Politics are heating up in Mississippi for local and statewide races this year. In addition to stumping among individual voters, many candidates look to organizations and advocacy groups for endorsements and campaign contributions. But, are these endorsements always helpful to the candidates and the organizations? Are there any pitfalls?
The Mississippi Association of Realtors (MAR) is one of the first groups out of the gate with a public announcement supporting State Auditor Phil Bryant in his quest to be the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. He faces state Sen. Charlie Ross in the primary. State Rep. Jamie Franks is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
According to MAR executive director Angela Cain, the group has endorsed candidates for 30 years through its political action committee (PAC) and its influence has grown considerably over the past several years.
“I believe we’re the third largest in the state,” she said. “More than 50% of our more than 6,500 members invest their ‘fair share’ in our PAC. That’s $25 for salespeople; $99 for brokers. Many contribute $1,000 or more. Those are impressive participation numbers that translate into strong grassroots support for MAR PAC-endorsed candidates.”
She indicated that endorsing Bryant before the party primary is not a break with tradition, stating that MAR endorses candidates who are business minded, support home ownership, affordable housing, economic vitality and an improved quality of life.
“Party affiliations and primaries don’t factor into our decision,” she added. “We have plans to endorse several other candidates in party primaries in key legislative races.”
PAC trustees do due diligence in researching candidates, their voting records and relationships with Realtors and other business leaders. “The decision to endorse Bryant was rooted in the strong history we’ve had with him throughout his public service career,” Cain said.
Last week, the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi also endorsed Bryant.
Critical criteria for MMA
The Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) formed a PAC in 1979, and its members are working on endorsements now.
The group has already endorsed Gov. Haley Barbour in his re-election bid, according to MMA director of government affairs Mark Leggett. MMA will also endorse legislative candidates and candidates in statewide and district races, but may not choose someone in every race.
“Choosing candidates can be difficult. We’re looking for people who are pro-business. We’re want people to understand jobs and manufacturing,” he said. “That’s our criteria, and we tend to focus on candidates who have run a business and made a payroll.”
MEC takes different approach
One of the state’s largest advocacy groups, the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), does not have a PAC and does not make endorsements.
“It is our belief that MEC can be much more effective legislatively by not becoming involved in individual political campaigns,” said Scott Waller, senior vice president, public affairs. “MEC has a broad-based membership, and our goal is to represent the best interests of that membership.”
He says the approach might be different if the organization represented just one industry. MEC has looked at forming a PAC, but decided against it.
“If the organization is specific or has a specific range, PACs and endorsements can be helpful,” Waller said. “The drawback is that everyone has to work together to get what they want accomplished. The legislative process should be one of cooperation. It can be difficult if you’re not willing to sit down with everyone at the table and build consensus.”
Important and effective
Dr. Marty Wiseman of Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute says endorsements are of tremendous importance to candidates and generally are very effective.
“There are all of the usual reasons of demonstrating acceptability to key groups who are influential in the public square,” he said. “This is valuable publicity that you don’t have to pay for.”
With campaigns growing more expensive, endorsements by legitimate business advocacy groups accomplish a great deal, particularly in light of the breadth of technology being employed in modern campaigns.
“Organizations can continuously bombard their memberships with endorsement material through the Internet and fax machines,” he said. “This helps tremendously in getting out the vote, and by all means represents an ongoing sales job to memberships that will often translate into the mother’s milk of politics — campaign contributions.”
As for pitfalls, Wiseman says candidates must keep in mind that with endorsements come the risks of being tainted to some extent with the group’s enemies as well as past positions of the advocacy group that conflict with those of the candidates.
“Thus, candidates do spend time attempting to assess the impact of an endorsement,” he said. “Additionally, it goes without saying that organizations with controversial positions not representative of the candidate and who may also have limited membership are not desirable.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.