The Mississippi House of Representatives continued to distinguish itself last week after it killed a conference report that would reform campaign finance laws. Representatives Cory Wilson and Bill Denny led the fatally doomed Charge of the Reform Brigade as they sought passage of the report. See the videos posted below for yourself as they show bipartisanship can occur in Speaker Gunn's House when members are properly motivated.
Geoff Pender ably described the scene that took place on April 19 in the pages of the Clarion-Ledger yesterday:
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.Watch for yourself. JJ took the liberty of providing a small roadmap of who said what and when.
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.
8:33 Percy Watson: Wanted to know if funds could still be used to pay a "utility bill" for someone who could not pay.
18:00 Jeff Smith: Complains about Ethics Commission having too much oversight over legislators. Said the legislature continues to "surrender our sovereignty" to the Ethics Commission. Smith then complained the Secretary of State would have too much authority over the legislature as well. Watch the exchange. Smith fights any attempt at reforming campaign finance laws. He urges giving such power to the Legislature's own Ethics Committee. Fox. Henhouse. Mississippi.
25:40 Randy Rushing: Says the bill "micromanages" contributions of $200 while ignoring trips paid for by lobbyists, companies, and PAC's.
29:00 John Moore: He had "grave concerns".
32:50: Bryant Clark: Asks about using campaign donations to pay for funerals. Said he was in favor of the bill.
41:00 Mark Baker: Protests against a ban on third parties and family members paying the fines for those convicted of wilful misuse of campaign funds. Said conferees were "holier than thou". He also protested a requirement that newly-formed PACs register within 48 hours. Mr. Wilson replied it was to prevent PACs forming and spending large sums of money right before an election (a la the Hinds County District Attorney's race) and then filing a report two months later. Mr. Baker said that "sounded to me like people with thin skin getting mad because people get mad at them". Oooook. Bill said there was a $5,000 fine for the PAC. Mr. Baker argued they were trying to bankrupt the opposition for being poorly organized. He said this would keep groups out of the political process. He argued elected officials who knew the rules would be able to "beat down" challengers who didn't know the rules.
52:30: Ed Blackmon: Called the bill a hammer being used for "gnats".
5:20: Omeria Scott: Said some legislators help constituents with funerals. She said the bill outlawed the practice unless a nominal amount was given.
13:13: Andy Gipson: Had a "concern" about not repaying any "undocumented loans". Mr. Wilson said the new rule wouldn't go into effect until January 1, 2017. Mr. Gipson said he didn't have enough funds in his campaign account to repay money he and his wife loaned to his campaign right now.
20:00 Jeff Smith moves to recommit the bill due to "fatal errors" he read.
20:28 Bill Denny opposes motion to recommit. He said the entire debate was over only eight pages. He said "we've made this as liberal as we possibly can". He said the money in currently in campaign accounts are your dollars" until 2017. He said legislators could hold a fund-raiser every week until the end of the year and raise $100,000 but it would still be their money. Denny said "I don't know what else we can do to protect ourselves and protect you."
22:30 Speaker Gunn calls for a voice vote and rules the ayes have it. He said "no roll call is demanded".