Jackson, MS—Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and members of the MS House of Representatives passed House Bill 479 by a bipartisan vote of 102-13 Wednesday.
HB479 outlines definitions and usage guidelines for campaign contributions by any elected official or candidate. A push for similar legislation died at the last minute during conference weekend of the 2016 Legislative Session.
“The issue of campaign finance reform has been very important to me for a long time,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, the principal author of the bill. “I have put a lot of time and work into crafting this legislation to make it is as tight and clear as possible. Passing this legislation was the right thing to do.”
“The people who elect us expect us to behave with integrity and honor,” he continued. “This legislation effectively outlines the proper procedures for all elected officials and candidates in the handling and reporting of campaign contributions.”
One of the aspects outlined in the bill is the personal use of campaign funds.
Personal use is defined as any use, other than expenditures related to gaining, holding, or performing functions of public office, for which the candidate or public official would have to report as gross income to the IRS.
Enactment of this legislation would prohibit using the funds for: 1) Residential or household items, supplies or expenditures including mortgage, rent, or utility payments for any residential property of a candidate, officeholder or family member; 2) Similar payments for nonresidential property used for campaign purposes if owned by a candidate, officeholder, or family member; 3) funeral expenses for themselves and family members; 4) clothing; 5) automobiles; 6) tuition payments; 7) country club fees, dues, gratuities; 8) salary payments to family members; 9) admission to entertainment events; 10) non-documented loans; 11) travel expenses; 12) payment of fines, fees or penalties issued under MS law.
Exceptions are allowed for: 1) payments for residences at the seat of government not to exceed difference between rental/mortgage amount and earned per diem; 2) a family-owned nonresidential property used for campaign purposes only if fair market value (FMV) is paid; 3) clothing of minimal value related to campaign/officeholder activity; 4) automobile rental expenses and related expenses related to campaign or officeholder activity; 5) country/health club, recreational facility fees, dues, and gratuities if a fundraiser is held there; 6) salary payments to family if they are providing bona fide services and paid FMV; 7) entertainment events if related to campaign or officeholder activity; 8) travel expenses for campaign or officeholder activity.
Another issue addressed by the legislation is what is done with the money once the campaign is over.
Once an official files a termination report, any unused campaign contributions will be: 1) maintained in campaign account; 2) donated to political organization, PAC, or another candidate; 3) transferred to a new PAC or ballot question advocate; 4) donated to 501(c)(3) organization; 5) donated to the State of Mississippi; 6) returned to donor(s), not including the candidate.
The Governor, Lt. Governor, legislators and candidates for such offices are barred from soliciting or receiving cash contributions or holding political fundraisers during a regular or special legislative session.
Credit card payments must be itemized for expenditures greater than $200.
Enforcement of this legislation will be overseen by the Mississippi Ethics Commission (MSEC). Those found to be in violation of the personal use section of this legislation will be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 and a state assessment equal to the misappropriated funds.
A penalty up to $5,000 may be imposed by the MSEC on any political committee that fails to file information on contributions, expenditures, officers and other information required. The Secretary of State shall compile and provide a list of candidates and political committees that fail to comply with the disclosure requirements of this legislation to the MSEC who shall levy a $50 fine per day (max of 10 days) until the party complies.
The MSEC is authorized to issue anonymous advisory opinions to candidates and officeholders regarding the requirements of this legislation.
This bill would go into effect January 1, 2018.