Senate and House negotiators, minutes before a Monday night deadline, reached agreement on campaign finance reform, including restrictions on personal use of campaign money.
A strict ban on personal spending the Senate had passed was slightly relaxed in the compromise version, lawmakers said, and the reforms wouldn’t kick in until Jan. 1. The measure will go before the full House and Senate as early as Tuesday.
“We all wanted to do the right thing,” said Senate Election Chairwoman Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven. “But we didn’t want to penalize colleagues who have been operating under different rules for 20 years or more.”
Experts and politicians have called Mississippi’s campaign finance setup “a recipe for ethical disaster” and “legalized bribery.”
The measure would ban some spending of campaign money such as buying cars, clothing (other than campaign T-shirts and such), and other non-campaign expenses. It would allow some spending not related to a campaign but for expenses incurred by being an “officeholder.” It appears the compromise measure would allow lawmakers to use campaign money to rent apartments or hotel rooms in Jackson during the legislative session, which has become common practice for some lawmakers.
A state tax official has warned that because taxpayers also give lawmakers a per diem and cover other expenses, using campaign money for the same expenses could present tax problems.
The measure also would require lawmakers to itemize spending with a campaign credit card. It has been common practice for politicians to list lump-sum payments to credit cards, sometimes for thousands of dollars, to get around the requirement to itemize expenditures of $200 or more. The measure also prohibits “non-documented loans” from a campaign account, including loans to a candidate.