Home - Breaking News, Events, Things-To-Do, Dining, Nightlife


Shocker: Mississippi lawmakers not keen on sharing power with masses, more transparency for themselves

Mississippi senators recently beat the stew out of a bill that would have applied more transparency and rules to their campaign finances, leaving the bill gutted, on life support and likely to die.

They gave similar treatment to a measure to restore voters’ right to sidestep the Legislature and put measures directly on a statewide ballot. The right was nullified by the state Supreme Court three years ago. The milquetoast move to restore it is once again dead.

Read that: Special interests, 2; unwashed masses, 0.

Now, if you asked the common ordinary Mississippian whether they should have the right to ballot initiative and to know who is buying their politicians and for how much, they’d say heck-yes.

So why are lawmakers killing what would appear to be basic, populistic initiatives?

Such is the nature of representative government, politicians’ self interest, special interests and voters’ short attention spans. Here’s a couple little secrets and axioms: Politicians don’t like relinquishing any power, even to their constituents. And when it comes to policing and transparency over the money they get from special interests, they are a hive mind — transparency and rules for thee, not for me.

READ MORE: Voter initiative would be hard to use under bills moving in Legislature

READ MORE: Campaign finance reform bill gets cold response; lawmakers axe transparency component

Perhaps no other issue ever brings such bipartisan support from Mississippi politicians as killing proposals for campaign finance or ethics reform. Recently they took turns with amendments, including removing anything from the campaign finance bill that would actually do anything, then making the measure repeal before it could take effect, just in case something crazy like it passing into law might happen.

Various groups have called for lawmakers to reinstate voters’ right to ballot initiative since the state high court deemed it unconstitutional on a technicality. This was in a ruling that struck down a successful referendum where voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in Mississippi. Lawmakers reluctantly approved medical marijuana afterward, but dickering over details between the House and Senate has prevented any reinstatement of the right to ballot initiative.

Oddly, a ballot initiative drive led by medical providers and other advocates in 2021 could have let voters settle an issue that still has state lawmakers in a twist: Medicaid expansion. A petition drive to force a statewide vote on the issue had just begun that year when the state Supreme Court ruling nullified the state’s initiative process.

READ MORE: For third-straight year, ballot initiative likely dead in Senate 

Certainly there are valid arguments against expansive use of ballot initiative in a representative democracy. Our founding fathers wanted to prevent “mob rule” in part to guarantee individual rights. But it seems pretty clear after three years of debate on the issue in the Legislature, that’s not the primary concern for most lawmakers.

Several polls have shown voters want the safety valve the right to ballot initiative would provide, and while mob rule must be tempered, so must special interest influence over lawmakers.

That brings us back to the (now-defunct) campaign finance reform measure. It was technically passed and kept alive, but was gutted, then gutted again and now is only a shell of a bill containing only code sections ensuring the House couldn’t pass any reform into law if it wanted to (which it likely does not).

This bill was a result of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and others seeking reelection or election last year realizing the state has extremely lax campaign finance laws, little transparency and basically nonexistent enforcement. As millions of dollars in dark money poured into campaigns and some candidates appeared to thumb their noses at what rules we do have, Hosemann and others called for enforcement.

But the secretary of state’s office and Ethics Commission noted they had no real enforcement authority under Mississippi’s confusing, conflicting hodgepodge of campaign finance laws. And the attorney general, the only officer with clear enforcement authority, made clear she had little interest in doing so.

Later, though, after catching some political flak, Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in a press release that she, too, is for reform, and ironically enough would like to see some enforcement. But in doing so, she appeared to nullify one of the state’s few restrictions on campaign donations. More on that in a bit.

READ MORE: Attorney General Lynn Fitch wants campaign finance reform and more enforcement — wait, what?

Senate Bill 2575, authored by Senate Elections Chairman Jeremy England, would have brought some such reform, and could have brought Mississippi into the 20th if not 21st century with campaign finance regulations and transparency.

Notably, it would have created the same type public, searchable database of campaign donations that most other states — including all those that surround us — have had for years. It also would have made it illegal to lie on such a report. This, Hosemann said, “goes to the heart of the electoral process,” and “to have an informed voter, you need to know who’s paying for what.”

This (as did other reforms in the bill) drew indignant howls from Senate Democrats and Republicans alike. They generally seem to be all for government transparency, except when any might splash onto them. It would appear that stripping them of the right to turn in illegible campaign finance reports, written in crayon and full of inaccuracies and incomplete information would be a bridge too far. This got stripped in committee before the bill ever reached the Senate floor.

Obviously, as the legislative session enters the final stretch, no major campaign finance reform appears to be forthcoming. The shell of a Senate bill remains alive in the House, but even if the House were to revive its major reforms, the Senate already showed its disdain for it.

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves’ top political donors received $1.4 billion in state contracts from his agencies

That brings us back to Fitch’s odd move when she called for reform. In her press release, she said that Mississippi has no limits on how much out-of-state corporations can donate to candidates. This is contrary to decades of interpretation of Mississippi law and practice by candidates. Everyone other than Fitch, including her predecessors and secretaries of state, had operated under the legal interpretation that out-of-state corporations had the same $1,000 a year per candidate limit as in-state corporations.

Fitch made clear she doesn’t believe going over that limit is a violation. She even said that, perusing Mississippi code, she isn’t even sure what defines a corporation.

So, given what would appear to be an open invitation from the state’s chief legal officer to out-of-state corporate special interests, in the absence of any new law, Mississippi isn’t back where it started on campaign finance. It’s far worse.

So, that’s really: Special interests, 3; unwashed masses, 0.

The message to big money special interests appears clear: If you want to buy state politicians, come on down to Mississippi. We’re stacking them deep and selling them cheap.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

Local Dining Stream

Things To Do

Related articles