November 24, 2020

Report: Some Mississippi politicians can legally pocket campaign funds

Some Mississippi politicians can — and do — legally take some of their campaign cash for personal use, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Clarion-Ledger reported that politicians can do whatever they want with money raised before 2018 — including cutting themselves a check. At least one has pocketed more than $15,000.

Some could take much more money raised before new campaign finance laws took effect, the newspaper reported.

Mississippi lawmakers passed campaign finance reform legislation in 2017 after the Clarion Ledger documented how officials spent donations on clothes, cars, apartments, children’s parties — even an $800 pair of cowboy boots.

The newspaper said state filings show newly elected Attorney General Lynn Fitch cleared the remaining $15,351 from her old campaign account two days after Christmas.

“General Fitch is very conscientious about spending campaign funds within the letter of the law, whether it was for the campaign vehicle that logged tens of thousands of miles crisscrossing the state to meet with voters or charitable contributions to community groups,” her campaign consultant, Morgan Baldwin, said in a statement.

Former Rep. Greg Snowden, a top Republican leader before he lost his reelection bid last year, cashed out about $9,000 for himself when he recently closed his campaign account, records show.

And Gov. Tate Reeves has $1.9 million in a campaign account that the newspaper says could legally be used for non-campaign expenditures.

A Reeves spokeswoman did not answer the Clarion Ledger’s questions about the governor’s old campaign account and his loan Wednesday. The newspaper said Snowden did not respond to a request for comment.

Secretary of State Michael Watson said the old and new campaign finance rules are confusing, and he wants to phase out the use of old money.

“I’m pretty sure you’re going to keep seeing this question (of old money) resurface,” said Watson, adding legislators may want to put the controversy behind them.