The state newspaper has been engaging in a serious bout of investigative journalism in the last few Sunday editions. It took aim at our seriously weak and ineffective campaign finance laws. Some call Mississippi campaign finance "legalized bribery". The Clarion-Ledger began its series on February 20 with this story:
Mississippi is one of six states that don't have an explicit ban on spending campaign funds for personal use. Brent Ferguson, counsel in the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program at New York University, said that could be an issue.The reporting is even worse at the local level. One will often find very little information in campaign finance reports for municipal and county races - if the report is even filed. Lump sums are often written down on the forms and itemization is all too often non-existent. The campaign finance laws and their enforcement are literally a joke in Mississippi but guess what? No one cares and that my friends, is the bottom line.
“It definitely creates a problem because when people are giving campaign donations, they expect them to be used for the election, so it’s somewhat dishonest to take that money pledged for the election and use it for personal causes to enrich yourself,” he said.
The types of spending that constitute personal use vary from state to state. For instance, some state laws consider contributions to other candidates’ campaigns and donations to churches as personal expenses while others don’t. Some states identify specific types of spending they consider personal use, such as household food or supplies, clothing, or fees to a country club or other organization.....
Mississippi’s campaign finance laws lack safeguards that most states have had for years, such as a ban on personal use of donations and a cap on contributions from individuals.
Mississippi and 11 other states don’t limit the amount individuals can donate, but the state also lacks caps on contributions from political action committees and lobbyists. State law does ban corporate donations over $1,000, and companies can receive fines of $1,000 to $5,000 for donation violations. But without other types of contribution limits, companies can sidestep the corporate donation cap by getting company executives and other individuals to donate.
“I think contribution limits are the most important safeguard against the possibility or appearance of corruption, and contribution limits help to ensure just a few wealthy donors aren’t capable of having undue influence in the election process,” said Anthony Corrado, a professor at Colby College who serves as an adviser at the Committee for Economic Development and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution..
In Mississippi, the secretary of state and attorney general’s office are primarily responsible for enforcement when it comes to campaign finance laws. The agencies have the most enforcement power when it comes to disclosure, but candidates and elected officials can receive fines of up to $3,000 or a six-month imprisonment for intentional violations.... Rest of article.