A survey of gifts, tickets, dinners and drinks received by state legislators from lobbyists for Mississippi’s eight public universities shows two of the biggest recipients represent districts serving Leflore and Carroll counties.
The survey came from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, where lobbyists file annual reports for the amount of money spent wining and dining legislators. The numbers were compiled by the Jackson Clarion Ledger and are for a period from 2015 through 2018.
Unlike many other states, Mississippi law allows legislators to accepts free stuff from lobbyists, as long as it’s reported.
The survey shows that seven of the eight universities spent a combined total of nearly $2 million on lobbying legislators and other public officials, including more than $276,000 given away in tickets to sporting events and other freebies. Mississippi Valley State University reported spending no money on lobbying during the four-year period.
The University of Mississippi led all schools by giving legislators tickets for football and other games worth nearly $119,000. Next highest was Mississippi State University with nearly $66,000 in lawmaker freebies, following by Alcorn State at $19,500, Southern Miss at $8,500, and Jackson State at $288.
In addition to Mississippi Valley State, Delta State University and Mississippi University for Women didn’t report any free tickets for legislators. Delta State did report $12,000 in dinners and drinks with legislators, usually at restaurants around Jackson when the Legislature was in session. A DSU spokesman said money for lobbying efforts comes from a foundation and not tax dollars.
Sen. Terry Burton, who resigned as Senate president pro tem after his arrest in December on drunk-driving charges (his third) only to suffer a stroke in January, led the pack of recipients of public university largess with a total haul of $8,513.92 since 2015.
In fourth place, with $6,877.43 mostly in free tickets and a few meals, was Rep. Kevin Horan, the Grenada Democrat from District 34, serving Carroll, Grenada, Holmes, Leflore and Tallahatchie counties.
Horan went to Ole Miss as an undergrad and now apparently attends lots of Rebel sporting events in Oxford, some paid for by lobbyists. He said he can be found at Ole Miss football, basketball and baseball games.
Horan caught Rebel fever during the 2015 football season when he took in $440 in tickets for a September football game, followed the next week by $360 more, followed two weeks later with $220 more, then another $220 two weeks after that, then $200 the next week, and $180 the following week.
Horan capped off that exciting season by taking in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, where he watched Ole Miss beat Oklahoma State 48-20, with $600 in tickets from Ole Miss.
That season, $2,220 in free tickets found their way to Horan.
“I went to the game,” Horan said of the Sugar Bowl. “I bought 20 to 25 tickets myself. I have a large family. I have seven children, in-laws and others.”
Horan, who is an attorney, doesn’t see the tickets to sporting events as gifts and minimizes their value, even if the schools and the secretary of state assign them value.
“We don’t get any gifts. We get tickets; certainly it’s legal,” he said.
“I get invited to go to events. I can afford my own tickets ... It’s not the end of the world to get invited to university events.”
Horan sits on the House Appropriations Committee, which can deal with how state money is allocated to the eight state universities. Could his relationship with the university lobbyists play a role in how he makes decisions? “Absolutely not,” he said.
And it’s not the games themselves that attract Horan to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturdays in the fall.
“You have to understand also there’s a group of people going together,” he said of some events. “... Some games you meet folks beforehand (during tailgating). Sometimes you go into a skybox and meet with people. You don’t necessarily stay in your seat the whole game.”
And when he’s moving from tailgating to skyboxes, Horan said, he gains “interaction with members of the university I don’t normally see.”
Horan’s interactions are limited to Oxford, however. The database shows he took no tickets to any sporting events at any of the other seven public universities in the state from 2015 through 2018.
Horan said he was aware that many other states have outlawed the practice and said he thought the Mississippi Legislature should look into it, too.
The other big recipient representing Leflore and Carroll counties is Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, a Republican from Winona who came in 15th on the list with $4,723.38 in free tickets and dinners.
Chassaniol did spread her time around somewhat, attending dinner-and-drink events sponsored by Southern Miss and Delta State when the Legislature was in session, at a cost of $75 or less with Southern Miss and $100 to $126 with Delta State in more expensive restaurants.
But when it came to sporting events and free tickets, Chassaniol lined up right with her alma mater and headed to Oxford. Although the free tickets were for small amounts in general, they peaked at $968 for football tickets given to her in August 2016 and another $950 in free tickets given in August 2017. The free tickets were down to $550 in September 2018.
Chassaniol also attended the January 2016 Sugar Bowl game but was granted only a $50 ticket.
Numerous messages left on Monday for Chassaniol at her office or on her cellphone were not returned.
Other Greenwood-area legislators didn’t break into the top brackets for free tickets and meals from public universities. Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, received $485.33 in freebies, mostly tickets from Mississippi State University. Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, received $457.08 in meals and drinks when the Legislature was in session.
And former Rep. Willie J. Perkins Sr., a Greenwood Democrat who represented the 32nd District until his election last year as a chancery court judge, got a measly $6.22 in meals and drinks from Ole Miss lobbyists on April 14, 2016, which is barely enough in Jackson to cover a cup of coffee and a pastry.
•Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or email@example.com.