Politicians are bought and paid for, according to Donald Trump.
“When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” he said.
He was speaking about Washington politicians. But what about Mississippi politicians? Are they bought and paid for?
Probably not, but the less than squeaky clean behavior of some, and the lack of concern by most, sullies the image of all.
“Using public office for private gain,” a recent Clarion-Ledger exposé, charged that for state politicians “campaign funds have become personal expense accounts or a second income.”
The article cited instances where legislators used campaign funds to rent apartments, lease vehicles, buy tickets to sporting events, and purchase expensive items of clothing such as cowboy boots.
“The spending is largely paid for by lobbyists and special interests doing business with the state,” said the Clarion-Ledger. “They otherwise would not be allowed to lavish cash, gifts, or a second income on politicians.”
Using campaign funds for personal expenses unrelated to a campaign is against federal law. But state law is quiet on the issue, and looks to remain so.
A bill introduced by Republican Rep. Henry Zuber of Ocean Springs to prohibit using campaign funds for personal expenses quietly died in the House of Representatives.
This suggests most legislators are not concerned about politicians using campaign funds for personal expenditures.
The Clarion-Ledger cited two significant examples of what it called questionable spending:
“Attorney General Jim Hood has paid himself and two credit cards a total of $268,180 from his campaign account over nearly four years, with no details of the spending.”
State Auditor Stacey “Pickering has paid himself, his wife and credit cards more than $170,000 from his campaign account over nearly four years, most listed as travel reimbursement during off-years for election.”
The one area in all this that may – may – get action from lawmakers is how campaign account expenditures paid with credit cards get reported.
State law requires politicians to disclose each campaign fund expenditure that amounts to $200 or more.
Politicians have found a way to technically comply with the law, but not disclose anything. What they do is make purchases with credit cards, then disclose only their payments to the credit card company.
A bill introduced by Democratic Senator David Blount of Jackson to require credit card purchases to be itemized remains alive in the Senate. “Merely identifying aggregate payments to a credit card company or similar entity does not satisfy the requirements of this section,” reads the bill as amended in committee.
So, consider this. Former Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, an appointed official, faces prison time for taking bribes from businessmen that he used to enrich his lifestyle. Elected officials face no consequences when lobbyists and special interests pad their campaign accounts that they use to enrich their lifestyles.
You can see why “bought and paid for” comments like Trump’s resonate with the public.
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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