Mississippi politicians, as long as they avoid the tax man, can continue spending campaign money in ways that would land them in jail in most other states after the House killed a reform measure on a voice vote.
The voice vote Tuesday ensures constituents can’t tell how their representatives voted on the first serious effort at campaign-finance and politician ethics reform in decades. The vote effectively killed the measure, although it technically could be revived as the legislative session enters its final days.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, who himself spends thousands of campaign dollars a year without itemization and has loaned himself money from his campaign, had questioned the need for reform. He ruled Tuesday that the “Nos” were loudest on the voice vote and a roll call was not required. Thirteen members could have stood and demanded a roll vote. But only a couple did. Some who were standing even sat down to ensure roll wasn’t taken on the bill.
The mild reforms would have restricted politicians using campaign money for some personal expenses, such as buying cars and clothes, and required more reporting to the public how they spend it. Mississippi’s lack of campaign finance and ethic laws and nonexistent enforcement has been described as “legalized bribery” and “a recipe for ethical disaster” by politicians and experts.
Rep. Jeff Smith, who spends campaign money on payments to banks, auto repairs and a golf club in Columbus, offered the motion to recommit the House-Senate compromise bill on reform, effectively killing it as lawmakers prepare to end their 2016 session this week. Smith said the Legislature should be in charge of policing its own campaign finances, and he had concerns over what would happen if he or others did something against the proposed law.
“We’re going to do something wrong,” Smith said. “We’re from Mississippi.”