Paul Hampton

‘No’ vote on campaign finance leaves some speechless

Mississippi is a third of the way to campaign-finance reform.

A bill introduced by House Speaker Philip Gunn and backed by every Coast representative easily passed the House on a bipartisan vote. It now heads to the Senate, which passed a campaign-finance overhaul last year only to have it mugged in the House.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who runs the Senate, said he was “encouraged” the bill could lead to a deal to shore up the state’s weak campaign-finance laws.

“The people who elect us expect us to behave with integrity and honor,” Gunn said in a press release.

He’s right. We should expect it. One observer who shall remain unnamed, though, advised me to expect the worst. “Less disappointment,” he reasoned. Too many of us, I’m afraid, agree.

Rep. Hank Zuber of Ocean Springs, a co-author of the bill who has been preaching campaign-finance reform to what was once a very small choir, was so enthused Wednesday I was wondering if he was channeling Rep. Steve Holland.

“For 13-plus years, you and me together wandered through the desert, but today to some degree we reached the promised land with the House passing campaign finance reform,” he wrote in an email to Sun Herald reporter Karen Nelson and me. “I was told it would never pass, I was wasting my time, and that I would change my position when I became a chairman. We never tired, gave up, nor wavered in our support and position because it is the right thing to do and restores faith back into our political system.”

Zuber is correct.

The legislature has in the past done some goofy things, so to see this bill advance so quickly does restore some faith in the system.

For one thing, the bill prohibits personal use of donors’ money with some exceptions.

That’s right. Disney World in Florida would no longer be a bona fide campaign stop for people running for office in Mississippi. Garage doors couldn’t be considered office help. Cowboy boots? Perhaps. Especially if they are worn out going door to door.

For another, it requires an itemized report of credit-card spending.

It isn’t perfect and it doesn’t do everything I’d like, but it is a quantum leap across that aforementioned desert — even though I’m sure the woodland elves already have stopped baking and are scheming ways to explain how Egg Bowl attendance is vital to governance.

Twelve representatives voted against it: nine Democrats and three Republicans. I asked all of them via email to explain. Well, I didn’t ask Christopher Bell, D-Jackson, and Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, because they don’t list emails on their official pages. Only two — Randy Rushing, R-Decatur, and William Shirley, R-Quitman — responded. Both said the bill didn’t go far enough.

“I voted against HB 479 because it doesn’t begin to go far enough in transparency of campaign finance reform and contributions to political office holders,” Rushing wrote in an email. “I was trying to make a statement, and thought others who agree would join me. HB 479 doesn’t make much of a change to what we already have. It does improve some areas, and hurts the candidate in others.”

None of the Democrats responded. Feel free to assume the worst about the intentions of Willie Bailey of Greenwood, Earle S. Banks of Jackson, Cedric Burnett of Tunica, Oscar Denton of Vicksburg, Willie Perkins of Greenwood, Kenneth Walker of Carthage and Adrienne Wooten of Ridgeland. John Moore of Brandon was the third Republican ‘no’ vote.

That’s the trouble with some of these ladies and gentlemen. They don’t feel obligated to explain themselves. Some of them have been there since 1993 so I guess they don’t have to.

All the Coast delegation voted for it. If you see your representative, tell him or her thanks.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton