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Phil Bryant

Term-limited Mississippi governor moves campaign cash to PAC

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has cleaned out his campaign fund and put most of the money into a political action committee.

The Republican can’t seek a third term in 2019 and has said he has no ambition to seek other statewide offices.

The latest campaign finance reports, filed this week, show the Friends of Phil Bryant campaign committee spent just over $1 million in 2016. The biggest chunk of that was a transfer of $760,764 to Imagine Mississippi PAC, which was formed in December. The governor’s campaign fund had a zero balance at the end of the year.

The two campaign funds have the same treasurer, Paul Brezeale, a Jackson-based certified public accountant. The chairman of the new PAC is attorney Lucien Smith of Jackson, a former gubernatorial chief of staff for Bryant. Aimee Gardner of Madison, who has raised money for Bryant the past several years, is the PAC secretary.

The governor’s campaign committee gave $64,000 last year to the Mississippi Republican Party. It contributed to two state Court of Appeals judges who were re-elected, Dawn Beam and Jack Wilson, both of whom he originally appointed to the court. It also gave to Court of Appeals Judge Kenny Griffis, who ran unsuccessfully for state Supreme Court.

The governor’s campaign fund donated to other Republican groups and several charities, including $1,000 to Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, which was burned and spray-painted with “Vote Trump” a week before the presidential election. Bryant, like many other Trump supporters, condemned the church burning, and a man who was a member of the church has been charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship.

Friends of Phil Bryant also paid for fundraising and travel expenses.

Mississippi legislators are considering changing a state law that allows politicians to convert campaign money into a source of personal income after they leave office, as long as they pay state and federal income taxes on it. An Associated Press review in 2016 showed that of 99 elected officials who left office in recent years, as many as 25 may have pocketed more than $1,000 when they closed campaign accounts.

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