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BILL CRAWFORD — Money talks in Mississippi politics

“Who will pay $250K to eat with Tate Reeves at inauguration dinner?” read the headline in the Clarion-Ledger.

The incoming governor’s inaugural committee is seeking “platinum sponsors” willing to ante up to have dinner with Reeves plus VIP access to all inauguration events. The article says that the identities of these donors and others paying for inauguration events will remain secret. The money will actually be paid to a new 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation called For All Mississippi for which Mississippi, unlike states with transparency laws, provides no limits or disclosure requirements.

Hmmm.

The appropriate question would seem to be not who, but why would anyone or any organization pay $250,000 to eat with any Mississippi governor?

Reeves in the past has been accused of being a pay-to-play politician. More specifically, his opponent in the general election, Attorney General Jim Hood, claimed, “Tate Reeves passed appropriation bills as lieutenant governor that effectively carved out millions of dollars in no-bid contracts for specific companies and organizations. All together, these wasteful earmarks total $48.14 million between 2013 and 2019. Reeves helped force these bills through the Legislature to benefit his corporate campaign contributors.”

Seems like a $250,000 dinner would be the ultimate pay-to-play opportunity, especially if the donors can remain anonymous.

You see, governors can have great influence on how millions, even billions of public dollars are spent.

For example, the legislature set up in 2018 the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund to allocate $1.6 billion in future BP settlement funds for projects in Gulf Coast counties. These funds will be controlled by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) with advice from a seven member advisory board. MDA, of course, is controlled by the governor so he will have a lot of sway over which projects get funded. Developers of said projects will want a friendly ear in the governor’s mansion.

There’s also this. According the Mississippi Today, Reeves recently “warned” legislators not to consider any expansion of Medicaid. This comes as word spreads that a majority may be coalescing in the legislature behind a plan like Vice President Pence implemented in Indiana to add Medicaid coverage for the working poor. It would also help save rural hospitals. Two Republican candidates who challenged Reeves, state Rep. Robert Foster and former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller, promoted such a plan proposed by the Mississippi Hospital Association. Allegedly, Reeves already thwarted a similar plan as Lt. Governor.

The Division of Medicaid, like MDA, is controlled by the governor. Contracts to “manage” Medicaid provided care in Mississippi generate huge profits. Centene Corporation, the owner of one the three out-of-state companies providing such care, Magnolia Health, has already been a major campaign contributor to Reeves. The three current providers are not likely to want a Mississippi hospital owned competitor to get into this market. They, too, will want a friendly ear in the governor’s mansion.

Still and all, no one and no organization may choose to dine with the new governor. But, there will be plenty of other ways to gain that friendly ear, including a $25,000 breakfast and photo opportunity.

Yes, money talks in Mississippi politics.

 “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” – Luke 12:48.

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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About Bill Crawford