A couple of years ago, after lawmakers and others in Mississippi government were shamed by the revelation of how much campaign money they were using to pay for clothes, cars, apartments and other personal perks, the Legislature tightened up on how the donations could be used.
In order to get the votes the reform needed for passage, however, lawmakers included a major loophole: The new restrictions would only apply to money raised starting in 2018. Anything saved over from before then could still be treated like the recipient’s personal bank account.
The Clarion Ledger this week reported on some of those who have recently cashed in.
Lynn Fitch, whom voters promoted from state treasurer to attorney general, took personal possession of the last $15,531 in her old account two days after Christmas. It must have been a big holiday at the Fitch household.
Greg Snowden, who held a top Republican leadership position in the House of Representatives before his defeat last year, cashed out about $9,000 for himself.
These two examples, though, are small potatoes to the potential payoff for the two major opponents in last year’s governor’s race.
Jim Hood, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate, still has $371,000 that he can claim for himself. Tate Reeves, the winning Republican, has five times as much — almost $1.9 million.
Interestingly, Reeves, a former banker, did some fancy financial maneuvering to preserve the size of this potential golden parachute.
That old account, prior to the hotly contested GOP primary, had a balance of about $5 million. As the cost of Reeves’ massive advertising blitz outpaced even his prodigious fundraising, he drew out $3.2 million from the old account to cover campaign expenses. When his campaign treasury needed another cash infusion as he and Hood neared the finish line, Reeves decided that rather than further depleting the old account, he would personally lend his new one $1.3 million.
How come? He’s not saying, but the following scenario sounds probable. Reeves can raise the $1.3 million from his supporters to pay off that loan to himself and still leave untapped the $1.9 million in the old account either for a future campaign or for life after politics.
The possibility for such personal payouts should be eliminated. The Legislature should require either that the pre-2018 donations be transferred to an incumbent’s post-2018 campaign fund, be donated to charity or returned to the donors.
Money given to candidates to run their election campaigns is supposed to be for just that. Donations intended for other purposes — such as providing a cushier lifestyle for officeholders or supplementing their retirement — are bribes. That should be illegal, no matter when the money was given.