With longtime members rebelling against changes, the Mississippi House voted down a bill that would have restricted personal use of campaign money. The unrecorded voice vote on House Bill 797 came Tuesday after several House members complained about proposed restrictions, including ending the ability to take money for personal use to repay undocumented campaign expenses. The campaign finance changes had been attached to a broader rewrite of state election law, and could return in modified form in the closing days of the Legislature. The proposal came after The Associated Press and The Clarion-Ledger questioned campaign spending. Some officials took leftover money from accounts when they retired, or spent it on things like cars, clothing and personal travel. Experts say the practice makes campaign contributions perilously close to bribes. Mississippi is one of only five states that still allow elected officials to pocket campaign money for personal use during or after their careers.
Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said he felt any change could penalize him personally because he had invested money in his campaigns that he had never recorded as a loan, and thus might not be able to get back. “I don’t have enough funds in my campaign account to repay it,” Gipson said.
Many former lawmakers interviewed by The Associated Press earlier this year said they cashed out their accounts at the end of their careers to get back campaign money that they had never recorded as a loan to their campaign. An Associated Press review found that of 99 elected officials who have left office in recent years, as many as 25 may have pocketed more than $1,000 when they closed their campaign accounts and five took more than $50,000. Former Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck took more than $261,000 from 2007 to 2013.
The use of campaign funds became an issue in last year’s election campaigns after an opponent disclosed that state Auditor Stacey Pickering had bought a car, a camper and a garage door using campaign money.