Sunday, March 24, 2019

Bill Crawford: Gov Should Veto Dark Money Bill

"Transparency is critical to fair government," Gov. Phil Bryant, a longtime champion of transparency and accountability in government, once said.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann also promoted transparency when he proposed revamping Mississippi election laws in 2016. As WTOK-TV in Meridian reported: "Who's dealing out money to candidates? And which ones are taking it? The Mississippi Secretary of State intends for that information to be available electronically."

Transparency shines a light on activities of government that otherwise would remain dark.

One key transparency requirement is for politicians to disclose who gives them campaign contributions. Mississippi Code Section 23-15-807 requires candidates from the local to state level to identify anyone or any organization who gives them in excess of $200.

When so identified, contributors' names and addresses become public records.

Of course, there are those who want to buy candidates and influence elections who do not want their identities known. This is the realm of dark money.

The U.S. Supreme Court's "Citizen United" decision in 2010 opened the door for 501(c)(4) "social welfare" corporations to become fronts for dark money. Big money individuals and corporations can now funnel millions into these entities for the sole purpose of influencing elections for or against candidates.

Come now Republicans in the Mississippi Legislature who want to protect dark money from the light of transparency.

House Bill 1205 introduced by Rep. Jerry Turner of Baldwyn, would prohibit public agencies from requesting donor identifies from 501(c)(4) organizations and make it a crime to do so.

Republican Rep. Rob Roberson told the Starkville Daily News the law could help donors avoid repercussions from their contributions. "They were having some issues with people who have donated, whether it be to campaigns, certain causes, they had stopped attacking the issue and started attacking the people who had donated,” he explained.

Republicans pushed this dark money bill through the House 69 to 47 and through the Senate 32 to 18.


Big money contributors giving thousands or millions of dollars should have their identities kept secret while the average Joe who gives just over $200 has his identity made public? Something just doesn't smell right about this.

Oh, Mississippi Code Section 97-13-15 restricts campaign contributions from corporations to $1,000. But corporations can give dark money entities as much as they want, thereby circumventing this restriction.

"In a free society, transparency is government's obligation to share information with citizens," says, a champion of government transparency. "It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable."

Note: Similar legislation was pushed this year in Kentucky. It was defeated after the public was made aware of what was going on. "Sunshine truly is the best disinfectant," wrote the Winchester Sun newspaper.

If there is one thing Gov. Phil Bryant is known for from his time as state auditor to now it is his stance on transparency and accountability in government. He "ushered in a new era of transparency in state government," wrote the Neshoba Democrat, and "helped pass the first ethics reform legislation in Mississippi in 25 years."

"In a job where honesty and trustworthiness are the foundations for building public confidence in state government, Bryant made a positive difference for Mississippians," reads a 2013 Washington Post commentary.

The Governor should veto House Bill 1205 and sustain his strong stand for transparency.

Crawford is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.


Anonymous said...

So much so wrong in the various 'facts mixed with personal opinion sratements'made by Bill here.

1) bBill, when you took campaign contributions - either for the State Legislature or for your Congressional run - did you consider yourself sold to those that contributed? Or do you just think all other politicians are bought by contributors, all but of course your sanctimonious self? Your opening states that politicians are 'bought' by contributors, so I guess that includes the almost half million dollars you collected between the mid-it's and the mid-90s.

2) the theory that all big contributions are being made hidden thru 504's and that all small $200 contributors are being reported is crap. The 504s receive small contributors also, and many large, very large contributors are made directly and reported. Trying to imply differently by dragging the $1000 Corp limit red herring doesn't fly, but it was a nice try at diversion.

3) To consider all 504's as collecting campaign dollars to be passed thru to buy politicians is wrong in and of itself; note that Bill does not give examples of the many 504 organizations that this bill would affect -,many that advocate policy positions that many of the readers support philosophically and with their contributed money. Those contributors don't consider themselves as buying politicians with their contributions as Bill claims here, but do want the organization's to push for for or support certain policies - both within the political system and publically.

Anonymous said...

10:10 am You've completely ignored ,by focusing on the candidate that " dark money" is used to influence the vote. And, that is done by " fake news", smears, and misinformation.

You want us to believe that the 6.8 billion dollars spent in the last election ( 2 billion by Wall Street) had no influence on the outcome.

If money has no " influence" with politicians then why have the Russians and Chinese spent so much in the effort.

But, it hardly matters the Governor does. It will only show how hypocritical or dishonest he is.

When we forgot ( thanks to money spent on propaganda) that capitalism is an economic system that has nothing to do with a system of government ( Russia, China and Vietnam all using capitalism), we sold our system of government. We redefined success personal wealth and celebrity instead of character. When we sold our Fourth Estate and our judicial system and when appealing to our worst instincts worked, we sold our democracy. Putin is called President too.

Anonymous said...

