September 17, 2020 11:30:04 AM
With less than a week left before the special election, the four-way race for the vacant Senate District 15 seat has attracted more than $156,000 in contributions, campaign finance reports show.
In District 15, four candidates are vying for the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Gary Jackson (R-French Camp), who retired June 30. The special election is set for next Tuesday, and the nonpartisan election will not include party primaries. All candidates filed their mandatory campaign finance reports before the Sept. 15 deadline.
Oktibbeha County District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, who first announced her candidacy in June, leads her fellow candidates in fundraising efforts. Her campaign raised $65,140 as of the Tuesday filing deadline, including $25,000 from herself and $1,350 from her brother-in-law, William Daniel Miller and his company, Miller Cattle Company.
Apart from family members, Miller received roughly $25,000 from 30 individual donors, who each gave more than $200, and a combined $9,740 in "non-itemized" cash given by small donors, who each gave less than $200 and therefore are not required to be named. Her campaign also received $2,500 from political action committees, which are formed to dole out campaign funds to influence the action of voters, according to the Secretary of State's website.
Two contributions came from out-of-state addresses, which Miller said came from donors connected to the state. Jim and Mary Newsome, who Miller said are both graduates from Mississippi State University who now live in Wellington, Florida, gave her campaign $1,000. Clark PAC, a political action committee registered in Oakland, Kentucky, gave $500. Miller said the PAC belongs to Clark Beverage Group, which has an office in Starkville.
As of Tuesday, Miller had outspent what she had raised, giving the bulk of her campaign cash -- $61,113.25 -- to Triumph Campaigns, a Jackson-based campaign management company. The company helped re-elect Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) in 2008 to his fifth term in the U.S. Senate, according to its website.
Miller said she is running a "different" race than when she ran for the county supervisor seat. This time, she said she wanted professional help.
"This campaign is very different from a supervisor race, which I did not have professional help for," she said. "I definitely needed help in it."
Compared to Miller, however, Starkville businessman Bart Williams' campaign is mostly self-funded. The owner of Security Solutions Inc. poured $50,000 into his own campaign, which accounts for most of the total $56,725 he had raised by Tuesday.
Williams said he finds it hard to fundraise for cash during a pandemic, when social activities are limited. The $50,000 out of his own pocket, he said, was a necessary boost.
"In a time of COVID and the shortness of the election, fundraising was not a priority. Trying to get the message together and put it out is what we try to do," he said. "I'd hope for more donations, but it is what it is."
Williams' campaign received $3,000 from named donors and another $3,725 from small donors. Rupert (Rudy) Johnson with the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, gave his campaign $500.
The campaign still has more than $32,000 left in the bank. Williams said he is not eager to spend it all at once and hopes to preserve funds in case there is a runoff. So far, his campaign has spent roughly $24,000, most of which went to advertising, he said. The details of his disbursements are not documented in his reports.
Joyce Meek Yates, former director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Program for students at Mississippi State University, trails behind the two candidates with a total of $33,315.5 raised. That includes $26,565.5 from herself.
Yates' campaign spent almost $24,000 in advertising, graphic design and signage. The campaign now has $3,286 on hand.
"We've done a good job with everything, the ads and social media and TV and mailouts," she said. "We've done what we feel like is sufficient and we are happy with the results that we have right now."
Levon Murphy, owner of Murphy Motors in Ackerman, raised $1,450 and spent $1,725 by Tuesday. He said the amount of campaign funds does not decide the winner of the race.
"I knew I probably wouldn't raise as much as other candidates, so I decided to focus more on spending on Facebook ads and a bunch of signs," he said. "I don't think the amount of money raised determines who wins."
Rose leads fundraising in District 37
In District 37, all three candidates running for the vacant House seat have filed their campaign finance reports on deadline. The seat was vacated by former Rep. Gary Chism (R-Columbus), who retired on June 30.
Vicky Rose, who identifies as a Libertarian, had raised $14,536 by Tuesday, outraising both of her opponents.
Most of her funds came from donors with out-of-state addresses. She raised $8,150 from three out-of-state donors, including $7,500 from William Perkins, a film producer with a registered address in the Virgin Islands, documents show. She also received $3,000 from the Libertarian Party of Mississippi PAC.
Rose's campaign spent almost $9,197 as of Tuesday, including $5,615 to Ammons Solutions, a Jackson-based company that offers services in campaign consulting, lobbying and marketing.
Rose could not be reached for comment by press time.
Former Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright raised $5,500 as of Tuesday, including $3,000 from corporations and $2,500 from small donors. The campaign spent $4,792, leaving roughly $700 on hand as of Tuesday.
The campaign received $1,000 from the Mississippi Road Builders Association, a trade group lobbying the state and federal government for more funds toward road and bridge building, according to its website. The group enjoys a 501(c)(6) status, which does not require it to disclose the identity of its donors and where it receives its funds.
Wright's campaign also received $1,500 from Alabama-based American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc., exceeding the amount of corporation contributions allowed under the state law. While contributions from individual donors, PACs, parties and unions are not limited, corporations are only allowed to give up to $1,000 per candidate per calendar year, according to the state law.
When contacted by The Dispatch, Wright said he had not known of the limits and would return $500 to the company and file an amended report. He added he did not solicit the funds from the company.
Wright said he does not know where the race leads, but hopes he will win.
"I don't know how it would turn out," he said. "I'd love to continue serving in some capacity."
David Chism, cousin to Gary Chism and owner of Greenway Pool Service in Lowndes County, raised $2,840 as of Tuesday, including $2,000 from Andrew Benton, owner of Columbus-based Benton's Maintenance and Mechanical, Inc. His campaign spent $806 as of Tuesday, including $563 on Facebook ads.
Although he raised less money than his two opponents, Chism said he thinks a little money can go a long way.
"I'm happy with where we stand," he said. "My philosophy is: Take a little bit and make a lot happen."
Yue Stella Yu is the local government reporter for The Dispatch. Reach her at 662-328-2424 (ext 106) or follow her on Twitter @StellaYu_Mizzou
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