Allegations of instances of quid pro quos not only dominate national politics, but also have permeated Mississippi’s election for governor.
Both major party candidates, Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, are accusing each other of accepting campaign donations for political favors or of instances of quid pro quos.
At a recent press event, Hood stood in front of a blown up mailer from a small loan lender offering a pre-qualified loan of $1,206 at an interest rate of 37 percent to provide “the extra cash you need for back to school.” The recipient of the mailer was concealed, but Hood said it was a school teacher.
Hood said the mailer sent the message to teachers to “go borrow money at my high interest rates to go buy supplies for your school when the state should be paying, not teachers out of their own personal pockets.”
Not to be outdone, Reeves has run television commercials claiming Hood’s campaigns have been propped up by trial attorneys who have received millions in payments for work they have done on behalf of the Attorney General’s office.
“Jim Hood is desperately spinning a web of lies because he was caught red-handed funneling taxpayer money to his campaign donors. He was the top target of a WSJ investigation into his “sleazy practice” of kickbacks to donors. Desperate Democrat ploy,” Reeves said on social media.
On the social media post, Reeves was citing a Wall Street Journal opinion article criticizing the practice of states’ attorneys general contracting with trial attorneys to pursue major lawsuits.
Often, the same trial attorneys receiving the state contracts have contributed to Hood’s campaign. He has received criticism over the issue in nearly every campaign he has run.
“Outside counsel contracts are awarded on a first come first serve basis, meaning, the attorneys that initially bring the case to the office are awarded the contract if our staff determines it has merit and can benefit Mississippi taxpayers,” Hood said in defense of the practice. “Unlike Tate Reeves, contracts are not awarded based on campaign contributions. Additionally, outside counsel are not paid unless they win the case and their fees are paid by the defendants not the state of Mississippi. As a result, I’ve returned $3 billion to taxpayers from corporate wrongdoers.”
Hood, with the help of private attorneys, has won multimillion dollar lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for overcharging the state for drugs for Medicaid recipients, against telecommunications companies and many others. The private attorneys pay the cost of the lawsuit – often millions of dollars – and are paid only if they prevail for the state.
Hood’s use of outside counsel has been labeled “a pay to play” scheme by many of his Republican opponents. In Hood’s 2007, re-election effort, his Republican opponent, found that Hood had received campaign contributions of more than $400,000 from attorneys who were selected as outside counsel by the AG’s office.
Hood continues to rely heavily on attorneys – some whom he has hired to work on lawsuits – for campaign contributions. A scan of current campaign finance reports finds multiple examples of attorneys who have been awarded contracts to sue on behalf of the state providing campaign donations. The examples include Greenwood attorney A. Lee Abraham, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, former AG Mike Moore and others.
For instance, John Davidson, a Flowood attorney hired as outside legal counsel by Hood for his ongoing lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers, contributed $10,000 to the Hood campaign last year.
The Abdalla Law Firm of Ridgeland received $6.7 million in legal fees for work to settle multiple lawsuits providing $26.6 million to the state in instances where companies were accused of bribing former Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps to receive contracts with the state. Members of the Abdalla Law Firm are Hood’s contributors.
“We have 3,500 active cases. So many cases are farmed out to outside attorneys who never give me a dime,” Hood said recently.
Reeves called Hood “a trial lawyer who has hired trail lawyers from all over the county…For the last 16 years he has taken hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars from these trial lawyers. It is sleazy and it is wrong,” Reeves said.
Hood has never worked in private practice as a civil trial attorney. For most of his legal career, he has been a prosecutor.
While Reeves calls Hood sleazy, Hood turns to the Bible to condemn Reeves.
“When you talk about money changers in the temple of state government, Tate Reeves is the head money changer,” Hood said, saying Reeves has chosen to provide benefits to small loan lenders and other large corporations for campaign contributions instead of taking care of the “least among us – widows, orphans and the elderly.”
The Hood campaign cites $440,000 in donations from “predatory lenders” the Reeves campaign has received. Hood said the same small loan companies giving to the Reeves campaign have been the beneficiary of legislation passed during Reeves’ tenure as presiding officer of the Senate as lieutenant governor. These bills allow interest rates of up to 297 percent on installment loans up to $2,500 and remove much of the legislative oversight of the small loan companies, such as payday lenders that can charge interest rates of more than 500 percent.
Hood also cites more than $97,000 in campaign contributions from Entergy Reeves has received. Reeves’ Senate initiated legislation that was passed to try to make it more difficult for the Attorney General’s office to sue the utility on claims it overcharged consumers for electricity.
And, the Hood campaign pointed out the Reeves campaign received more than $86,000 from another utility company – Mississippi Power. Legislation was passed for the company to allow it to pass along to customers $1 billion in costs for its failed effort to convert lignite coal to electricity at its new Kemper County Power Plant, the Hood campaign said.
“Everything he does is transactional,” Hood said of Reeves.
When asked to comment on the charges, the Reeves campaign opted to attack Hood’s use of private attorney to pursue lawsuits on behalf of the state.