MS legislators allowed to continue spending campaign funds for p - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

MS legislators allowed to continue spending campaign funds for personal use

PINE BELT (WDAM) -

Mississippi lawmakers will still be able to use campaign funds for personal items after the Mississippi House of Representatives killed a bill that would have prevented the practice.

"It was unfortunate to lose taking a step forward in campaign finance reform," Rep. Toby Barker said. "I don't pretend to know why people didn't support it. I thought we brought out some very reasonable steps forward in terms of campaign finance reform. Things like don't pay your mortgage with your campaign account, don't pay for your funeral,  you can't use it as a second retirement account all going forward. But for whatever reason, folks felt that they didn't have a chance to properly vet the legislation, which is true. It didn't come up until the very end of conference. That was the first time the house saw those things."

Sen. Chris McDaniel said killing the bill effectively allows "legalized bribery" of Mississippi politicians.

"We (the Mississippi Senate) pass this bill, push it to the house for consideration and in a procedural move, they kill it," McDaniel said. "And I know why they did. Because many of those members are living out of their campaign finance funds, and that has to stop. Enough excuses. Enough justifications. We had the bill before the body. If they didn't like it, they should've amended it. They should've changed it. They should've come to me and talked with us about it. We could have made adjustments. They didn't. They killed it, and there's no excuse for that. We are tired of special treatment for politicians. I'm tired of politicians getting special perks."

The House voted to kill the bill by a voice vote, so there is no public record of how each representative voted. 

"It was a motion to recommit," Barker said."I think if it had gone to a roll call in final passage, we would have had the votes to pass it. For those of us who helped negotiate that final deal, we wanted to see it pass. That's what we had worked for all session. We thought we had the votes if it had gone to a roll call. However, on a motion to recommit, unless enough people stand up and request a roll call, there isn't one, and there weren't enough people who stood up. And that's on either party."

McDaniel said he thinks the voice vote was "all by design."

"That's part of the mischief that occurred in killing this bill," he said. "The people of this state deserve and up or down vote on campaign finance reform. They know politicians are buying homes. They're buying cars. They're buying expensive clothes. They're living out of these accounts. And they're doing it tax free, which is a benefit none of the other people have out there. It's improper. It's illegal. So at the very least, we needed a roll call vote to let the people see how their representatives and senators see the issue of campaign finance reform. Essentially, they cast this vote under the dark of night. In other words, a procedural move via voice vote, and the chairs said the bill was dead for the session. I don't think that's good government."

Barker said there should be stronger rules in place to prevents spending campaign funds on anything other than campaigning, and hopes the bill is brought up in the future.

"The truth is current law doesn't give a lot of guidelines to that, and so right now, it's up to every representative to see, to make decisions on how to spend that money," he said. "So I see some that are very conservative with it, some that are not so much. Either way, they do have to report anything over $200. Obviously, we need more guidelines. We need some clarification on what you can and can't spend money on. So I think the report that we brought out in conference made those steps. Unfortunately, it didn't pass. However we'll go back and give it another try. Hopefully with some time off to be able to really wrestle through the issue, maybe we can bring something forward either the start of next session or maybe even if the governor calls a special session on something else, maybe he can add that to the agenda."

This session was the second time McDaniel has proposed this kind of legislation and said he plans to reintroduce it again next session. But he does not think it will be an easy change

"Because we're dealing with politicians who are taking advantage of the system, they're always going to push back," McDaniel said. "They're will only be a change when the people have had enough, and they push against the politicians and insist that we make the change. It's something that needs to happen. There's no justification for corruption in our system. None whatsoever. The only way to correct it is by transparency and to bring light to the system. We can't bring light to the system on voice votes that no one records a vote on, and they basically killed a bill on a procedural motion. That's not fair to the people of this state."

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