Mississippians have had plenty of issues to speculate, ruminate and conversate about over their morning cups of coffee lately.
The flag issue. Nissan. The Saints on the Coast. National Signing Day. The stock market. Dot-com, dot-bomb. Presidential pardons. Crime in Jackson. Natural gas prices. State budget cuts.
While all of these issues are worthy of attention and spirited debate, there is one more that needs consideration: big money and Mississippi judicial races. This issue made headlines last fall as money poured into races for the Mississippi Supreme Court. Nine candidates seeking office spent more than $3 million — an outrageous sum in many of our minds.
So-called “soft money” influence had a tremendous impact on the outcome of our Supreme Court races, and coupled with the nastiness of the ads and mudslinging, public confidence in the judiciary — at almost every level — is shaky.
As Secretary of State Eric Clark pointed out recently, the basis of campaign finance law in Mississippi is disclosure. The state has strict reporting requirements for all political contributions more than $200.
However, as we saw during last year’s election season, special interest groups have ways of getting around Mississippi law. One out-of-state group turned to the courts to keep its list of contributors a secret. It would be a damaging blow to Mississippi if this organization ultimately wins its appeal.
We can argue about whether or not giving and spending limits would do much good in reforming our political system, but one fact is certain: we have a right to know who’s spending how much in every election in this state.
No politician or special interest group (even the pro-business ones) should be allowed to hide the money trail.