BY: Geoff Pender
Until the Legislature reconvenes, Mississippians should ask themselves, and their elected lawmakers, this: Do you think it’s OK for a lobbyist or big-business interest who wants a politician to vote a certain way to go up to that politician and hand them, say, $2,000 they can spend, tax free, on whatever they want without the public knowing what they bought?
If yes, then you should be fine with Mississippi’s campaign finance system.
If not, keep in mind Mississippi’s setup is only a couple of steps removed from the cash-in-an-envelope system.
A politician can take the money or a check from the lobbyist and put it in their campaign account. They’re supposed to list the donation, but hey, no one ever checks or enforces the few rules there are.
Unlike politicians in nearly all other states and the federal government, a Mississippi politician can then spend the money on … whatever they want.
They’re supposed to list the expenditure on their campaign report (again, no one ever checks or enforces this). But all a Mississippi politician has to do is use a credit card to spend the money, and list something like, “$2,000 to American Express.” Voila. It’s clean — no bribe here. And it’s tax free. Al Capone would have killed for such a system.
Campaign money is supposed to be shielded from bribery laws and taxes because A: It’s supposed to be used only for campaigning and, B: The transactions of it are supposed to be transparent and open to the public.
Neither has been the case in Mississippi. Neither will be the case until the rule makers make some rules for themselves.