying clothes. They’re paying their house notes. They’re paying insurance with it, and that’s absolutely inappropriate. So naturally, they’re going to push back.”
The Senate approval of campaign spending reforms come after a series of reports by The Clarion-Ledger that revealed elected officials were spending campaign funds on “clothes, cars, apartments, home improvements, an $800 pair of boots, trips out of state, tax bills, insurance, and payments to themselves or their own companies,” according to those reports.
McDaniel’s amendment also prohibits elected officials from keeping unspent campaign funds after they retire.
“These men and women, once the retire, they won’t be allowed to have a golden parachute because right now, if you retire with several hundred thousand dollars in your campaign finance fund, you’re allowed to keep it.” he said. “That’s just not appropriate. It’s not appropriate. What this bill would do is mandate that these individuals not be allowed to to keep those funds, but instead would be donated to charity or back to the state of Mississippi.”
While McDaniel said passing the bill is a big step forward for Mississippi, he said he’s skeptical the amendment may be undone during the next step in the process because the bill passed unanimously.
“It’s a huge step, no question about that, but there’s one more rite of passage, essentially, that we have to get passed,” he said. “That’s the conference committee. The House is trying to argue that they need more time to study this proposal. We don’t need more time to study this proposal. This is very clear. It’s very simple. There’s absolutely no justification for corruption in our system, and there’s no justification to allow money to corrupt our politicians. And that’s what’s happening. They should adopt this amendment. Let’s move forward with real reform, and make sure that the system finally is transparent.”
McDaniel said final conference committees reports must be filed by April 16, but said the Senate will vote on those reports shortly before that deadline.
“The bill is far along, and I’m very pleased to see the progress we’ve made,” McDaniel said. “What will happen is it goes to the conference committee, which basically is comprised of three House members and three Senate members. They will pound out differences in the bill, and then return those bills for one last vote in front of the chamber. What we need to make sure is that this campaign finance reform stays in the bill.”
House Bill 797 is a large bill that includes a number of proposed election code changes, and McDaniel said he wants to be sure the campaign reform amendment isn’t left out of the final version of the bill.
“You have to always keep your eye on the ball because it’s a big bill,” McDaniel said. “It would be very simple for them to just omit several sections, and then pass it out of the conference committee. I don’t think we should allow that. We need this for the bill. We need these reforms. We’re being told we can’t really comprehend campaign finance reform. That’s nothing more than an excuse not to consider it. Of course we can comprehend it. It’s not complicated. Politicians can’t be using this money for personal use. Period.”