April 29, 2016 10:22:45 AM
Occasionally I am reminded of my level of ignorance and naivete'. I try to stay attuned to most current events and local issues, but it simply never occurred to me that candidates anywhere, even in Mississippi, could keep their campaign contributions for personal use.
It strikes me as a betrayal of those contributors. Some of the recipients have rationalized it by viewing it as a sort of political welfare entitlement. Conversion of funds is more like it. Fraud or bribery are other descriptions that might apply. And, it is done with apparent impunity.
This legislative session was an embarrassment of riches for the Republican supermajority. The last thing they took up that might have marginally redeemed their catastrophe of a session was campaign finance reform. It is hypocrisy for a party proud of being anti-entitlements to let that opportunity die behind the closed conference committee doors.
Currently, if you donate to your chosen candidate's campaign and they don't spend it for that purpose, they may use it as they see fit. You may have just helped their kids through college, paid on their home mortgage, contributed to their girlfriend's boob job or applied it to some other equally unappetizing and unintended outcome.
And it is perfectly fine with us, the donors and voters. How do I know this? Because we don't do a damn thing about it. If we were to raise a great hue and cry about campaign finance reform and then elect legislators who would pledge to do something about it, it would get done. Period.
The only thing we seem to get up in arms about is legislating which bathroom someone uses and having an armed militia at the door of the local Baptist church.
Sen. David Blount, D.-Hinds County, introduced legislation to require more information through itemization of credit card expenditures. It wasn't a substantive change but baby steps can at least begin the process. The Republican supermajority wouldn't even agree to that negligible change. The future for reform doesn't look promising.
Maybe we as potential contributors should insist on a disclaimer at fund-raising events. There should be a notice letting the contributors know that if the TV ads and the yard signs don't eat up all the money, the candidate will be using those funds for "fill in the blank."
There are requirements for reporting but they go largely unenforced. Really meaningful changes would include a willingness to pursue the penalties of violating the reporting requirements followed by penalties for violating the expenditure constraints.
One of the positive outcomes of the failed legislation is that it highlighted the problem for those of us with our heads in the political sand. I am going to be less inclined to provide excess expenses for political candidates from this point forward. I may ask how much is in their campaign war chest before I write that check.
The Clarion-Ledger did an extensive series on the current status of the campaign finance uses and abuses titled "Public Office. Private Gain." It is worth the read.
Out of curiosity, I checked on a few of our local legislators' reports. While none of them have what would equal a comfortable retirement fund, Rep. Gary Chism has about $59,000 in his campaign account; Rep. Tyrone Ellis about $32,000 and Sen. Gary Jackson about $17,000. Those sums are not insignificant.
It matters, too, that some of the expenditures of their campaign finances are to other candidates. Other people may be more understanding, but if I give to one candidate, I don't expect him or her to be using those funds for another candidate. Works out to be a bit of a bait-and-switch effect, if you ask me.
Your part-time legislative representatives are adequately compensated without using our contributions for unreported perks. So how about additional legislation that includes putting unused campaign funds in a state education line item?
I would think the Republican-held Legislature would be eager to reduce those campaign welfare entitlements.
Lynn Spruill, a former commercial airline pilot, elected official and city administrator owns and manages Spruill Property Management in Starkville. Her email address is [email protected]
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