Jim Hood: A look at how the Democratic AG is raising cash for a governor’s race

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Attorney General Jim Hood announces his office’s success in settling 11 civil lawsuits in the Epps prison bribery scheme at Walter Sillers Building on Thursday, January 24.

About 150 people stood in the Capital Club penthouse overlooking downtown Jackson on October 8, 2018, as Jim Hood laid out his plan to win the governor’s race in 2019.

Just five days earlier, Hood announced he would run, assuaging the fears of many who had spent months prodding the three-term attorney general to run for the seat. The evening’s event was the first fundraiser since his announcement, and a few dozen attendees were eager to write checks.

Mark Utley, president of Utley Properties based in Olive Branch, wrote Hood’s campaign a $10,000 check that night. Carroll Hood, founder and president of Hood Petroleum in Hazlehurst, wrote a $5,000 check.

Flip Phillips, a founding partner of Smith Phillips law firm in Batesville, wrote a $5,000 check. Robert Watson, president of Watson Quality Ford dealership in Jackson, gave Hood $5,000.

By the end of the dinner, Hood had collected at least $100,000 in donations, accounting for 14 percent of the campaign’s total contributions in 2018.

Hood’s finance report, which was released last week, provides a glimpse into fundraising strategy for a Democratic campaign in ruby red Mississippi.

Hood raised $716,000 in 2018, giving him a little more than $1 million to spend going into 2019. Of Hood’s 2018 fundraising total, $439,000, or 61 percent, in contributions came from major donations of $5,000 or more, according to a Mississippi Today analysis.

The reality of Hood’s gubernatorial candidacy clearly translated into cash. Within three weeks of his Oct. 3 announcement, Hood raised at least $160,000, which represented nearly a quarter of the campaign’s fundraising in 2018.

Mississippi election law does not limit the amount of money individuals or political action committees can give to political campaigns. Corporations are limited to $1,000 per candidate per year, but corporations have no limit on donations to political action committees.

Utley is among the top 2018 donors to the Hood campaign.

The top individual donor to Hood’s campaign is former Secretary of State Dick Molpus, who gave $20,000 in 2018. Flowood attorney Tom Rhoden gave $17,500. Ridgeland attorney Patrick Malouf gave $17,500, and his law partner Timothy Porter gave $12,500. Jackson attorney Richard Schwartz gave $11,000.

Hood also received substantial contributions from corporations and law firms. Biloxi-based Riverside Development Group wrote Hood a $40,000 check. Washington-based law firm Weisbrod Matteis & Copley wrote a $32,000 check. Pennsylvania-based law firm Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check wrote a $25,000 check, as did Ridgeland-based corporation Cypress Brake Properties.

Hood’s report also shows Democratic Party power brokers lined up financial support for Hood in 2018.

In addition to Molpus’ $20,000, the law firm of former Attorney General Mike Moore, who preceded Hood in office, gave Hood $11,000.

Former Democratic governors William Winter and Ronnie Musgrove gave Hood a total of $4,000. Jackson attorney John Arthur Eaves Jr., who won the Democratic nomination for governor in 2007 but ultimately lost to Republican Haley Barbour, also donated to Hood’s campaign.

Hood’s campaign gave several contributions in 2018, including $500 to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a former congressman who replaced now presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as California’s attorney general.

Hood’s report also shows $800 monthly payments for a “campaign vehicle lease.” Hood’s 2017 annual campaign finance report shows the same monthly payment for the same purpose.

“The vehicle is a 2015 GMC Sierra which is leased by the Hood campaign for use in travel to and from campaign functions,” Ben Herring, spokesman for the Hood campaign, said in a statement on Monday.