In Mississippi, limits on campaign contributions are almost non-existent. Politicians can even use donations for personal living expenses, putting the state outside the national norm.
"I don’t think political officials should have a golden parachute just because of their office,” said state Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, who routinely files legislation to prevent public officials from using campaign donations for their own use or from keeping the funds after they leave office.
Legislation sponsored by Zuber to halt the practice failed during the 2012 session, as it had before. Nonetheless, Zuber said in a recent interview that he intends to try again.
There are significant nods to transparency in Mississippi: All campaign contributions and expenditures of more than $200 must be reported annually in non-election years. A candidate who misses a deadline for filing a campaign finance report can be fined $50 per day; a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office said that such lapses are rare, probably because politicians want to avoid bad publicity. The 3-million citizen state also gets high marks for legislative accountability, budgeting and lobbying disclosure.
And so the state receives a C+ and a numerical score of 79 from the State Integrity Investigation, a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. Mississippi’s grades rank it sixth among the nation’s 50 states.
A lack of aggression
But reformers say there is plenty of work left to do. While the Secretary of State is keeping an eye on campaign finance reports, it’s unusual for prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against those who violate campaign finance laws. Patsy Brumfield, a political reporter with the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, said she has heard anecdotal evidence of candidates failing to report donations of more than $200 or services, such as airplane trips, of similar value. Such instances would be a clear violation of the law.