Enforcement Of Campaign Filing Requirements Taken Away From Secretary Of State And Given To Ethics Commission.
New campaign spending rules would require officials to itemize credit card purchases of more than $200 instead of listing lump-sum payments.
Officials could still use campaign money to cover campaign and official expenses, including travel to political and association meetings, car rental and accommodations. It also allows lawmakers to pay expenses connected with legislative sessions that are in excess of what is covered by the $140-per-day expense payment they collect.
Candidates closing campaign committees would be required to give the money to another political committee or candidate, to a nonprofit group or the state — or to return it to donors.
An AP review found that of 99 elected officials who had left office in previous years, as many as 25 may have pocketed more than $1,000 when they closed campaign accounts. At least five cashed out more than $50,000.
The Ethics Commission would be assigned to enforce the act and could fine violators $1,000, plus an amount equal to misspent campaign money. The measure also shifts from the secretary of state to the Ethics Commission the power to fine or seek legal orders against candidates and committees that don’t file campaign finance reports.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has been revealed on more than one occasion to use the office for political purposes by strategically choosing whose names to publicize should they have been late filing reports with his office, and by ignoring many who rarely ever filed a report at all.
And then there was the incident of Hosemann sending a state employee to the Jones County Courthouse to attempt to gather voting records from the county clerk for political purposes. Using a state employee to do political work at taxpayer expense is a violation of state law.
When confronted about improper use of a state employee for political action, Hosemann said the employee,
was taking a leave day, and “I don’t keep up with what my employees do on their time off.” He said he did get word at some point that (the employee) was being told the clerk wasn’t there and no one could help him, so he called an election commissioner he knows to see if she could help.
While some of Hosemann’s actions suggests removing enforcement of the new campaign spending rules from the authority of his office, it is questionable as to whether the Ethics Commission would be any more even-handed in enforcing the law. In an analysis published in the Sun Herald in November 2015 regarding Mississippi’s low integrity rankings and the connections to campaign spending and public corruption, writer Anna Wolfe wrote of the commissions lack of focus in handing down punishment for violations by lawmakers:
It’s impossible to know for sure how many investigations the commission has pursued, because some cases remain confidential. The commission did provide the State Integrity Investigation with a record of cases litigated since 2013, which listed just five and did not specify what the violations were.
But apparently the commission does not maintain even a comprehensive list of cases it does make public — Executive Director Tom Hood said there could be others it didn’t provide. “It’s the best [the investigative assistant] could do,” he said.
Perhaps the Ethics Commission will be upgraded to a more organized investigative arm akin to the many federal level Offices of Insprectors General.
If that is the case then Mr. Hood has a nine-month window in which to scale-up the commission for what perhaps may be a more difficult job in the beginning.
Legislators, especially those who have served for many years, are accustomed to the current standard mode of operation. A few of them could pose a challenge.