Where is media’s outrage over the 2-3 legislators who have their campaign accounts set up as 501 c 3’s? I won’t hold my breath while i wait.

Anonymous said...

The Mississippi Campaign Finance statutes are exempted from the bill.

Anonymous said...

I think it's no more my business who contributes to a candidate than it is how someone votes or who joins whom for dinner.

Anonymous said...

3:44, you might feel differently if you wind up in court with an elected judge who got a $25,000 contribution from "Friends of Truth, Justice and the 'Merican Way Dot Org" and you have no idea whether it's funded by the person suing you.

Anonymous said...

We "sold our Fourth Estate"? Sure, whatever you say.

Anonymous said...

12:23 - Who are the candidates with 501c3's?

Anonymous said...

607, there have been plenty of judicial candidates who ran expensive campaigns with virtually no money - at least according to their campaign finance reports. And amazing of the judicial campaigns who raised more money after the election than before - I guess because they were good honest people running for a judgrship, the vendors were willing to sell all those products and airtime on credit. Yeah, sure.

If your .org organization contributes your $25k to a judicial candidate, they will have broken a serious campaign finance law and the candidate will be guilty as well for accepting it - since judicial candidates are restricted to receiving $2500 per person (organization) - $5000 for the appeal ate bench. So there won't be all this 'dark money' you are so afraid of buying that judge that is ruling on your lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with transparency?

Anonymous said...

6:28 pm 15 billionaires own the major newspapers and 6 corporations own 90% of media in the U.S.
You pay for television now and many rural areas of the country don't have access to wifi or cable.
The FCC has been gutted . The big change was that " fair and balanced" is no longer a requirement.
Try to keep up.
Our democracy isn't being stolen in the " hot" emotional issues that are used to distracts us but in the dirty details in legislation and de-regulation and the weakening of oversight and changing the rules by which Congress once worked.

Anonymous said...

You can remain anonymous by just giving $200. Why do you need to give more unless you want to have clout with the candidate?
Perhaps, the candidates would then have to speak to and answer questions to groups.
Now we mostly get speeches and pre-selected questions if any . Now we pay to get to meet the candidate and the price just gets higher.
Perhaps you wouldn't have all those nasty political ads on your TV and you wouldn't have all the robo calls.
We've turned politicians into celebrities when the idea was, and still should be, that they are applying for a job to work for us. We aren't fans. We are employers.

Anonymous said...

@7:47 AM has their tin foil hat firmly affixed this morning.

Anonymous said...

Amen @ 8:01am

Anonymous said...

8:01, many folks don't care about remaining anonymous with their contributions, and at the same time still don't consider themselves as "buying" the candidate. I, for one, fit that category. In fact, when I only feel like giving a small contribution, I will make it $225 or $250, just to make it clear that I don't care about being disclosed. But for someone that I am more interested in supporting - for whatever reason - I will give a thou or so. And I don't fit into the rich and powerful group, but to me giving away a thousand dollars or so is significant.

Its like tithing at church - those with more can give more. And many do. Those with less (my category) don't have the luxury of giving as much.

Many do want to remain anonymous and do remain below the $200.01 threshold - and that's fine as well. But all this has nothing to do with the point in Crawford's column about the 504 organizations.

Not all contributions to 504 organizations are for support of political candidates. And just as PAC contributions cannot be directed to a particular candidate, neither can contributions to a 504 organization.

Just because the 504 may contribute some/all of its funds to a candidate, or multiple candidates - they should not be subject to the same disclosure requirements as required by the state's campaign finance reporting.

Instead of fighting this particular windmill, the effort should be in refining the campaign finance reports. Make all contributions and disbursements be substantiated by submitting along with the reports a copy of a bank statement for the campaign account. That in and of itself would do much more for transparency (and honesty) than this little tiff that Crawford has jumped on with this week's column.

Rod Knox said...

Why should politicians be chasing problems for individual voters when they can spend millions from wealthy donors to buy time on television for smooth commercials that wave flags and tell lies about how much they are helping individual voters. Just like the commercials for casinos that keep the suckers coming back hoping to win the next time.

The big donors own all the politicians they $upport. <$200 donors don't really count except when they vote and obviously votes can be bought with expensive ad campaigns. We're all suckers for fancy ads.

Anonymous said...

KF - you should be all over this. This is one of the biggest cons in the history of the legislature - perhaps only surpassed by SLRP.

These dipshit legislators are creating a conduit to influence elections through organizations who hold themselves out as tax exempt (and enjoy those benefits) while pumping money into political efforts on either side without disclosing who is pushing such efforts. Hell, this is no different that the Russians slinking around on the internet trying to interfere with elections while hiding in plain site. I don't see this as partisan. Both parties are being given a legal right to fuck with elections while hiding.

If you are for transparency (as you claim), you should raise some hell and draw some attention to this before Phil signs it (cause you know he will).

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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