The Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Miss.

Attorney General Jim Hood, the favorite to win the Democratic nomination for this year’s governor’s race, is depending heavily on both out-of-state funds and donations from lawyers to support his campaign. Over 40 percent of his itemized donations came from outside Mississippi, and almost a third came from lawyers.

That was one of several takeaways from Mississippi Today’s look at the top-funded gubernatorial campaigns‘ finance reports, which included Hood, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., and state Rep. Robert Foster.

However, Mississippi Today also discovered a gap in enforcement of the state’s reporting requirements.

In an election year, candidates are required to send monthly periodic reports to the secretary of state’s office, disclosing where funding came from and where it’s being spent. For each donation surpassing $200, filers are required, according to the secretary of state’s 2019 Campaign Finance Guide, to include the following details: name, address, date, amount, contributor type, and either the occupation or employer of individual contributors.

Yet, as interviews with the secretary of state and Mississippi Ethics Commission reveal, the state has no enforcement for when finance reports omit one of the required fields.

Foster’s campaign, for instance, didn’t include the occupation or employer for any of its itemized contributions, despite it being a required field, in any of its periodic reports.

After each reporting period, the secretary of state’s office sends a list of delinquent filers to the Ethics Commission, who then notifies the candidate or campaign committee of any fine.

According to Section 23-15-813, the Ethics Commission “shall require any candidate or political committee…who fails to file a campaign finance disclosure report… or who shall file a report that fails to substantially comply with the requirements…to be assessed a civil penalty…”

Yet who’s in charge of interpreting whether filings “substantially comply” is left a mystery to the agencies overseeing the process.

“No agency really has the explicit oversight authority to decide whether the filing ‘substantially complies’ outright,” said Jose Simo, assistant director of the Ethics Commission. “The statute is a little ambiguous and doesn’t really address who does have that authority.”

The list sent to the Ethics Commission, noting which campaigns to assess fines, only includes late or absent filings, not filings with missing information, according to a secretary of state spokesperson.

Below are takeaways from each candidate’s finance reports, as well as searchable tables of their largest contributions ($3,000 or higher) and contributions by city:

Bill Waller, Jr.

  • The former state Supreme Court chief justice relied the least on out-of-state funds of the four candidates, with 97 percent of his itemized donations coming from within Mississippi.
  • Waller received more than the other candidates in some of the state’s bigger cities, including Madison ($165,000), Oxford ($49,000) and Vicksburg ($38,000).
  • “Retired” was the the occupation listing that gave the most to Waller, with 13 percent of his donations coming from that category.
  • His campaign received $1,000 from outgoing Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.

 

Robert Foster

  • After Waller, Foster received the highest percent of in-state donations (95 percent).
  • His hometown of Hernando showed its support, giving $44,340, or 30 percent of his total funds, to the campaign, by far the most of any city.

 

 

Jim Hood

  • Hood, who raised the second-most money behind Reeves, received the single largest donation of the four: $100,000 from the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters, a political action committee based in Annapolis, Maryland.
  • The outgoing attorney general got help from notable out-of-state figures, including $5,000 from actor Kevin Costner, and $10,000 from Malinda and Yvon Chouinard, owners of clothing company Patagonia.
  • Of the $167,000 that poured in from Washington D.C. to the four candidates, 82 percent of it went to Hood’s campaign.
  • Hood also received support from former leaders of the state Democratic party, including $1,000 from former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and $3,000 from former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers.

Tate Reeves

  • Reeves’ campaign reported $2.54 million in itemized donations, almost a million more than Hood’s fund.
  • He also beat the other candidates in fundraising from some of the state’s most populated areas, including Jackson($306,000), Ridgeland ($260,000), Gulfport ($198,000), Flowood ($167,000), and Hattiesburg ($86,000).
  • Former Gov. Haley Barbour donated $5,000 to the campaign.
  • Reeves received a large chunk of his funds from the business community. Filers with an occupation listed as “Owner”, “CEO”, “President” or “Executive” donated $870,000, or just over a third of the campaign’s total contributions.

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Alex Rozier, a native of New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data reporter. He analyzes data and creates visuals that further inform our reporting. He also reports on the environment, transportation and Mississippi culture and is a member of the engagement team. Alex, whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe and Open Secrets, has a bachelor’s in journalism from Boston University.