Senators unanimously agree that there should be limits on Mississippi public officials spending campaign money on themselves.
The legislature’s upper chamber passed Senate Bill 2689 Wednesday, sending it to the House for more debate.
The House passed a similar bill last month, and Sen. Sally Doty, a Brookhaven Republican, says differences will likely be worked out later in the session.
Right now, Mississippi public officials can spend their campaign money in basically any way they like, as long as they pay income taxes on money taken for personal use. Some take large sums home when they retire.
“Mississippi’s political culture and the way it has been integrated within the everyday operation of state and local governments are the perfect example of the long-term effects of corruption. It’s revealed in the misuse of campaign funds. That sense of entitlement is an enabler that works to desensitize politicians and the public and leads to corruption in all other aspects of government,” writes Mississippi PEP Editor Keith Plunkett in a recent analysis and commentary to be published later this month.
The release of a study in 2014 by researchers who analyzed 32 years worth of data revealed Mississippi to be the most corrupt state in the nation. State Auditor Stacey Pickering made the media rounds then to try to counter the study claiming the state had made “tremendous progress” in fighting public corruption. Pickering called attention to a 2012 ranking by the Center For Public Integrity of Mississippi as 6th in the nation when it came to addressing state government integrity.
But only three-years later in 2015, the state’s ranking dropped steeply in the center’s annual rankings to 33rd, and Pickering himself was in the midst of a two-year long legal battle with The Sun Herald about the role of his office in hiding documents in relation to a corruption investigation of the Dept. of Marine Resources. Then in 2016, a report in the Clarion Ledger revealed Pickering’s personal use of campaign funds was being investigated by the FBI.