Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The recent scandals surrounding political donors like Dickie Scruggs and Joey Langston, former elected officials like Ed Peters and judges like Bobby DeLaughter has brought a chronic problem in Mississippi front and center: Lax campaign-finance laws have left the state ripe for corruption.
Right now, we are hearing lots of grousing, usually of the partisan type, about elected officials in the "other" party whose campaigns benefited from money from donors now exposed to be (alleged) louses. We've long known that "soft money" from outside the statefrom organizations from the U.S. Chamber to trial-attorney interestsis ending up in the campaign accounts of Mississippi judges. We also know that people like Joey Langston have donated money to PACS that, in turn, give that money to the campaigns of people that those donors hope will choose them to handle potentially lucrative lawsuits, such as Attorney General Jim Hood giving attorney Langston a contingency contract against WorldCom for back taxes.
Neither the donation nor the contingency contract was illegal under state law and, so far, no wrongdoing has been shown on Hood's part. And, indeed, the state of Mississippi got back $100 million in back taxes, instead of $3 million, and it didn't cost the taxpayers a dime. WorldCom was ordered to pay $10 million in attorney's fees.
Everyone in the stateexcept for former tenant WorldCombenefited from that lawsuit, as the Legislature quickly put the money to use. However, it doesn't feel right to manyit looks like Langston was trying to curry favor. And obviously he was, just as the U.S. Chamber has done with legislators and Supreme Court justices throughout Mississippi.
If you don't like it, demand meaningful campaign-finance reform.
But there is little will to change the laws, at least among the people with the power to change them. Why? Because, starting with Gov. Haley Barbour at the top of the food chain, they like the money coming into the campaigns of people that agree with them. And they probably like that they can selectively target people in the other party with guilt-by-association accusations. That's cherry picking, and it has nothing to do with demanding responsible government.
Even as the state's top Democrat has been made a partisan scapegoat in this cynical battle of wits, Jim Hood is returning a powerful volley: Stop blocking meaningful campaign-finance reform. That means you, Barbour. That means you, Phil Bryant. That means you, party boys on SuperTalk Radio.
Hood is right. It is time to take big, secret, tainted money out of politics. Anyone who cares about the scandals facing our statebeyond partisan rhetoricshould call your legislator and demand campaign-finance reform.
Part of the reform must include a requirement that any organization that promotes political positions or discusses political issues must reveal the source of its funding. This may require a reinterpretation of current First Amendment law, or even an amendment to the constitution. Another part should require that any so-called "blind trust" for a political officeholder must disclose its assets and holdings to the Mississippi Ethics Commission.