Geoff Pender/The Clarion-Ledger
The Mississippi House of Representatives should be congratulated on its expedient passage of the speaker’s campaign finance reform bill.
House Bill 479 is a strong first step, one that addresses the critical issues with the state’s existing weak laws governing campaign finance that last year were brought to light by The Clarion-Ledger’s investigative series Public Office/Private Gain. While this bill leaves unaddressed a few key reform measures that deserve future consideration, the political reality is that any reform that hits lawmakers in the pocketbook is a difficult lift.
Republican Speaker Philip Gunn — along with the 101 members joining him in voting for the bill — should be congratulated.
The bill includes three major reforms. First, it provides teeth to campaign finance laws. Under this bill, violating campaign finance laws will constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. The Ethics Commission will be given oversight authority, and its opinions on campaign finance law essentially will be binding unless overturned by a court. Furthermore, the Ethics Commission will be able to fine any political committee or group up to $5,000 for violating reporting procedures, which is not an entirely uncommon occurrence.
The second major reform is the requirement to itemize all expenditures, even those paid with a credit card. The use of credit cards to pay campaign expenses has been a favorite way for candidates to avoid itemizing to whom, in what amounts and for what purposes payments are made. That practice would end.
The third largest reform…